Independent Bookstore Day

Free Comic Book Day! Record Store Day! The events are used to raise awareness and drive sales for small independent stores. Not to be outdone, independent bookstores have decided to have their own day.

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Independent Bookstore Day will be held May 2, 2015. Last year, the event started as California Bookstore Day and was a success. This year, the event is going national, so that all independent bookstores across the nation can be involved and benefit from the publicity with the goal of increasing sales.

Truth be told, many independent bookstores are struggling. Last month, in the Christian bookstore industry, announcements were made about stores closing.

Tree of Life Christian Outlet announced that it will be closing the doors on all eight of its retail locations effective June 30. Tree of Life cites one main factor in its closing is that the costs of operating the business continue to increase, while sales decrease as competition online gets harder to compete with.

Cedar Springs Christian Stores also announced that it will be closing two of its three stores. At one time, Cedar Springs Christian Store was the largest independent Christian bookstore in the country. Cedar Springs cites that changing habits is a major factor in its decline as more people shop from the Internet.

Independent Bookstore Day is meant to bring attention to booksellers in these changing times. While independent bookstores only account for about 10% of all book sales in the United States, they continue to be an important piece of the bookselling puzzle. Traditionally, small independent bookstores have been instrumental in helping small and local authors gain traction for their books.

Yes times are changing. More books are purchased online then in brick-and-mortar stores. However, books are still purchased in stores. As authors and publishers, supporting local bookstores not only helps the overall book market, it also helps you since you are part of that book market.

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A Shakeup in the Christian Book Industry

A shakeup is happening in the Christian book industry. Family Christian stores the largest Christian store chain in the country (counting locations, not necessarily sales revenue) with 266 stores in 36 states has filed bankruptcy.

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Initially, Family Christian filed for a sale of its assets and operations under Section 363 of Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code. This allows the company to reorganize. Family Christian Ministries, which owns the stores, had formed a new subsidiary to buy the stores for $73,773,000 and assume the property leases and other accrued operating liabilities. It was reported that the company expected to continue operations without closing stores or laying off employees.

Then last week, a group of 27 Christian publishers filed a joint lawsuit against Family Christian to keep the retailer from selling their products at a future auction. It appears that Family Christan recently made the decision to sell around $20 million worth of books, music and DVDs at an auction scheduled for later this year. However, the products that Family Christian plans to sell they did not purchase; rather these are consigned products. A few years ago Family Christian stores went to a consignment model to save money. In this model, publishers shipped merchandise to Family Christian and Family Christian did not have to pay the publishers for the merchandise until it sold.

Court documents show that Family Christian owes banks and vendors (publishers) about $97 million, not including the consigned inventory. Publishers are concerned that if Family Christian auctions off the inventory that they have consigned, they will not be able to recoup any money for these products. In the lawsuit, the publishers are demanding that Family Christian either return consigned inventory to each respective publisher or pay the publishers outright for the products.

All this appears to point to the fact that Family Christian is not doing as well as they originally indicated. That, in fact, if they need to auction inventory to raise money, they may have to look at closing stores and laying off employees. The company may not be able to continue “business as usual” even with a reorganization.

If this is true, it bodes ill for the Christian book market. While some reading this blog may say, “Since more books today are purchased online than in physical stores, the impact won’t be much.” I disagree. The more channels through which consumers can purchase books, the more books will sell—and selling books in bookstores actually earns an author more money.

Bookstores are important when it comes to selling books. A recent study showed that while only 54% of traditionally published books actually made it onto bookstore shelves, those that did earned their authors a median of $5,000 to $9,999 across all platforms. Traditionally published books that were not sold in bookstores only made their authors a median of $1 to $499. For self-published books, the study showed that those that were sold in bookstores (only 12%) earned a median of $500 to $999 compared to $1 to $499 for those self-published books that weren’t.

Every time a sales channel is lost, book selling takes a hit. If the largest Christian bookstore chain ends up closing its doors, publishers and authors will need to be creative to adapt and create sales opportunities elsewhere.

Update as of March 20, 2015:
Family Christian has filed a court notice withdrawing its motion of plans for bankruptcy. The company announced its plans this week through an official statement.

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Helping You Be Successful

Recently, one of the publisher associations for independent publishers released their annual distributor directory. This association is providing their members a much needed service through offering this directory each year. I applaud them.

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As I looked over the directory, I realized that this newly updated book distributor directory did not include any of the Christian book distributors. I was reminded afresh why there is still a need for an association for small publishers and independent authors who are producing materials for the Christian marketplace.

