Christian Retailing

Publishers’ group names new chairman Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Monday, 02 June 2014 05:22 PM America/New_York

Dwight Baker of Baker Publishing Group to head ECPA board

DwightBaker-2013_200The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) voted four industry leaders onto its board during the group’s annual meeting held at April’s ECPA Leadership Summit in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Dwight Baker, a second-term ECPA board candidate and president of Baker Publishing Group, will serve as ECPA chair for the next term.

“I am thrilled to have Dwight continue the Baker family legacy of distinguished board service as both his father (Richard) and grandfather (Herman) served on the ECPA board in the past,” said ECPA President and CEO Mark Kuyper. “The first in his family to serve as Chairman, Dwight’s lifelong experience in publishing, appreciation for quality content, and love of God’s Word, make him exceptionally well suited to lead our board.”

Another second-term candidate, Bob Fryling, publisher of InterVarsity Press, will serve as board secretary. Byron Williamson, CEO and publisher of Worthy Publishing Group, and Joe Wikert, director of strategy and business development at Olive Software, join the board as first-term candidates.

Cris Doornbos, David C Cook president/CEO, is outgoing board chair, and Gretchen Goldsmith, Rose Publishing/Aspire Press president/CEO, is outgoing vice chair.

Remaining on the board are Vice Chair David Moberg, senior vice president at HarperCollins Christian Publishing; Treasurer Jerry Kregel, vice president and chief financial officer of Kregel Publications; Member at Large Jeffrey Wright, CEO of Urban Ministries International; Stephen Cobb, president of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group; Tammy Gaines, vice president at Abingdon Press; Jeff Johnson, COO at Tyndale House Publishers; Cory Verner, president and publisher of eChristian; and Selma Wilson, president of B&H Publishing Group.  —Johnson

Mary Colbert launches Bible Balloons company Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:50 AM America/New_York

Wife of best-selling author aims to fill gift niche in Christian market

MaryColbertMary Colbert—known to many as the wife of best-selling health and fitness author Dr. Don Colbert and a minister in her own right—is launching a gift company at a time when many are opting out of new introductions. Colbert is entering the market as an entrepreneur with a unique gift product: Bible Balloons (

Colbert said the idea for Bible Balloons came about two years ago “when I saw the Word being removed from government institutions and lawsuits being brought against the Ten Commandments and how they’re just trying to stifle the Bible and the Word of God in any way they can.”

The 18-inch round Mylar balloons feature a double-sided color design. They are self-sealing and refillable and can be filled with helium or air. With more than 20 customizable designs, the balloons include such greetings as “Congratulations!”; “Happy Birthday!”; “It’s a Boy [or Girl]!” and “Get Well Soon!”

The designs also have accompanying scripture. For instance, a Get Well Soon balloon bears the scripture Isa. 53:5: “By his stripes I am healed.” One of the Happy Birthday balloons has Jer. 1:5 imprinted in the design: “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you.”

She believes there is a healthy future for Bible Balloons.

MaryColbertBalloon“What better way to acknowledge a celebration than the Word of God?” she said. “Because the Word of God is built completely around celebration. It’s very positive. That’s why it’s called the good news.

“Hopefully we will whet people’s appetite to know more about what’s in the Bible,” she added. “If I don’t do anything else but that, is whet people’s appetite to know more of what’s written in the Bible, I will have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.” 

Munce Group ends 2013 on a positive note Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:47 AM America/New_York

Some member stores saw double-digit growth as 50-year-old Florida store faces significant challenges

TexasStoreLivingMunce Group has reported that most of its member stores ended 2013 with an increase, though a half-century-old store is trying new approaches in hopes of an improved future. 

“The majority fell within single-digit growth of 1%-5%, (but) we had a range of stores that experienced large growth of double digits,” said Munce Group President Kirk Blank.

Living Room Books in Bastrop, Texas—about 35 miles southeast of Austin—is seeing success. Manager and co-owner Kimberly Burns thinks that 2014 could mark the store’s third consecutive double-digit increase. Sales increased 26% last year after a 19% gain in 2012.

“For this year, our first two months have been very strong,” Burns said. “We have been surprised with these strong increases when you take into consideration the Bastrop County Complex fires of September 2011” (a reference to the state’s most destructive wildfires in history).

