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CBE: Book expo review after low turnout Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Monday, 23 March 2009 03:57 PM America/New_York
altA question mark hangs over the future of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's (ECPA) new Christian Book Expo (CBE) after a "hugely" disappointing turnout for the inaugural event in Dallas over the weekend.

As the three-day, consumer-oriented event closed yesterday, organizers released attendance numbers of a little more than 1,500 registered attendees, including 275 children who were given free registrations. The total was just a fraction of the number originally anticipated.

"Obviously we're hugely disappointed in the attendance, we expected more," said ECPA President Mark Kuyper. "We felt like in coming to Dallas with what could be done here, it would probably be 15,000-20,000 minimum."

If the ECPA 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.

"If a publisher has a relationship with churches, that publisher is going to be more effective than if we send out a program (that) it comes from CBE or ECPA, they have no idea who we are," Kuyper said. "The task was to have all the authors and all the publishers communicate about the event to the constituency they have, whether it's a reader for an author a church or a ministry or another organization, retail."

The CBE organizing committee had wanted to keep the event as low cost as possible to minimize the risk and since publishers were already communicating to many of the people on a regular basis, the idea was to piggyback on that relationship, he said.

Kuyper said although the board would meet at ECPA's April Executive Leadership Summitt in Carlsbad, Calif., to discuss CBE's future, some board members had already responded positively that it should continue, with a shift in marketing and possibly other "smaller" areas like a venue change or registration costs. Kuyper also said that some publishers, who had expressed disappointment with the turnout, would wait until the show became "more established" before participating again.

Tyndale House Publishers and Baker Publishing Group (BPG) were among the more than 60 publishers and suppliers participating in the event and both have expressed interest in future shows. Tyndale President Mark Taylor said CBE was a "bit of a gamble" in putting together, but would be "interested in doing this again." Dwight Baker, president of BPG, echoed those sentiments, saying "we're not giving up on this event."

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 although he was "disappointed" with the attendance, he 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. "We have to figure out how to connect the consumer with our industry."

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group President Steve Cobb said in spite of the attendance, the weekend had "positive elements," including raising awareness of Christian books.

"I think we've created and enhanced that awareness even with the limited numbers we've seen," he said. "That's positive. (The show) has to be economically scaled, so ... it's a reasonable investment for us to make as a promotional vehicle. But I think there are positives here."