Reflections on ICRS 2013

Our world is changing. Advancing technology is driving much of the change. The book publishing and selling industry is not immune to these changes.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) has been attending the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) since 2004. I, personally, have been attending since 2005. The show has greatly changed over the years. One of the biggest changes is the shift in focus for the retailers attending the show. What once was books and music has become gifts and films. Most of the exhibitor sponsored events at this year’s ICRS were advanced showings of Christian films.

CSPA Booth 1830

Three years ago, in 2010, ICRS was held in the America’s Convention Center in St. Louis. The venue this year returned to St. Louis. Being in the same place three years later, really struck home to me the changes that have occurred in the industry and with ICRS. The show’s energy and flow was definitely different than three years ago. As I reflected on this, I realized that there have been some major changes in the industry in the past three years. These include:

  1. Family Christian Stores, the largest Christian chain retailer, moved from a regular purchasing model with payment within 60 days to an all consignment model. They now buy directly from publishers and stock all their merchandise on consignment.
  2. Cokesbury, another large Christian retail chain and one that had been more friendly to small publishers, closed all their physical bookstores and moved to an online only store.
  3. The sales of digital books went from a miniscual percentage of books in 2010 to one-fourth of all book sales this year.
  4. Print book buying has shifted. The majority of print books are now being purchased online. In 2012, 43.8% of books bought by consumers were purchased online, while only 31.6% of books were purchased in all large retail chains, independent bookstores, other mass merchandisers, and supermarkets.

These changes raise the question: Is there still value in attending ICRS?

I believe there is. However, ICRS should no longer be viewed as a venue to get Christian retailers to stock your books in their stores. Rather, ICRS provides other rich opportunities for small publishers and authors.

1. ICRS is a great place to learn.
In addition to the learning that takes place on the show floor from viewing the competition to see what they are doing so that you can stay on top of trends, ICRS provides a large number of opportunitities for learning in the many seminars at the show. In addition to Publishers’ Institute (sponsored by CSPA), this year’s program included seminars on using social media, getting interviews with the media, an author bootcamp, reaching the Catholic market, technology tools and trends in marketing, and using events to connect with consumers.

2. ICRS is a great place to land interviews with the media.
Many radio and TV programs attend ICRS looking for fresh guests. Authors can connect with the media and be interviewed in person at the show. I, personally, was not looking to acquire media interviews at the show, however, God brought to me media personnel who were interested in hosting interviews about CSPA and what we do. God ordained connections happen at ICRS.

3. Numerous opportunities for networking are available.
ICRS offers many opportunities for small publishers and authors to network with a wide variety of industry personnel from other authors, to distributors, to sales and marketing people, to retailers, to other publishers. These networking opportunities can lead to collaborative efforts among authors, among publishers, and between various other professionals in the industry to help publishers and authors expand their audience and market reach. A number of publishers and authors reported to me that they had made contacts and began negotiations for special sales agreements and collaborations at the show.

4. ICRS offers international sales opportunities.
If you are willing to sell to overseas retailers and distributors, opportunitites exist to connect with international people to sell your books. ICRS hosts a number of International attendees seeking good Christian materials for their home countries. One exhibiting publisher shared with me that almost all of his business transactions at ICRS were with international retailers.

While ICRS may no longer be the avenue for authors and publishers to directly acquire bookstore sales, the show still contains many valuable opportunities for small publishers and authors who choose to attend the show. At CSPA, we are constantly evaluating the services we offer our members to ensure that they still have value. At this time, we feel that ICRS still has value for small publishers and authors. Therefore, we are committed to attending ICRS in Atlanta next summer in 2014 (God willing). We hope you will join us there.

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Trade Show Business

Book Expo America (BEA) is the largest trade show the book business hosts. It is a general book show that includes secular and Christian titles. Famous people (and not so famous people) come to BEA to sign their latest titles.

The International Christian Retail Show (ICRS), held later this month, is a similar trade show to BEA, except that it is a niche show just for the Christian market. As such, it is smaller than BEA.

If you have never attended either BEA or ICRS, watch this recent video shot at BEA this year to get a small glimpse of what a book trade show is like.

Many authors I talk to balk as giving out free books at a trade show. Yet, you will see from this video that it is the usual form of business at such shows. While not every author at BEA gives away free books, giving away something to promote a book is usual and customary. You will see in this video that instead of giving away free copies of her new cookbook, Paula Dean gave away signed copies of a recipe from her new book.

Remember, good marketing usually costs money, but if you want to do it well and save money, that takes great creativity.

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