Christian Retailing

Growing in the faith Print Email
Written by DeWayne Hamby   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 10:08 AM America/New_York

Mainstay category thrives but changes with the times



Christian Living, the anchor point for book sales in Christian retail stores, continued to thrive in 2014, strengthened by a renewed focus on content from a new, more diverse group of authors.SchoolOfTheProphets

The category, labeled “Christian Life” by the Book Industry Study Group, includes such topics as relationships, death and bereavement, personal growth, spiritual growth, social issues and women’s issues.

“We see a consistent demand for books that cause tangible change in people’s lives,” said Marcos Perez, vice president of sales at Charisma House. “Broad-based topics are becoming more challenging to move. Titles where specific needs are being met tend to do better.”

Women authors have been a mainstay of the category in recent years and often aim to meet some of those specific needs in their Christian Living books. Among them are Beth Moore, Ann Voskamp, Christine Caine and Lysa TerKeurst, who have released chart-topping sellers that have energized women readers.

DestinyImage-TheEssentialGuideToThePowerOfTheHolySpirit“Compared to 10 years ago, the growth of female communicators has been astounding in the Christian Living category,” said Matt Baugher, senior vice president and publisher of W Publishing Group. “That was a definite need, and it’s been encouraging to see that need filled by so many talented women. Years ago, all of us at publishing houses sat around figuring out how to have more Beth Moores in the marketplace. Obviously there’s only one Beth Moore, who is a leading woman voice. In the last few years, the number of female communicators is exponentially higher and one of the biggest shifts that we’ve seen in the last decade.”


TyndaleMomentum-YourBeautifulHeartTop-selling author Joyce Meyer also represents the continued integration of more Charismatic-flavored books into the general Christian Living category. Books such as The Confident Woman and I Dare You attract a broader base of customers more receptive to Charismatic speakers.

“I think a lot of Charismatic authors transcend the category,” said Brad Herman, sales coordinator for Nori Media Group, of which Destiny Image is a part. “I think there’s a crossover into the Christian Living section, but a very strong Charismatic author like Bill Johnson is not going to cross over into Christian Living.”

Herman noted the market changes that have been roadblocks to some publishers of Charismatic titles, such as Christian retail chains that do not stock such authors or titles. LifeWay’s acquisition of Berean is one such example of a lessening retail market for Charismatic Interest books, but one to which Herman—who previously operated two bookstores and now sells at conferences and at—has adapted.

FightBackWithJoy“My bookstore is extremely Charismatic, so I’m always searching for things that don’t make it to the mass market because that keeps my store alive,” Herman said.

Research has shown the market is still growing for the subgenre. According to Barna Group research, at the beginning of the 21st century, 25% of Christians identified as Charismatic or Pentecostal and in 2008, that number climbed to 36%.

“I have people coming to me all the time and asking why their local bookstore doesn’t carry what I carry,” Herman said.

Perez of Charisma House agrees that Christian retailers give attention to the subcategory to their benefit.WPublishing-MakeItHappen

“The Charismatic/Spirit-led category has been a growth category for many retailers,” he said. “That’s great news in a time when flat growth has become a new goal for many.”

Some upcoming Charisma House titles are: Jennifer LeClaire’s devotional Holy Spirit Calling (January); Randy Clark’s The Battle Has Been Won (April); Bill Johnson’s Face to Face With God (May); and Hubert Synn’s The Tales of a Wandering Prophet (June).

Jane Campbell, vice president and publisher at Chosen Books, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group, also sees a growing market for books that were once relegated to small shelves or ignored altogether.

“Everett L. Fullam, a gifted teacher in the charismatic renewal, used to say that the church was going to be either charismatic or dead,” Campbell said. “We are seeing that he was right. The gifts of the Spirit are no longer ghettoized as ‘charismatic’ or ‘emotional’ or even ‘demonic,’ but are accepted as biblical by much of evangelical Christendom. Houses that once avoided or even deplored deliverance or spiritual warfare topics now publish them.”

Upcoming titles from Chosen include School of the Prophets by Kris Vallotton (January); Self-Deliverance by Rabbi K.A. Schneider (June); and The Paranormal Conspiracy by Timothy J. Dailey (July).

Campbell also attributes the growth of the category to better books.

“There used to be tons of testimony books, some with pretty shallow roots,” she said. “Now we find fewer but more powerful and biblically grounded stories of the amazing acts of God. [It’s] the same with expositional works. These books are deeper biblically and more balanced. Not to say there are not excesses. There are. But in my view, the excesses are fewer and more widely identified.”

How can retailers adapt to the needs of the market in this area? Campbell offers a simple answer.

“Actually stocking the books would help, rather than retailers deciding for their customers that certain titles from Christian publishers are unacceptable or even dangerous,” she said.

Steve Oates, Chosen’s vice president of marketing, recommends not isolating such books in a “Charismatic” section, but mixing them in with other Christian Living titles.

