Christian Retailing

Q & A: Up Close With Stan Jantz Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 02:41 PM America/New_York

An interview with ECPA’s newly appointed executive director

SteveJantzPublishing executive, best-selling author and former Christian retailer Stan Jantz became the executive director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) last fall. With a commitment to Christian publishing and retailing, Jantz talked with Christian Retailing on a wide range of topics, from mentoring aspiring publishing professionals to the value of the Christian retail store.

CR: How many member publishers are there in ECPA now?

Sixty-eight members.

CR: How did it come about that you accepted this new position after Mark Kuyper left to work with the Book Industry Study Group?

When I got the call from the board chair, Dwight Baker, and they were looking at some different candidates, he explained that with Mark’s departure, they didn’t want to rush into an immediate search. They wanted to have a little bit of a gap between Mark’s departure and hiring the next executive director. So I really came with the (board’s) prerequisite that it was not a full-time or ongoing job, and that was fine with me. I wasn’t looking and I didn’t seek it, but I was honored at the time because I really love this industry. I have been involved from retail to writing to publishing, so to be part of ECPA, which works on behalf of publishers was to me a great privilege, so I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to be considered.” They went ahead and chose me to do that role. But I really didn’t expect I would want to do it ongoing or that they would even ask me until about three months into the role in September. We had a board meeting, and they asked me, “Would you consider putting your name in?”

There are three reasons why I would put my name into the pool of candidates. First of all, we have a very competent staff in Phoenix. ... The second reason is the board. I’d gotten to know the board members a little bit. They’re all drawn from the industry. Some are presidents, some are VPs, but all of them are extremely dedicated to the work they do on behalf of ECPA, and I was just really impressed.

Thirdly, and most importantly, was just the work itself, being involved with publishing companies that produce and distribute books, Bibles and resources that serve the church and have such a huge impact on both Christians and the wider culture. ... They had a search committee and did a great job of vetting candidates, and I was a finalist, so as of November, they made the decision to have me fill the ongoing role of executive director.

CR: How does your retail experience help you on the publishing side?

Our stores were called Fresno Bible House, located in central California. My dad, Dan Jantz, was very involved in leadership at CBA. He served on the board. He was chairman for a term, so I was introduced to a lot of publishers. My dad loved publishers!

I’ll tell you one of my favorite memories. Bob Hawkins Sr. was bigger than life—big booming voice, great man and visionary and, of course, worked with Tyndale with the Living Bible and then started Harvest House the same year ECPA started, 1974, in California. My dad and Hawkins were such good friends. My dad was good friends with Bill Greig II. He knew Ted Andrew and, of course, Doug Ross. I felt, “Yes, we’re retailers, but we have a glimpse into the publishing world.” Of course, in those days, all the publishers sent these wonderful sales reps around so you felt like you had a real close connection to the publishing companies.

I loved retail. I understand that the publishers made it happen ... but nothing happened until the bookstore sold it. Of course, that was in the days where that was your only option unless you wanted to do a mail order or a few options like that. But the bookstore was where the rubber met the road, and the products the publishers worked so hard to put out, we had the opportunity and the privilege of selling those to the public.

CR: How do you expect ECPA to grow and continue with training and other benefits?

One of the main areas we’re going to look at—and I’ve already talked to the board about this—is putting more resources online. We’re revamping our website in stages. We want to make it more user friendly for the members. We want to populate that with, for example, webinars that would not just be taping our events. So, for example, Publishing University, or PubU, is an annual fall event that had 28 sessions, with some from outside our industry, presented on five different topics: acquisitions, marketing, digital, production and editorial. In the past, we have filmed those and made them available. We want to actually produce some specific webinar or online videos where you have an expert either from the industry or from without sharing on these different areas of interest to the industry. ... The more we can offer online, it accomplishes two things. One, it presents an archive of these important topics that people can access, but two, it helps publishers be more efficient with their time ... if they can access a webinar, even if they’re paying around $99, versus going to an event and paying the air travel and the hotel. This will not replace the event but, I think, will supplement it and will expose the content we would want to present either at a live event or in a webinar to a much larger group of people.

