Christian Retailing

Adjusting to the new climate for fiction Print Email
Written by Scott Etheridge   
Wednesday, 20 May 2015 03:58 PM America/New_York

How to make the category fit your store’s business model

Scott Etheridge

As a community, fiction readers have experienced a heavy shift toward digital consumption. As a result, many bricks-and-mortar retailers have experienced a decline of shoppers who are coming in to purchase fiction. However, with the proper adjustments to your product-purchasing and inventory philosophy, this genre can still be successful for your retail business.

I took the time to chat with Daisy Hutton, vice president and publisher of fiction for HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP), representing the Thomas Nelson and Zondervan publishing programs. Here are her candid thoughts on fiction and the Christian retail store:

Etheridge: How is the overall fiction category trending in Christian retail?

Hutton: Christian retail has been challenged by the conversion to online purchasing and reading of Christian fiction. However, we believe that Christian retail is still a critical channel for fiction publishing. At HCCP, we are very interested in finding creative ways to work with Christian retail to bring new energy into the category.

Etheridge: Are certain categories stronger in print than in others?

Hutton: I can’t say that we’ve noticed particular categories holding more strongly in print. Books that fall outside of category—general and more literary books—have tended to hold more strongly in print. It’s the core genre publishing that has experienced the most extreme migration to digital consumption.

Etheridge: Are certain authors stronger in print than in digital?

Hutton: It is probably no surprise that those authors who have a long-established readership base in Christian fiction have held strongest in their print sales. Authors such as Tamera Alexander, Terri Blackstock, Colleen Coble and Robert Whitlow have held strong in print sales through Christian retail. The challenges are greatest for emerging and midlist authors, where the retailers have a greater risk in bringing in books in quantity. Launching debut authors into the category has become extremely difficult, but launching and building new careers is something that we are deeply committed to at HCCP. If new voices are unable to find a readership, we risk the long-term disappearance of the category. We have to find new and creative ways to work together to continue to CBA’s long tradition and history of helping new and emerging authors find their audience.

I was also privileged to speak with Bethany Martin of Faith and Life Bookstore in Newton, Kansas, on the subject.

Etheridge: What are some of your success stories in maintaining key authors?

Martin: We have a couple local authors that we love to promote, Deb Raney and Kim Vogel Sawyer. Whenever they have a new book coming out, we promote it on Facebook, in our emails and usually try to get them in the store for a signing.

Etheridge: How has your store become a destination point for fiction fans?

Martin: Our customers who are fiction readers know that we love to read too. They stop by and ask us what we’re reading or what we recommend, and many times they will purchase what we tell them. We know our regulars and what they like to read, so it helps us to recommend books that we know they will enjoy. We’re not afraid to help them discover new authors or genres either.

Etheridge: Does your store have a fiction champion?

Martin: Yes! In fact, we have a couple of them. It’s all about building relationships with our customers—going the extra mile to get to know them so that we can get the right books into their hands and earning their trust so they’ll come back again the next time they need a new book.

Consider these action points:

  • Find your in-store fiction champion.
  • Discuss fiction with your customers. Let them know you want to hear back from them after they read the suggested book(s). Facebook is a great way to build community discussion.
  • Become a destination point.
  • Discuss with your sales reps what local authors are available for book signings.
  • Look at inventory levels and turn rates, and correct them as needed.

Remember, it’s doing the small things well that will effect positive change—and your fiction sales will benefit!

Scott Etheridge serves as manager of sales development at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and is responsible for promotions and sales analysis. Connect with him on Twitter at @scottetheridge.