Every year for the past five years, the number of attendees and exhibitors at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) has declined. This year the numbers were down over 20 percent. As numbers drop, speculation runs high as to whether there is any value in continuing to host or attend a trade show, and whether it is still even a needed component in today’s highly virtual world.
This year CBA reported that 1,903 professionals (i.e. retailers and media) attended the ICRS with 534 of these international attendees from 56 different countries. Even with declining attendance, I believe there are some compelling reasons why continuing such a show is important.
1. It’s the best forum to encourage and enhance collaboration.
The Christian retail industry is made up of many different suppliers all holding slightly different agendas. A once-a-year meeting of the industry allows the different components to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ with a common mission: spreading the Gospel of Christ. The outcome of this is increased collaboration and encouragement to keep working together to meet this common objective.
2. It’s cost effective.
Yes, attending ICRS for publishers is costly. However, it is a lot less expensive then traveling around the world to meet with the 1,903 professional attendees who came to the show. Meeting many people in one place always saves time and expense.
3. It provides excellent exposure for new and smaller presses.
A gathering of the industry allows new and smaller publishers more exposure to Christian retailers then each would receive through just utilizing a sales rep. ICRS allows authors and publishers to talk with retailers about their books and the needs each meets. Retailers can receive copies of books to preview to assist them in their purchasing decisions.
While ICRS provides a wonderful opportunity for publishers to “catch new bookstores” to sell their books, it also opens doors for media exposure. One author at the Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) booth had approached a Christian television show about featuring him and his book. The show turned him down. Someone from that very television show came to his book signing at ICRS and told him that his book should be featured on their show. With this new contact and the exposure he received at ICRS, he now has the opportunity for his book to be featured on the show.
4. There is no substitute for personal interactions.
We are relational creatures. While our world is moving toward increased digital interactions, these cannot and will not ever replace the power of personal human contact. It is common to overhear the phrase, “It’s so nice to finally meet you in person,” at ICRS. Personal connections sell books. ICRS provides opportunities for these connections and for building new relationships that will last for eternity.
I do not think CBA has any intention of abandoning a Christian Retail Show. I do know that they are looking at changes to keep it effective. Some of the changes they are considering involve further collaboration with other parts of the industry (rumor has it that there is talk of possibly combining ICRS and the Gospel Music Week).
Hebrews 10:25 says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Day is approaching. The industry still needs to meet and encourage one another. Whether through combining events or simply moving to a smaller, more cost-effective venue, a Christian retail show still provides a valuable service and meeting place for the industry. It should not be given up.