After examining the store’s advertising approach, “we decided to put more into catalogs because we saw an increase in sales for those months when we sent one out,” Burns said.

Lately the store has attracted more shoppers with its Frequent Buyer program, thanks to emphasizing its benefits that include allowing customers to designate 2% of each sale to their church.

Although books don’t occupy center stage for many retailers, they lead all categories at Living Room, generating 23% of revenue. Gifts (18%) are next, followed by Bibles (14%).

Ironically, Burns had considered relocating her 9-year-old store to the west of Bastrop to take advantage of growth patterns. However, recent expansion to the east has put Living Room back in the center of retailing traffic.

New Covenant Christian Bookstore in Shelbyville, Tenn., didn’t reach double-digit growth, but Dennis Lovvorn hopes the store will match its current 6% growth in 2014.

Lovvorn, who also operates a Thomas Kinkade Gallery in Murfreesboro, Tenn., calls doubling his catalog mailings in 2013 the key to keeping New Covenant’s name in front of customers.

“I hope we can keep the momentum going,” he said. “We plan to use even more of the Munce catalogs this year. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary this summer, so we hope to create some excitement with an anniversary sale, author signings and other things.”

Bible sales are New Covenant’s most important category with a deep selection and frequent sale pricing. Gifts, especially Willow Tree, are strong, and the P. Graham Dunn laser personalization center attracts repeat shoppers.

New Covenant’s Fair Trade product section attracts customers in search of handcrafted items that support artisans in developing countries. The store also has picked up a line of candles whose wicking process is done by disadvantaged adults and a shoe-sachet product made by wounded veterans.

Among Munce members are stores facing challenges, too. Tampa Christian Supply, which will turn 50 in October, doesn’t expect to greet its silver anniversary with much fanfare.

That’s because a five-week “fire sale” that wrapped up March 22 didn’t generate the kind of revenues to help the store catch up from a bleak 2013 Christmas season.

“Long term, our store is going to shrink,” said Vice President and General Manager Patrick Pellizzee. “How small it’s going to shrink is the next factor. We own our building, so we have a lot more flexibility than most folks.”

On the store’s plus side, sales of church and Sunday school supplies remain healthy with 70% of the demand coming from African-American and Hispanic customers. Pellizzee also sees continuing interest in Bibles and gifts with buyers seeking a hands-on experience for both.

While still formulating plans, Pellizzee has contemplated purchasing a P. Graham Dunn laser or similar machine to attract new business. 

“I think most major metropolitan areas need that and would support it,” Pellizzee said of customization.

Convergent publisher addresses pro-gay book controversy Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:41 AM America/New_York

‘Inclusive’ imprint’s title by homosexual activist Matthew Vines draws strong reaction

GodAndTheGayChristianConvergent Books, an imprint of Random House’s Crown Publishing Group, has published a pro-gay book that the company describes as an “affirmation of both an orthodox faith and sexual diversity.” 

The April publication of Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships stirred controversy online among some conservative Christians, including Matt Barber, cultural analyst, and Michael L. Brown, author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? (FrontLine/Charisma House). 

Written by Vines, a gay activist who himself is homosexual, God and the Gay Christian was born out of years of research on the Bible and homosexuality.

Stephen W. Cobb oversees Convergent and Catholic imprint Image as well as the WaterBrook Press and Multnomah Books imprints, whose books are more commonly carried by CBA member stores. Convergent was launched in December 2012 as a new kind of faith-based imprint whose titles were expected to lead to “an open, inclusive and culturally engaged exploration of faith.”

Barber ( cited an unspecified source with ties to Multnomah, who said it was “reasonable to speculate that Multnomah is trying to cover up its fast-growing connection to sexual sin activism.” 

The same source said: “Multnomah is now consciously trying to hide from NRB [National Religious Broadcasters] and its members the fact that it is putting out this new project,” referring to Vines’ book. He also said the “same staff, editors, executives, promoters are behind the book as are behind those put out by other ‘imprints.’ ” 

Cobb emphasized that Convergent is “separate and distinct” from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

“I’ve established very distinct editorial guidelines for each of these imprints,” he told Christian Retailing. “I’m very aware of what these are. They are rigorously applied, and we’re certainly sensitive to what’s appropriate and where it’s most appropriate.”

