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Review – Latest Spirituality Titles: 10 to Watch – Spring 2015

January 11, 2015 2 comments

Whoever said that Christian books are boring? Not so . … here is a personal selection of my ‘Ten to Note’ Christian titles from the many hundreds published in the current period:

40 Days, 40 Bites: A Family Guide to Pray for the World

Simply superb! If you missed this, you’ve missed a treat. This is Operation World Lite for all the family. Colourful and informative, a really outstanding package which deserves to do well. The maps, charts and prayer points enable adults and children to learn together whilst praying for the world.

Footsteps of Jesus: Pilgrim Traveller’s Guide to the Holy Land

Despite the perceived and sometimes real dangers, people still travel to Israel. I went there last year and I’m sure I would have benefited from this new BRF guide. The truth is that, alongside a Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet, you need to take a spiritual guidebook as well. This should be the one.

10 to Note 40 days 40 bites10 to Note Footsteps of Jesus

In God’s Hands – Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2015

At the heart of Archbishop’s Tutu’s faith is an unshakeable belief in the infinite value of every individual. This, coupled with his unwavering declaration of the love of God for everyone regardless of colour or faith, makes this paperback a profound reflection for the forthcoming season of Lent.

Love so Amazing: 40 Reflections on my Favourite Hymns

I love hymns. I collect books of hymn stories. Hymns are in danger of being lost to our culture. BBC TV’s ‘Songs of Praise’ has probably done more than most churches in keeping hymns alive in the national consciousness. Presenter Pam Rhodes selects her personal choices in this small hardback.

10 to Note In Gods hands10 to Note Love so amazing

Miracles

Sub-titled, ‘What they are, why they happen and how they can change your life’. Is this rather hefty hardback the definitive work on the subject of Miracles? You must judge for yourself, but it comes with some weighty endorsements, and attempts to navigate the middle ground between the extremes of enthusiasm and scepticism.

The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating

I heard Andy Stanley preach at his mega-church in Atlanta last year. He is the son of the better-known Charles Stanley. Above all, Andy Stanley came across as sensible, realistic and down-to-earth, with none of the usual trappings of American superstar preachers. This book deserves to do well.

10 to Note Miracles10 to Note New Rules

On Rock or Sand: Firm Foundations for Britain’s Future

The Archbishop of York always seems such a joyful, solid character, and a far better role model for this country than so many of our politicians. In this book, John Sentamu edits various contributions looking at the essential values required to build a just, sustainable and compassionate society for the Britain of the future.

Presence and Encounter

I met David Benner at a counselling conference in Singapore. He had the most extraordinary impact on my life, introducing me to the constancy and beauty of God’s presence. I view that moment as a clear spiritual turning point. Anything written by Dr Benner is well worth reading – very slowly!

10 to Note On rock or sand10 to Note Presence encounter

When God Breaks In

Yes, it’s the same Michael Green – back again with a fascinating book of how Christianity is thriving and growing around the world. For me, the interest lay in his chapter of how spiritual renewal came to Singapore. Sub-titled ‘Revival can happen again’, this is truly a faith-building and timely book.

The Wisdom House

Hodder Faith do produce attractive books. This title is elegantly packaged and makes a lovely gift. I enjoyed this book of ‘life-lessons’. As a grandparent, so much of what Rob Parsons writes resonated with me. This is vintage Parsons: thought provoking, faith-full and wise. This really is a significant book.

10 to Note When God breals in10 to Note Wisdom House

This article was written in November 2014 for publication in Together Magazine (January to February 2015).

These titles can be purchased via any good Bookshop or from clcbookshops.com.

Bibliographic Metadata        
Title Author Publisher ISBN
40 Days 40 Bites: A Family Guide to Pray for the World Trudi Parkes Christian Focus 9781781914014
Footsteps of Jesus: Pilgrim Traveller’s Guide to the Holy Land Perry Buck BRF 9780857463456
In God’s Hands (ABC Lent Book 2015) Desmond Tutu Bloomsbury 9781472908377
Love so Amazing: 40 Reflections on my Favourite Hymns Pam Rhodes Lion Hudson 9780857215703
Miracles Eric Metaxas Hodder Faith 9781473604766
The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating Andy Stanley Thomas Nelson 9780310342199
On Rock or Sand: Firm Foundations for Britain’s Future Editor: John Sentamu SPCK 9780281071746
Presence and Encounter David Benner Brazos Press 9781587433610
When God Breaks In Michael Green Hodder Faith 9781444787962
The Wisdom House Rob Parsons Hodder Faith 9781444745665
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Book Trade – Stock, stock and yet more stock

January 26, 2014 8 comments

Working on Together magazine and through my involvement with CLC Wholesale, I see a huge variety of product. In fact, far too much product in my opinion. Publishers and distributors are continuing to push out new titles into a fundamentally changed sales environment and a shrinking physical market. This cannot continue. The economics don’t add up. Internet retail copes poorly with new product as recent debates over ‘Discoverability’ show. In my view, the jury remains undecided on whether the Internet will ever fully replace the ‘lost’ B&M sales from the many, many shops that have closed in recent years.

