While attending the ICRS tradeshow for Christian retail stores and publishers in Orlando last week, the lack of energy was palpable. There was a sense of nervous concern about the future, and you could tell that big changes are hitting the industry. Here's a sample of the decline in event attendance:
"Last week’s trade show ended July 17 with total attendance of 7,448—the lowest numbers since the 1980s, and well off last year’s already limp showing of 9,266. Professional attendance (which is mostly retailers, plus some industry professionals) was down to 2,386, a 17% drop from last year and about half as much as in New Orleans eight years ago...Exhibitor numbers declined to 353 (including music and gifts), down from 410 two years ago."
Source: Publishers Weekly
The good news is that many Christian publishers are still selling lots of books and doing okay financially (Thomas Nelson and Baker both did well in 2007). However, the bad news is that more Christian bookstores are continuing to close. Current CBA membership is down to only 1,731 retail locations. This problem puts Christian publishers in a tough spot, because their retail distribution options are narrowing as the large bookstore chains grow in buying power. In other words, publishers are trying to cram more cherries (books) into an ever-shrinking cherry pie (retail market).
One way for publishers to combat this tightening distribution trend is to pursue more non-retail channels, such as bulk sales, social networking, sponsorships, and direct-to-consumer sales. However, most of these options are best met by getting the author involved in the sales process.
For example, most social networks hate corporate intrusions and product promotion. But, authors can build relationships within these communities to increase awareness and spur new book sales. When publishers help educate their authors how to grow their platform, they can tap into a lot of new growth opportunities.
It's time for publishers to stop talking about how much they value "author platform," and offer real training to help their authors make it happen. To elaborate, check out my article, "Why Launch a Book When You can Launch an Author?"
Christian bookstores are disappearing because they struggle to offer real value to readers (price, location, inventory, etc.). Instead, they try to rely on sympathy votes from Christians to get business, but few believers are voting for them. Let's hope that Christian publishers learn from this problem and avoid making the same mistake.