Cobb especially noted that staff members are not forced to work on any book that is against their beliefs.

“We actually went to great lengths and have always gone to lengths here to make sure that our people here have never been required to work on anything that offended their personal beliefs,” he said. “We met with everyone in small groups and, in some cases, individually, and I can think of a couple of employees off the top of my head that asked to not participate in the publishing function regarding this particular book, and we were respectful and grateful for their candor and excused them from any involvement, so we don’t run that kind of shop here.”

Brown stated on Twitter that Vines is “not a biblical scholar” and that the book is “100% antithetical to Scripture regarding homosexuality.”

Cobb pointed out that the company’s other imprints host books with different points of view on the issue.

“What drew me to this book was I believe this is one of the most significant issues that faces the church in our current generation,” he said. “I think it’s obvious that there’s a lot of hostility and emotion that might be clouding our approach to our brothers and sisters in Christ who have a different orientation than we do, and I don’t have the answers, but I believe that it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with more openly and in a more civil fashion in the church than what I see today.”

Convergent Books titles are not being shopped to CBA market retailers.

“Our Christian sales force is not soliciting orders for this book, never has,” Cobb said. “It would’ve been inappropriate for them to carry this book to Christian retailing and that has not been the case.”

Vines’ book has been endorsed by such authors as Rachel Held Evans, who calls it “a game-changer,” and Tony Campolo, who recommends it to “Christians who oppose gay marriage.”

The publisher further responded online at

Influence launches new music division Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:41 AM America/New_York

InfluenceMusicInfluence Resources, an imprint of My Healthy Church, has formed a new music division, Influence Music.

The launch comes on the heels of We Believe, a joint release produced by Influence Resources and Integrity Music, which debuted at No. 1 on SoundScan’s Praise and Worship chart. The live album showcased original music from leading ministries and set the tone for the kind of work Influence Music will champion as a label.

Influence Music will be distributed by My Healthy Church, a provider of church supplies, ministry resources and curriculum. Additionally, Influence Music will provide music publishing administration services for churches and artists.

Sol Arledge, My Healthy Church COO, believes the timing of the launch is ideal.

“The amount of Holy Spirit-inspired creativity coming from our churches and universities is astounding,” Arledge said. “Combined with the marketing and distribution channels already developed by My Healthy Church, we have a truly unique opportunity to serve the church with outstanding worship music.”

Influence Music’s first release is set for August. 

Gospel Music Association honors Hall of Fame inductees Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:40 AM America/New_York

Brown Bannister, Gaither Vocal Band noted as making ‘definitive mark on the fabric of our musical tapestry’

GMAHallOfFameThe Gospel Music Association (GMA) Foundation recognized key industry figures as this year’s Hall of Fame inductees and honorees at the Hall of Fame induction and inaugural GMA Honors celebration. Held April 29 at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena in Nashville, the ceremony featured Hall of Fame inductees, including Brown Bannister, Gaither Vocal Band, Rich Mullins and Take 6, as well as Honors recipients such as Dr. Bobby Jones, Don Moen, Michael Guido, Show Hope and World Vision.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to raise awareness for the legacy of gospel music,” said GMA Executive Director Jackie Patillo before the event. “Each of these inductees or honorees has made a definitive mark on the fabric of our musical tapestry.” 

Take 6 was featured in a special performance with all members of the group, past and present, for the first time ever as a celebration of the group’s 25th anniversary and of its induction. Other special guests included dcTalk (TobyMac, Michael Tait and Kevin Max), Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, David Crowder, Earnest Pugh, Ellie Bannister Holcomb, Kirk Whalum and Lenny LeBlanc. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, talk show personality and FOX News commentator  hosted the evening’s program.

“While each [inductee and honoree] has different gifts and has contributed in different ways, all of their stories highlight God’s faithfulness,” Patillo added. “We’ll be able to celebrate this through GMA Honors with some very special friends and truly inspiring performances.”

Love Your Country. Vote. Faith, Family and Freedom Tour was this year’s presenting sponsor.

Send The Light Distribution celebrates new growth, marks 40 years in service-oriented business Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:38 AM America/New_York

Distributor puts ‘more resources into our most important job—meeting customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations’

SendTheLight40thAnniversarySend The Light Distribution is launching a year of celebration to mark 40 years of service to Christian retailers, churches, ministries and suppliers. 