Stock, stock and yet more stock!

And yet still the titles keep coming. Suppliers have yet to react intelligently to such a radically changed marketplace. I doubt anyone can continue to keep publishing at current levels into an already saturated market. I fear further fallouts. Mergers could follow. Self-publishing is already making inroads into the traditional model and publishing is feeling the cold draught of reality. I applaud publishing start-ups, like Edinburgh’s Muddy Pearl, that are probably nimble enough to make it, but they too face an uncertain future.

Muddy Pearl at CRE

There is way too much mediocre product, much of it destined to remain unread – a major challenge for authors as well as for publishers. Put simply, way too much is being published and a market correction is surely due. Publically quoted Lion Hudson PLC has taken a large stock write-down for two years running; £924,000 in 2013 and £550,000 in 2012 (Source: annual company accounts). Many other publishers have similar challenges providing for high levels of dead or slow-moving stock. Quite whether all are as strong as a PLC to cope financially with such savage action is a moot point. Over the longer term, publishers will profit from the shift to digital as they will benefit significantly from higher sales but with far lower stock management costs.

This summer, we caught a glimpse of what happens when a tectonic shift takes place. The Kingsway–DC Cook distribution upheaval has left a drastically altered landscape, especially for many USA houses. The reality has dawned that the UK no longer has the distribution capacity required to handle the vast amount of Christian product looking for a home. Not all of those suppliers originally with KW/DCC will be racked here again. Some are still looking; others have withdrawn from the UK. Distribution is not for the faint-hearted. It costs. Lots. Especially if you are intent on the deep stocking of all lines listed. Something has to give as the financials are becoming harder and harder to get right. New product is replaced by even newer product in an ongoing frenetic cycle – and then promptly forgotten. Ask yourself, how many of the recent titles you have been shown have ‘made it’ and are still earning their keep? In my view, the only way for retail to survive is to become ever more selective – to the severe frustration of publishers (and authors) who nurse the fervent belief that every one of their titles is both ‘key’ and ‘core’ to your business.

Where does this leave the Christian retailer? Those who survive will be those shops that choose stock wisely, prudently and are selective in the extreme. The game has completely changed.  For publishers to succeed, the key issue is ‘discoverability’ whereas for the retailer the absolute priority is ‘selectivity’. On what are you spending your money? No longer can it be about stocking anything and everything. To do so is impossible given such a huge product range and the relative size of most UK stores; insane given the investment needed in stock that could be here today and gone tomorrow; and unnecessary in a digital world which demands physical retail to be distinctive and unique if it is ever to make it through to the end of this decade.

I contend that selectivity and discoverability really do lie at the heart of this debate. You and I have the power to move the market if we truly believe in a product. The art is finding the book that really moves you to want to handsell it to as many friends, family, colleagues and customers as is humanly possible. When did a title last grab you like that? What was it? How good did it make you feel when it started to move off the shelves? My colleague, Chris Magee did just this with ‘The Circle Maker‘ (Zondervan). Its message touched him deeply, so he sent one copy to many of the retailers that CLC works with – and it remains one of their top sellers. Without such action, many books will sink without trace.

Most of us came into this trade to make a difference to people’s lives. Recommending – suggesting – handselling a title that has absolutely got to you is just the most fulfilling aspect of what we do. Hype and PR have no place in this trade and yet seemingly it’s all around us. Do we truly believe all the claims that we make for much of the product that we promote? Is it not high time we looked again at the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the sale as well as our need to shift stock? In a few short years, we seem to have gone full-circle. There was a time when our shops were expected to stock in both width and depth. No longer; the new trading reality allows us to be ourselves and stock what we wish to sell, what we believe in and not those titles which have no place in our shops, as their claims are often far too spurious and their content questionable. It’s time for a rethink right across the trade on this matter.

Moving from the negative to the positive, I’d like to highlight a couple of areas that certainly warrant our attention – Children’s books and Bibles. I’ve written previously about the continuing growth in the sale of children’s titles, especially for the younger age group (pre-school and picture books are up 5.5% in five years according to new Nielsen figures). However, the one area that merits serious profile is Bibles. Sales continue to rise year-on-year. The appetite for Bibles seems to grow and grow. The range of styles and colours has never been as wide. Pink Bibles sell! This is the area that we do know about. It’s our specialism and no one can compete with us in our knowledge of the Bible market. Even the reinvigorated Waterstones doesn’t really cover this section that well.

