This week Ellen and I are in Denver for the International Christian Retail Show, formerly known as CBA International, the annual convention of the Christian Booksellers Association. Something like 10,000+ Christian industry professionals - publishers, retailers, authors, editors, agents, sales reps, journalists, etc. - gather for a week of promoting and selling new Christian books, music, videos and gifts. I've been attending CBA/ICRS shows since 1998, and this year I'm wearing two hats - I'm here as an IVP editor, and I'm here as an IVP author. So I'm networking with my authors and industry contacts, and I'm also promoting my new book.
It's always interesting to see what big new books or authors are being promoted. It seems like every year there's a new trend - a few years ago it was Jabez stuff (including a Jesus fish that said "JABEZ" in it instead of "Jesus"), and more recently, it's been Tolkien tie-ins, Da Vinci Code critiques and Narnia spinoffs. This year there are a few Superman-related things, but not a whole lot. I saw one booth with a "Christian Pirates" theme, and I don't know if that was supposed to tie in to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie or what.
The Christian publishing industry is an interesting world. Lots of money goes into creating and promoting authors, artists and brand identities. Publishers sponsor all sorts of things here to get their message out - the keycard for our hotel room featured a publisher's new logo, as part of their branding efforts. General market publishers have been increasingly getting into Christian publishing because it's quite profitable; Christians are a big market and audience. AOL Time Warner's book division started Warner Faith a few years ago, which has had megasellers by Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and the like, and just recently the book division was purchased by a French company called Hachette International, I think. So they renamed the division Hachette Book Group USA, and Warner Faith is now FaithWords. Too bad they didn't go with something like Hachette Faith. "Hatchet Faith - Christian books that cut to the heart." (The cheesy pun is a staple of the Christian industry - I saw a booth here for some Noah's Ark company that bills itself as "State of the Ark.")
Ownership and financial backing of Christian media is interesting. Zondervan is owned by HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. I'm surprised that they haven't been rebranded as HarperGrandRapids, to parallel their other religious imprint, HarperSanFrancisco. Thomas Nelson used to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, but it was recently purchased by a group of private investors for something like half a billion dollars. I just heard yesterday that Multnomah Publishers (which was family-owned, I think), has just been purchased by somebody, but further details were not available.
At any convention or trade show, the cost of stuff is unbelievable. It would have cost us $600 to have internet access in our booth. It's often cheaper for exhibitors to buy stuff onsite (like tables, shelves, even TVs or DVD players) and leave them behind than to ship their own down or to rent materials from the convention center. At my hotel, bottled water is $3.00 in the snack shop and $5.00 in the rooms. A 20 oz. Coke is $3.00. I can't even begin to estimate how much money goes into one of these conventions, how much it costs individual bookstore managers and buyers to fly out, stay in hotels, pay for meals, etc.
And I happened to watch Rob Bell's latest Nooma video, Rich, on the hotel channel the other day. He talked about how all of us as North American Christians are rich. If we have clean drinking water, we are rich. If we've eaten today, we're rich. A billion people have not had a meal today. If we have a car, we are rich. 92% of the people in the world do not own a car. The video is quite well done and convicting, challenging affluent American Christians to be more generous and globally aware, to be better stewards and sacrificial in our giving. It's an important message.
And yet there's an irony in such a video being produced and promoted with tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hope Zondervan/HarperCollins/News Corp./Murdoch is also using its wealth and resources toward global justice issues, health care, etc. I'm encouraged that Bono, the Gates Foundation, Warren Buffett and others are championing philanthropy at really high profiles. I heard something on the radio from a philanthropic organization that talked about how when these media personalities give such large amounts, it encourages ordinary people to give as well. I know that a lot of Christian companies give a lot of their profits directly to various ministries; I think some might even tithe in some form or another. So while the commercial environment of the Christian retail industry is inescapable, I'm hopeful that the powers-that-be wield their influence and resources wisely and Christianly.
Well, I was going to say more about the actual books, but that will have to wait for another post.