Among the anniversary events will be a series of monthly specials and prize drawings for accounts. While the 40-year history will be a focus of the company’s presence at the June’s International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta and of its Spring Invitational for key customers, new growth and business initiatives are being announced as well.

Send The Light began as Appalachian Bible Company, founded in 1974 by Tom Torbett in Johnson City, Tenn. Operations expanded to include three regional distribution centers before the company was sold to Send The Light US (STL) in 2005. The 2007 merger between STL and the International Bible Society (IBS) was followed by a 2012 management buyout of the distribution center led by President Glenn Bailey and the reforming of IBS as a separate organization known as Biblica.

“Though Send The Light has grown into the one of the largest Christian distribution companies in the United States, we retain the personal touch and spirit that helped establish Appalachian in our early years,” Bailey said.

“We have retained Tom’s specialty of relationships and service,” he added. “Many stores bought from him because he gave personal attention that wasn’t available from the bigger companies. He knew how to provide great service, and he would cut through the red tape found in larger companies.”

Send The Light continues with an emphasis on service, while using technology and programs to increase efficiency.

“By consolidating operations and now owning our facility, we are able to spend less money on operations and put more resources into our most important job—meeting customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations,” Bailey said.

The company has seen continued growth and expansion since the buyout two years ago. Send The Light continues to focus on high standards in customer service and a same-day order fulfillment guarantee for those received by 1 p.m. through its Elizabethton, Tenn., facility.

The company also is growing with Print on Demand capabilities and expansion into major distribution assortments of gifts and church supplies.

New customer initiatives unveiled in the last year include the Simply 42 program, streamlining a previously multi-tiered pricing structure into a standard, everyday 42% discount. Another new program is the Premier Partners service offering an expanded range of church supplies and resources. 

Jack Countryman, late Brennan Manning receive ECPA lifetime achievement awards Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:36 AM America/New_York

Publishing legends to be honored for contribution to industry

BrennanManning_CREDIT-BenPearsonJackCountrymanThe Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) presented Jordon Lifetime Achievement Awards to Jack Countryman, founder of JCountryman Gift Books, and posthumously to best-selling author Brennan Manning. The awards were conferred April 28 in Colorado Springs, Colo., opening night of the ECPA Leadership Summit.

Countryman’s 30-plus years in Christian publishing have allowed him the opportunity to help create and develop bestselling gift books such as God’s Promises for Your Every Need, God’s Promises for Men and God Listens. This year not only marks 20 million JCountryman books sold, but also the 30th anniversary of the God’s Promises brand.

Manning (1934-2013) is best known as the author of the contemporary classics The Ragamuffin Gospel, All Is Grace, Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Furious Longing of God, The Importance of Being Foolish and Patched Together. His unflinching honesty about himself as a “ragamuffin,” an imposter and a man in search of the undeserved love of Jesus has encouraged millions of Christians.

Thomas Nelson marks ‘Jesus Calling’ brand milestone Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:35 AM America/New_York

Sarah Young best-selling titles excel in sales, popularity

JesusCallingHCThomas Nelson’s “Jesus Calling” brand has sold more than 10 million units. 

“Each year Jesus Calling sells more than the year before,” said Laura Minchew, senior vice president and publisher of HarperCollins Christian Publishing Gift Books, Tommy Nelson Children’s Books and New Media.

A missionary, Young wrote Jesus Calling as a reflection of what she heard Jesus saying during her prayer time. The original book is now available in 26 languages, and has consistently appeared on multiple best-seller lists, including The New York Times and CBA lists. 

“We often hear of how Jesus Calling has touched someone in a deeply personal way, helping them experience a more loving and peaceful relationship with God,” Minchew added. “It is an honor and privilege to work alongside Sarah on this life-changing book.”

The Jesus Calling: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition will be released this September. The special edition includes more than 100 additional scriptures selected by Young.

Related title Jesus Today was named the 2013 ECPA Book of the Year.

The line has expanded to other products for adults and children, including e-books, apps, audiobooks, calendars, greeting cards and music. 

