Every year I have the privilege of attending the International Christian Retail Show that is put on by the Christian Booksellers Association. This past week the 2011 show was held in Atlanta and showcased all the new Christian products being made available by publishers, music companies, gift purveyors and many other resource providers. For several years the show has been shrinking with the number of attendees declining and some key publishers not even sponsoring a booth. This year was different and not just because the attendance was finally on the increase again. (Professional attendance was up 9% this year) The entire show seemed to have a different atmosphere and it was reflected in the attitudes of the attendees that I interacted with all week long. Here are some of my key take away from the event:
1. Less Panic – last year it seemed that every person I interacted with was quite sure that e-books were about to overwhelm our industry in such a way that we might not have printed books in a few short years. Uncertainty hung in the air like a dense fog and seemed to cloud people’s buying decisions and desire to invest in the future. One year later, e-books have certainly taken off, but they have not killed off the printed book yet. The people that I met with seemed much more focused and less fearful even though the future is far from clear at this point.
2. Less Hype – for many years during the “hay days” of this show it seemed like their was more hype and less substance each year. More money was being spent on booth design, fancy videos, clever sales gimmicks, and promotional materials than developing truly innovative products and important new resources. With a smaller show and less resources to spend it was exciting to see what the remaining vendors did with what they had. Lots of authors were signing books at publishers booths and actually had time to discuss them with potential buyers and readers. Smaller budgets seem to have helped some of focus again on providing great content that will sell itself and also producing books that meet real needs and not just “fluff” for itching ears.
3. More Collaboration – for the first time in the 15 years that I have been attending this show, I was invited to dinner by another publishing house and not for the purpose of hearing about their new books. The dinner was in fact co-sponsored by two smaller publishing houses as simply a time for people in the industry to get together and share a meal together with no set agenda. What an amazing time – the ideas shared around the table were invaluable and the relationships developed will be vital for the future. I wondered afterward if this is more like what CBA was when it first started and is really what the show should be all about. Working together for kingdom purposes is surely more productive in the long run and more glorifying to God no matter how unusual it may be.
4. More Innovation – it is certainly true that necessity if the mother of invention and the registration process this year reflected CBA’s commitment to doing things in a new way. Instead of standing in long lines to pick up your badge (even if you had pre-registered), you simply had to scan an printed Express Pass and your badge printed right away. It happened so quickly, I wondered if I had forgotten some important part of the process. Training was available all week long in various settings and a full day of training was offered for only $50 the day before the show started. This commitment to keep the price reasonable resulted in a great turn out for the event. As always there are new things developing in the industry and this year comic books from Kingstone Media took center stage as many new releases in both comic and graphic novel formats were unveiled.
5. More Productivity – with less vendor space and more buyers this year, it seemed that the attendees were more focused than ever on finding resources that would really make a difference in the lives of their customers. While many were looking at things in our booth on the first day in order to make informed decisions, most came back and actually placed orders by the last day. Many people had lists of vendors they needed to see and had set up appointment times in advance. The atmosphere was purposeful and resulted in many meetings where new ideas were shared and mutual encouragement took place. We even had time to pray with several of our customers this year. What a difference a year makes.
As I drove back from the show, I realize that some things remained the same as well – big events like the release of the Courageous movie are still important and timely responses to relevant issues (like the current plethora of books being released to respond to the Love Wins controversy) will always be necessary. International buyers remain committed to the show and new channels of distribution continue to develop. I pray that as the show has gotten smaller and now appears to be growing again that we will all take some lessons from what God is doing in our midst. He is on the move and we need to be sure that we are following his plan and not our own agendas in the years to come. I am very grateful to Curtis Riskey (CBA’s Executive Director) and George Thompson (CBA’s Board Chairman) for taking the helm in leading our industry at this time of great change and opportunity.