“You’ve also got to feature these authors occasionally,” Oates said. “Putting them in an endcap or front-of-store display that says, ‘I carry the people you read and follow in my store.’ ”

Herman has seen success with dedicated endcaps, sometimes focused on subjects rather than authors, such as “a group of books on healing, for instance, or we would have a bunch of Bethel authors,” he said.

Placement is not enough, however, if none of the store staff are familiar with the books or receptive to the authors.

“A friend of mine bought a Chosen book at a store, and while she was checking out—it was a book by Sandy Freed, The Jezebel Yoke—the cashier said ‘Are you sure you want to buy this?’ ” Herman said.

Destiny Image recently released Hosting the Presence by Bill Johnson and is prepping Randy Clark’s The Essential Guide to the Power of the Holy Spirit for release in January.


Perhaps the mainstreaming of Charismatic offerings into the Christian Living category is due in part to a change in tone.

Jeana Ledbetter, vice president and publisher at Worthy Publishing, has noticed a stronger emphasis on “people sharing with people.”

“My observation is that back in the day, [Christian Living] was primarily pastors and professionals, psychologists writing, pastors writing to every man in the pew,” Ledbetter said. “But what I see now is it’s all of us in the church talking to one another. We went through this phase where everyone said it’s all about story. With Donald Miller, it started changing. Primarily, you see a lot of journey telling instead of storytelling. This is what I have gone through walking out my faith.”

Worthy’s upcoming titles include Fight Back With Joy by Margaret Feinberg, who writes of her battle with breast cancer (January), The Miracles in You by Mark Victor Hansen (April) and Fallen by Annie Lobert (February).

Nancy Clausen, senior marketing director for Tyndale House Publishers, still sees a market for self-help books by experts, but “more important to a new generation of Christian readers are stories from people who have been there. They’re inspired by the faith journey of people who’ve been in their shoes.”

Has the popularity of devotionals such as Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling bitten into the Christian Living market share?

“I don’t think so,” Clausen said. “I think that readers are looking for different inspiration and information at different times. And just as Christians and the church are constantly growing and changing, Christian books will always see category cycles.”

Some soon-to-come Christian Living titles from Tyndale are Own Your Life by blogger Sally Clarkson (January) and Your Beautiful Heart by Lauren Scruggs (March), who made national news when she was  severely injured by a spinning plane propeller.

A stronger emphasis on social action also is changing the tone of the category.

“What we are seeing is fewer 10 steps to a better ‘blank,’ which I think is a better thing,” Baugher said. “The last five to 10 years have brought far more challenges to the establishment, calling out believers on desiring changes in the church, renewed focus on social action and faith that is not afraid to ask questions. Still, by and large, somewhat traditional orthodoxy continues to be the strongest.”


Baugher has observed a decreased market share for established authors.

“An author’s past success will not guarantee a purchase of their next title, and that is very different than 10-15 years ago,” he said. “It puts more of an onus on us publishers to publish really fine content, but also makes [it] exceedingly more difficult to establish new ongoing brands. Name retention and sales level is not as simple as it once was.”

He cited Max Lucado as “someone who continues to have great success from book to book, much of it based on his name and perceived value of the content, but it’s not as automatic as it once was.”

Baugher stressed the importance of “discoverability” for breakout authors.

“Discoverability has never been more important, and it’s never been more difficult with far fewer people in the stores and fewer stores themselves,” he said. “You don’t have those new writers and perhaps even established authors being discovered by meandering customers. It is those who are heavily on the speaking circuit or very established in some sort of media—social or traditional—to get people to even know that they have a new book out.”

Charisma House’s Perez sees retailers as balancing two significant goals.

“Sometimes it’s tempting to not be as concerned about discoverability as it is to be concerned with selling volume. It’s a fine line between trying to move volume and addressing the needs of the consumers with great content that is maybe not as well known. A healthy balance is important along with each staff member understanding the needs of their local community in order to recommend the right book.”

Worthy’s Ledbetter cites LifeWay as one Christian retailer who is doing a good job of displaying Christian Living titles up front. Because of the category’s importance, retailers “are intentional about giving them as much visibility as possible,” she said.

Baugher points to a team approach as a model of successful marketing.

“We do our best to plan with the retailers as much as possible so we’re all focusing on the same thing,” he said. “We don’t want to put too much focus on something the retailers are not that interested in, nor do we want to let something go by the wayside if the retailer sees tremendous potential—and communication is key to all of that.”

Although there are changes and challenges with the category, Baugher said that HarperCollins Christian Publishing as a whole is “optimistic” about it.

“I think our entire culture, believers or not, are most interested in story,” Baugher said. “At the end of the day, this is all about story because each person’s story is meaningful and interacts with God’s story in a larger [way], and it is completely unique. God speaks to each generation in new and exciting ways, and we’re excited to play a part in that.”