Eleven years ago, when I helped found Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), the purpose and mission of CSPA was to provide information and services to those producing Christian materials. When I first independently published a Christian book, I discovered that the existing publisher associations for people like me did not provide the tools I needed to reach the Christian marketplace. Hence, CSPA was founded to provide that service.

Looking at the distributor directory reminded me afresh that CSPA still plays a vital role for those small publishers and authors producing Christian materials. Christian Small Publishers Association continues to provide information and services that help our members reach the Christian marketplace.

While Christian books can be found in secular bookstores and in public libraries, many Christians choose to use Christian bookstores (online as well as physical stores) to purchase their books. Many churches host libraries filled with Christian materials. For this reason, it is important to make your Christian books available to these venues. However, the Christian marketplace does not use the same distributors or tradeshows that secular bookstores and libraries use. Knowing these resources and having access to them is necessary for those producing Christian materials.

Belonging to a publishers association is important for anyone producing books. Membership in an association signals that you are serious about your endeavor. It also provides you with the information and the resources you need to be successful.

If you already belong to a publisher’s association, I applaud you for making use of services geared toward helping you be successful. If you produce Christian materials, I encourage you to consider membership in CSPA. You can learn more about the benefits of membership on CPSA’s website.

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Important Information for Christian Authors

Do you finish every book you start to read? Many people don’t. I once saw a statistic that said that most people only read about half of a nonfiction book.

Today, many ebook retailers have proprietary software for reading their ebooks. This software allows them to actually track how readers interact with the books they download. One of the pieces of information that can be tracked is whether or not a book is actually read all the way to the end.

Kobo (which delivers digital books to 23 million people in 190 countries and is a competitor to Amazon Kindle) recently released statistics for 2014 that showed how frequently readers finished the ebook titles they bought. Here are the results they released.

Kobo Study

What I found so fascinating in this report is that Religion books were the most abandoned (not read all the way through). In four out of the six countries featured, religion books came in with the lowest percentage for completion. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.

Learning that Religion books have the lowest completion rate is discouraging. Now I want to know why? Of course, Kobo can’t track why via its e-reading software. That is data that would need to be collected via surveys.

I have decided to not even speculate on why. There are so many possible reasons.
Instead, let me say a few related words. Sometimes member authors of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) will tell me that they feel that a reviewer did not read their book through to completion. This is generally when they have received a negative review. With this statistic, I don’t find it surprising at all that some reviewers may never finish a book, especially if they don’t like it. After all, only 35% of people in North America who download a Religion title actually read the entire book.

The other thing that strikes me from this study is that, if you are an author of a religious book, you should pack your biggest punch, your most important message, at the beginning of your book. That way, you can be sure that a reader will read your most important message. If you leave it for the latter half of your book, only about 35% of readers will ever see it.

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The State of Fiction Reading

My teenage daughter loves to read fiction. However, as a young teenager, she is finding it difficult to fine good novels to enjoy. She feels that she has outgrown children’s novels, yet at the same time doesn’t like many of the mature themes presented in many Young Adult novels. Lately my daughter has been complaining about the “lack of good writing” in the books she has been reading.

reading

Interestingly, a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts reveals that the number of people reading fiction in the United States is on the decline. The study found that in 2012, only 47% of people surveyed (survey size of 37,000) reported reading a fiction book, down from 50% in 2008. Yet back in 2002, only about 47% of people also reported reading a fiction book.

So I wonder. Is the number of people reading fiction really on the decline—or—do these figures better reflect on the type and number of good fiction titles release each year the survey was completed?

I suspect that that answer is really the latter, especially since the decline is only a matter of a few percentage points. Maybe 2008 was a year that had a few more really popular novels released. Years in which novels like The Twilight Series, The Shack, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Gray, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the like are released may have more people responding that they have read a fiction book. After all, some people only read a book when they have heard from family and friends that it is a “must read.” Some years I read more fiction than other years. So some people may only read a fiction book once every few years.

On the whole, this study seems to indicate that about half the population in the United States reads a fiction book each year. The study also found that men are more likely to read nonfiction books and women are more likely to read fiction.

The only way to increase reading rates—whether that is for a book you publisher or just fiction books in general—is to give readers what they seek: a compelling story.

Anyone publishing a fiction book faces huge competition for readership. So, be sure that your book has a compelling story and that it stands out from the crowd before you take the plunge. And, be prepared for negative reviews. People’s enjoyment of stories is very personal and subjective based on their tastes, experiences, and worldviews.

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