I love PubU. It was my first one (in October). I had not attended before. It’s the younger practitioners, the publishing professionals who are pretty new in the industry, so you have this opportunity to instruct them in a classroom setting. That’s why we do it on a college campus such as Wheaton, because it gives you that atmosphere, plus they’ve got the classrooms. But it also provides networking so these young practitioners can exchange ideas, get to know one another and see, “Yeah, we’re part of a real industry, and what we do really matters.” Obviously, there’s a clear spiritual dimension to what we do, but just like my dad said, “Unless you run a good business, your ministry won’t be as effective.” Unless we produce products that are excellent, the ministry won’t be as effective.

CR: A good cover can sell a book—or at least draw attention to it. Why does ECPA think it’s important to recognize great design with your Top Shelf Awards?

For the very reasons you said. There’s an old saying: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, people do. We are attracted by something. Even if it’s a 1-inch-by-1/2-inch square on your screen, you can click on that, blow it up, still get a picture of—that’s all part of the giftedness that God has given. ... It not only lifts the product itself, but lifts our industry, I think. It brings proper recognition to the people who are the unsung, behind-the-scenes kind of people who will bring beauty or drama sometimes to a cover.

CR: Christian Living always does well in sales but is a broad category. What categories have you noticed are selling best, and which ones are struggling?

Christian Living is a very broad category. What I think is interesting—and there’s one I’ll just give you as an example—is the book that won ECPA’s New Author of the Year but also Christian Book of the Year last year, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabil Koreshi. It’s a wonderful book and it’s really kind of an autobiography ... (with the author) growing up a Muslim. So the combination of books that speak into the culture to what people are concerned about, what they’re interested in but told from a personal viewpoint—I think that’s a category we’re seeing on the rise. That book captured people because it’s something people were interested in. ... It was well-researched because obviously you learn about Islam and it’s not just anecdotal. There was real substance to it, so I think that one is representative.

ECPA colorThere’s another one that is, I’ll use the term “progressive,” which Reba Riley called Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome, put out by Howard (Books). It’s a book that’s not traditional in the sense that here’s a young lady who had this experience coming out of the church. (It’s) the story we hear from a lot of millennials, that they felt there was legalism, and they didn’t feel there was a place for them and they left. She came back to Christ through exploring all these different religions and has actually found the good and true in many of them. She’s a follower of Christ, but she also benefited from seeing some of the truth she saw in some other religions, so that’s different than what we’re used to, but it represents what younger believers or seekers are looking for. They want that mark of authenticity.

CR: What’s happening in fiction, and are Christian retailers getting much traction with the fiction shopper?

In certain areas, it’s growing. William Paul Young just released his book Eve. I think it’s done very well, and like The Shack, it’s a little unorthodox. ... I try to read about 4-6 books a month. I try to read at least one fiction book every month just to capture for myself great storytelling.

With Christian fiction, we can do better. There’s been a retreat from it because the challenge with fiction in general is so much of fiction is bought on e-books, and the prices are so much less, it’s sometimes hard to justify the investment for publishers. But it’s always been the case that in Christian publishing, fiction is not that big a deal. In the secular world, it’s the major category, especially Young Adult fiction now. It’s just huge, but in the Christian space, that hasn’t been the case. ... The more we can bring, support and raise up storytellers who know how to present God’s truth through narrative, we can grow that space, and I would hope that publishers would come looking for it, (though) it’s not for every publisher.

CR: How would you encourage those who bring a passion for Christian books to work every day?

My dad came up to me one day and said: “You know, we’re in the arts. We sell literature. We’re part of a very, very important profession, and because of who these books are about, it makes it even more important.” ... I’m excited for the new generation of publishing, bookselling and writing professionals who are going to populate our world. I think it’s going to be amazing, what that’s going to look like. Those of us who are in the business now can be a part of helping those next generations as they come up.