Christian retailers know Bibles better than anyone (or at least I hope we do). Translations, bindings and fonts are what we do. It’s truly a skill to manage a good Bible department – and it pays off. This is the one area on which we must concentrate effort – through high stock investment, in-depth staff training and knowledgeable customer engagement. I’ve always enjoyed selling Bibles; that passion has never gone away. This is the one genre that makes this trade special – very special – distributing the very word of God is not given to everyone but you and I get to do it as part of our day job – wow!

Bibles and more Bibles ...

Here are four stand-out Bibles that have impressed me this autumn. This is a personal selection (no publisher was involved in this choice!) but I would be proud to promote and handsell all of these Bibles to any customer (or friend) I might come across!

1. The NLT Wayfinding Bible (Tyndale House)

This is quite superb and is probably my favourite newcomer this year – a very clever use of colour and graphics enabling the reader to find their way through the complexity of the Bible by navigating via three clear ‘routes’. Love it.

2. The NIV Journalling Bible (Hodder Faith)

Of the various covers available, the black cloth hardback is my favourite. Journals sell well in all shops and spiritual journalling is increasingly popular. This Bible has a lot of journalling space. It feels great and is a welcome addition to the range – but I’d use a soft pencil rather than ink when writing in it.

3. The NIV Every Day with Jesus Bible (CWR)

I loved the imaginative marketing campaign on www.onebible.co.uk Check it out. Selwyn Hughes’s hugely popular notes, allied to the Anglicised NIV 2011 text and presented in a chronological one year reading edition make this a ‘must-have’ stock item.

4. The ERV Youth Bible (Authentic)

At last – the text and notes in this perennial youth market best-seller have been completely reworked. It’s good – very good – and for a while at least, the price looks unbeatable. Impressive, and it’s good to add such a fine looking Bible to the shop youth section.

This article was written in late October for Together Magazine (December 2013 to January 2014)

Book Trade – is News Corp a ‘Fit and Proper’ entity to be a Bible publisher?

November 1, 2011 1 comment

Last evening, a bombshell exploded in the worldwide book trade with the announcement by HarperCollins in New York of their proposed purchase of Thomas Nelson USA (Publisher of Billy Graham, Max Lucado and the New King James Bible).

This is astonishing. News Corporation already owns Zondervan (the Publisher of the New International Version, on licence from Biblica USA) and HarperCollins (the Publisher of the Good News Bible).

I, for one, am not hugely keen on the news that an ethically discredited NewsCorp may shortly own two major USA Christian publishers; Zondervan & Thomas Nelson; thus – incredibly – making Rupert Murdoch the largest Christian publisher in the world, in control of many of the major English translations of the Bible!

I believe, in the light of the phone-hacking scandal here in the UK, that NewsCorp is not a ‘fit and proper’ entity to control such a major percentage of English Bible translations. To me, this is extremely worrying.

As John Duncan said on Facebook today;

 ‘By my reckoning this now makes HC owners of the companies that produce the NKJV, a large percentage of the KJV (both Nelson and HC), the NCV, the NIV (US editions), the GNB, the ESV (UK editions), and some NRSV – rather a lot of bibles, really’.

Christianity Today reported in September 2010 that:

 ‘The American Bible Society says there are 32 translations on the North American market, while Christian Book Distributors offers over 50. BibleGateway.com offers 23 English versions’.

Whilst this is true, CBA USA figures indicate that the list of best selling Bibles by unit sales in 2010 is actually a much smaller group of translations;

    1. New International Version
    2. King James Version
    3. New King James Version
    4. New Living Translation
    5. English Standard Version
    6. Holman Christian Standard Bible
    7. The Message

Make no mistake; News Corp may soon control the majority of the bestselling English translations of the Bible. In this list, the only independent translations are The New Living Translation (Tyndale), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Broadman and Holman) and The Message (NavPress).

I have known and worked with good people in all of the companies mentioned above and I have no wish to cause offence but this seems to be a rather perilous and serious state of affairs. Thomas Nelson is a privately owned USA company – maybe the owners will see sense and reconsider the sale.

2 Corinthians 2:17 states; ‘Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God’.

These are salutory and hard words indeed for all of us working in this industry.

