Christian Retailing

Bargain, mass-market books on the rise Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Monday, 06 April 2009 08:38 AM America/New_York
Troubled economy causes shift to ‘value-focused retail’

An upswing in sales of bargain books and mass-market paperbacks is helping retailers and publishers during the economic slowdown.

altDwight Baker, president of Baker Publishing Group, has noticed the renewed interest in bargain books and said his company is consistently moving skids of product that were previously housed “for months.”

“There’s never been an easier time to sell bargain,” he told Christian Retailing. “All of the books we have in that category, we have accounts lining up, and we can’t produce them fast enough. It’s a very value-focused retail right now.”

The emphasis on value has also caused a shift to mass-market paperbacks at the expense of trade paperbacks, said Michael Covington, director of information and education for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).

“In my mind, that would indicate a change toward a more sensitive price point,” he said.

Cherie Gregory, owner of The Potter’s House Parable Christian Store in Valdosta, Ga., said she considers value-conscious customers when seeking out vendors with “reasonable prices.” She reported increased sales of Thomas Nelson’s $5 fiction program as well as bargain bin products from SAS & Associates.

“We generally have several (bargain products) left over, but during the February catalog, we ended up refilling it several times,” she said.

Thomas Nelson’s Barry Baird, executive director of bargain book sales, said the margin on the books, which still gives the retailer 35% on a product already 50% off to the customer, makes them essential to stores looking to grow.

“In my opinion, the strongest Christian bookstores are in the bargain book business,” he said. “As a category, the bargain books continue to generate traffic for the store, value for customers, (and) develop new readership, for fiction in particular.”

Like Gregory, many Christian retailers are veterans in the price-point battle. Because of their experience in the last few years, Baker said Christian retailers are uniquely positioned to weather the recent economic storm, based on the “downward trend.” During this time, stores became “smarter” while surviving, unlike the ABA stores who “slammed on the brakes” toward the end of 2008.

“In the fall, the ABA stores stopped ordering,” he said. “But then they came back with a vengeance in January and February. The Christian retail channels have not been ... that erratic. They are hanging on pretty well, even though I know some stores are having a hard time.”

Baker’s company currently releases 300 titles a year, a number that has changed somewhat through the years, affected by economic conditions. Baker said an open position in his acquisitions department reduces the number of new titles, and he had been hesitant to hire for the future because “I have an obligation to the employees on hand to prevent layoffs.”

Thomas Nelson, which cut 10% of its workforce last April and another 55 positions in December, had already begun slashing title output last year. CEO Michael Hyatt announced at the company’s Open House event in April 2008 a 50% reduction in new titles. Lindsey Nobles, Nelson’s director of corporate communications, said no further reductions have been made since the announcement.

“The company’s 2009 title count will be consistent with its 2008 title count,” she said.

Audiobook publisher Oasis Audio was following that trend by focusing efforts on “fewer higher-quality products,” said Publisher Dan Balow. “We are doing about 35 new titles per quarter now, down from 40 per quarter a year ago.”

Other publishers have not announced drastic cuts, but review title counts on a yearly or quarterly basis. Tyndale House Publishers began a process of reducing output “four to five years ago,” said Corporate Publicist Mavis Sanders and had “no plans” to reduce its number of titles this year. Zondervan had not made any noticeable title reduction, according to Corporate Publicist Tara Powers.

Some publishers have also cut back on their travel and trade show involvement, although none to the degree of Thomas Nelson skipping the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) last year. Baker Publishing remained committed to CBA’s annual summer show, Baker said, but he would not be attending or sending any authors. The move was to help the company direct more resources to the inaugural, consumer-oriented Christian Book Expo, held last month in Dallas.

“We are certainly going to be there (ICRS) to a degree that fits the potential (of return for the company),” Baker said.