Crossway title wins ECPA’s 2014 Christian Book of the Year award Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:34 AM America/New_York

First-ever Quadruple Diamond sales award conferred on Tyndale House Publishers’ ‘The Living Bible’

CrazyBusyThe Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) announced eight winners for the 2014 Christian Book Award program, honoring Christian publishing’s best book and Bible releases of the year—and one top book winner. The awards were presented at the ECPA Awards & Anniversary banquet April 28, held the opening night of the ECPA Leadership Summit at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Crossway’s Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung received the Christian Book of the Year, the industry’s highest book honor bestowed upon one title from all the finalists, which takes into account  the book’s overall impact in the marketplace.

Category winners were Bibles: The MacArthur Study Bible NIV (Thomas Nelson); Bible Reference: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (InterVarsity Press); Children: The Sparkle Box, Jill Hardie, Christine Kornacki (Ideals Publications); Fiction: Iscariot: A Novel of Judas, Tosca Lee (Howard Books); Inspiration: He Walks Among Us: Encounters With Christ in a Broken World, Richard and Renee Stearns (Thomas Nelson); New Author: Falling Into Place, Hattie Kauffman (Baker Books/Baker Publishing Group); and Nonfiction: C.S. Lewis–A Life, Alister McGrath (Tyndale House Publishers).

At the ceremony, ECPA also presented Diamond Awards to two Tyndale House Publishers Bibles, including the first-ever Quadruple Diamond designation.

Tyndale’s The Living Bible received the Quadruple Diamond Award for selling more than 40 million copies. The New Living Translation Bible received a Triple Diamond designation for surpassing more than 30 million copies sold, only the second title in history to do so. The Diamond Award is given to books or Bibles that sell at least 10 million copies.

In addition, seven Platinum Awards (for more than 1 million sold) and 10 Gold Awards (more than 500,000 sold) were presented at the banquet.

Mark Driscoll admits ‘manipulating’ book best-seller system Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:32 AM America/New_York

MarkDriscollAuthor Mark Driscoll was thrust into the spotlight once again when WORLD magazine accused the Seattle’s Mars Hill Church pastor of obtaining “unreal sales” of Real Marriage (Thomas Nelson), a 2012 book written by Driscoll and his wife, Grace.

The church hired San Diego-based book marketing company ResultSource to the tune of $210,000 to make Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Marriage & Life Together a best-seller. WORLD revealed that the church Driscoll serves, Mars Hill in Seattle, paid ResultSource for a “best-seller campaign.” Such campaigns cut out the consumer middleman and facilitate authors’ bulk purchases of their own books.

Many best-seller lists only count individual purchases toward sales in an effort to prevent authors from gaming the system. ResultSource circumvented this safeguard by placing thousands of orders shipped to individuals’ addresses provided by the client.

The Driscoll-book contract stated, according to WORLD: ResultSource “will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders [of Real Marriage] in one week.” It also called for the author to “provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.” 

Even though this practice isn’t illegal, the ethicality of such campaigns has been impugned in the publishing industry. 

Coming on the heels of plagiarism claims against some of Driscoll’s other books, coupled with the fact that the campaign was paid for from the congregation’s coffers rather than the author’s own pocket, the Real Marriage campaign has thrust this controversial marketing practice into the spotlight.

In the aftermath of the ResultSource revelations, Mars Hill admitted the campaign’s strategies were “unwise,” while Driscoll also claimed to have misunderstood the strategies used by the company.

“My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church,” Driscoll wrote March 18 in an open letter addressed to Mars Hill. “In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong.”

Forbes noted that fellow pastors-cum-authors Steven Furtick and Perry Noble also have been accused of mounting similar campaigns with their congregations’ funds.

Continued  bad press apparently has caused ResultSource to go into stealth mode. With its business model thrust into the public consciousness and thoroughly derided, the company has reduced its website to nothing but a logo and a “Contact Us” form. Though ResultSource is still in operation, CEO Kevin Small deleted his Twitter account, while what appears to be the company’s Facebook page is now blank, according to an April 18 Forbes article.

Driscoll has asked Thomas Nelson to remove the “No. 1 New York Times best-seller” notation from future printings of the book. Nelson did not respond to Christian Retailing’s request for comment. 

In an open letter to congregants, Driscoll said he also has cut down on his speaking engagements and interviews, dialed back his future writing and abandoned social media for the near future to renew his focus. 

The congregation’s board also praised Driscoll’s ongoing generosity related to book sales: “All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.”