Book Trade – a further 12 weeks in the life of the wider trade

This list documents some recent ‘happenings’ in the wider book trade;

  • Online sales now make up 17% of all UK retail spending
  • Living Oasis – experiencing ongoing shop closures
  • STL Distribution – a further round of redundancies
  • Celebrated the 400 year anniversary of the King James Bible (AV)
  • Inexorable rise in the sale of eBooks
  • PA figures show eBooks grew last year to 6% (£180m) of £3.1bn UK book market
  • Scott Macdonald replaces Moe Girkins as Zondervan’s CEO
  • Amazon eBookstore lists 945,000 Kindle generated eBooks
  • Four authors have already sold over 1 million eBooks via Amazon
  • USA book production figures rose 5% despite huge increase in eBook sales
  • The end of an era; RIP STL Distribution – say hello to Trust Media Distribution
  • Amazon predicted to sell $5.4bn Kindle generated eBooks in 2011
  • Amazon is selling more eBooks than paperbacks; 105 on Kindle to every 100 in print
  • HMV sells its Waterstones business to A&NN Capital Fund Management for £53m

 Click here for an earlier digest of the first 8 weeks of this year.

Book Trade; NIV Bible eBook tops USA bestseller Lists this Christmas

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

More news of interest to book trade readers as eBook sales continue to gain momentum. Zondervan has just reported its NIV Bible eBook (released on 15 Dec 2010), featuring the newly updated New International Version of the Bible (NIV), is the company’s fastest-selling eBook, and made it onto the USA Today bestsellers list.  The digital release marks the first time that a new Bible translation has launched in a digital format prior to publication in a print format.

Chip Brown, Bible Publisher at Zondervan is quoted as saying, ‘Millions of people unwrapped an iPad, Kindle, Nook or other e-reader during the holiday season, leading to an industry-wide spike in eBook sales, and we are delighted that the NIV Bible was among consumers’ most desired eBooks to download’. 

Zondervan claim to be the first publisher to have had Bibles available in Apple’s iBookstore at the launch of the iPad. In total, the company has published more than 30 Bible titles for eBook readers, including the iPad, Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s Nook and the Sony Reader.

Review – Grace Notes; Philip Yancey

I must first declare an interest; I’m a total Philip Yancey fan (there – I’ve said it!). ‘Grace Notes’ is drawn from the best of 30 years’ writing by the award-winning author and acts as something of a ‘Yancey Taster’; it’s therefore both good and bad.  Good, as it acts as a superb introduction to Yancey’s writings, and bad, in that inevitably it cannot do complete justice to the depth and quality of those writings. For that you have to read the actual books themselves.

Even if you do own all of Yancey’s books, this one is still worth buying just for the Preface alone. If you love books and you love good writing, you’ll very much appreciate the intro; it’s his personal synopsis of what led Yancey to write, along with many of the events along the way, as well as how he deals with the considerable impact he has made on other people through his writings – wonderful, moving, powerful ‘stuff’.

The structure of this book is 366 short daily readings drawn from the three decades of Yancey’s work – from books, magazine articles and miscellaneous jottings. The real bonus is the Comprehensive Index both of the subjects covered and the source of each reading, thus enabling the reader to ‘dip in’ at random (ignoring the daily plan!) and to come across so many beautiful instances of spiritual serendipity.  If you know Yancey well, this acts as great ‘memory-jogger’, but if not, it’s just a wonderful introduction to a truly inspirational and gifted Christian writer. The Descriptive Bibliography is also a delight; a short pen-portrait by the author of each of his books describing something of their genesis and background.

Philip Yancey started out as a journalist and has been writing articles for Christianity Today since 1983.  Four of his books have each sold over a million copies worldwide; he is probably best known for ‘What’s so Amazing about Grace?’ He moved to Colorado from Chicago in 1992 but, unlike the often questionable certainties of many other American writers, I particularly like Yancey for his honest and down-to-earth qualities. He too finds Christianity just a little perplexing and whilst, always insightful, never seeks to bring facile answers to what are so often the major mysteries of faith. 

As I get older, I have concluded that I could live with just the writings of Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, David Adam, Brennan Manning and, of course Philip Yancey.  My life is made ever so much richer by being in their company as a result of reading their books.  My favourite Yancey book is probably ‘Soul Survivor’ but now I’m torn by just having read his soon-to-be-published book and another certain best-seller, ‘What good is God’ which could be a strong contender for that particular spot – it is very Yancey and very good but that must be the subject of another review!

Grace Notes – Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim

Philip Yancey

2009     432pp

Zondervan

ISBN 978-0-310-51968-3

Note – This book was provided FOC by Clem Jackson, Editor of Christian Marketplace magazine for the purpose of writing this review. Further details can be found at http://www.christianmarketplace.org.uk. You can download a free copy of the digital version of the magazine from the website.

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