Light traffic, low sales leave a question mark over the future of new-style, consumer-oriented event
Following disappointing returns at the first-ever Christian Book Expo, publishers are counting their financial losses—leaving a question mark over the event’s future.
Sponsored by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) and designed for consumers, the show attracted more than 60 publishers and suppliers. Participants prepared for estimated crowds upward of 10,000, but were greeted by around 1,500 registered attendees—including 275 children who were admitted free.
Held at the Dallas Convention Center in Dallas, the March 20-22 event boasted more than 220 Christian authors participating in a range of activities intended to generate exposure for Christian books.
Although evening sessions were geared to what was expected to be the biggest audiences, with seating set up for more than 5,000 seats, it was the event’s daytime panel discussions which drew the highest attendance and attention. Evening session attendance was around 200-400 for each night.
Booth space alone cost some publishers around $9,000 before factoring in expenditure on displays, advertising and product shipments as well as travel and hotel costs for leadership, staff, publicists and authors.
Mark Taylor, president of Tyndale House Publishers, said his company’s plans were to split its resources between CBE and this summer’s International Christian Retail Show, using a smaller booth and fewer staff. Staff travel and expenses, he added, were the most expensive elements of participation.
Rick Lewis, whose Logos of Dallas store was commissioned by InterVarsity Press (IVP) to handle the company’s sales at its CBE booth, said the book fair was “an apparent failure.” He estimated total sales of around $3,000, despite IVP’s large, prominent booth and discount pricing.
Marilyn Largent, senior director of trade sales for David C. Cook, said the company ended up “giving away more books than we sold.”
ECPA President Mark Kuyper, who said he was “hugely disappointed” with the turnout, told Christian Retailing that CBE’s future was to be discussed during the organization’s Executive Leadership Summit in Carlsbad, Calif., in late April. Some ECPA board members had responded positively to him during CBE that it should continue, with a shift in marketing and possibly other “smaller” areas like a venue change or registration costs.
Kuyper also said some publishers, who had expressed disappointment with the turnout, would wait until the show became “more established” before participating again.
If the ECPA board does go forward with another CBE event, Kuyper said, a major area that would need to be re-thought was the marketing plan, which had relied more on publishers’ relationships with consumers to drive the attendance rather than a budget for event advertising.
Thomas Nelson decided last year to redirect some of its marketing strategy away from trade shows and to the new consumer show model. President and CEO Mike Hyatt, chairman of ECPA, said he was “disappointed” with the turnout, but remained “very enthusiastic” about the concept.
“Depending on what my fellow publishers say, I would be for moving ahead with this, perhaps in a smaller venue,” he told Christian Retailing.
‘ESV STUDY BIBLE’ NAMED BOOK, BIBLE OF THE YEAR
Historic truths and modern technology converged when the ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible, Crossway Books & Bible’s best-selling new release, took home top honors at the 31st Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s (ECPA) Christian Book Awards.
The Bible, which won Book of the Year and Bible of the Year, was hailed for its blending of Scripture and commentary from a traditional Calvinist perspective with online exclusive content and digital versions—among the first study Bibles to do so. Nearing a sell-out of its third printing, the Bible has also hit the top spot in Kindle sales, Amazon.com’s E-book format. The Bible has also been ranked in the top 10 best-seller lists of CBA and the ECPA.
Crossway President Lane Dennis, who called the recognition “stunning,” said the reaction to the Bible—published in October—had been remarkable, and he credited the “tremendous” team at the Wheaton, Ill.-based company for its development.
“It’s amazing to think about the impact it’s having worldwide, that especially during challenging times, people are turning to God’s Word,” he told Christian Retailing. “It’s His gift—what an honor it is to publish it.”
The awards were presented before an audience of around 150 on the eve of the official opening of ECPA’s inaugural Christian Book Expo.
“This was a memorable evening in many respects,” said Mark Kuyper, president of ECPA. “It was the first time a study Bible earned top honors and the first time we’ve opened the awards presentation to the public.”
The awards were also noteworthy in that top Christian publishers Thomas Nelson, Zondervan and Tyndale House Publishers, all with products nominated and consistent winners, went home empty handed. Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt remarked on his blog that “this was definitely the year for small presses.”
Another Crossway title, John Piper’s Spectacular Sins, was recognized as the winner in the Christian Life category. Titles from The WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group were honored in two categories—Children & Youth: For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice with Shaunti Feldhahn, and Fiction: The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner.
Winners in other categories were: Bible Reference & Study: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings by Tremper Longman and Peter Enns (InterVarsity Press); and Inspiration & Gift: Holiness Day by Day by Jerry Bridges (NavPress).
The new 2009 awards’ dinner format allowed “time to unpack” the content of the titles, Kuyper said. Students from the Media Arts department of the Dallas Theological Seminary performed dramatic readings of the titles prior to the winners being announced by presenters that included Jerry B. Jenkins, Janette Oke and Don Piper.
The Christian Book Awards winners were selected from 218 products submitted by ECPA member publishers in 2008.
AUTHORS STAR AT NEW BOOK FAIR
Consumers who turned out for the first-ever Christian Book Expo (CBE) came face-to-face with their favorite Christian authors in a variety of settings, including informal book signings, workshops, concert-style events and panel discussions.
“For many years, I’ve gone to trade shows and this is similar to that, except it’s opened its doors to the public,” said author Max Lucado, who gave a keynote address during a CBE general session. “For that, I’m really excited about it.”
Authors also conducted and participated in dozens of workshops throughout the weekend on a wide range of topics such as writing, leadership, youth ministry, marriage, creationism and finances.
Fiction was a top draw, most notably at the Joint Publisher Fiction Showcase. Sponsored by the Christy Awards, a panel of best-selling authors explained their craft to a full room of more than 100 participants and answered questions from the audience. Panelists included Terri Blackstock, T. Davis Bunn, Mindy Starns Clark, Jerry Jenkins, Beverly Lewis, Robert Liparulo, Bill Myers and Janette Oke. Liz Curtis Higgs served as moderator.
Donald Miller, best-selling author of Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What (both Thomas Nelson), said he enjoyed participating in the event because it allowed him interaction with his readers.
“I think it’s a terrific idea and it’s been a great experience to be here,” he said. “One of the great things about the experience—this sounds terrible—but there’s not many people here, you can talk to a lot of people.”
Michael Busch, a Dallas resident and college student, said that as an aspiring writer, the workshops and “culture” provoked his interest. “I came here to observe the culture, hang out and get a feel for the community,” he said. “I went to the workshop by Mindy Starns Clark and it was very good.”
Kristy Allen, a staff member at Dallas’ Concord Baptist Church, told Christian Retailing that her weekend highlights included meeting authors and attending a workshop featuring Lee Strobel.