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February 25, 2008

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Lyn Cote

I found this entry interesting. I'm always interested in what makes a consumer buy. As an author, I have tried to support my local Christian booksellers. But it has been a challenge at times. I urge my readers to go to their local CBA store but many of them email back that the bookseller didn't have or couldn't get my book for them which speaks either of ignorance or laziness.

Carolyn Johnson at Bethany House was instrumental in promoting Christian fiction with such vehicles as the Christy Awards and A New Vision for Christian Fiction. But I still think that CBA booksellers just don't get that if you take time to learn how to sell fiction, fiction will make the difference in the bottom line. Walk into the local Barnes & Noble and notice how they "do" this.
Even the local Sam's Club and Walmart do a better job. A person will only buy so many Bibles, trinkets and Bible Study books. Once a reader discovers fiction they enjoy, they will buy and buy. Borders, etc get this. Why not my local bookseller?
I would be interested in what the challenges are that are keeping CBA bookstores from making $$$ from fiction like Borders, etc.
Any ideas?

Eric

Lyn,
While I recognize that as a romance-fiction author you have great passion for fiction and would like to see more of it sold. Christian retailers do sell fiction; it represents about 12% of store sales across Christian stores, with more than a third of book sales in a category called Christian Living – where you find inspirational, devotional, and other faith-helps titles.

If you look at author rankings by market share, without a blockbuster title there isn’t much difference in sales per author among them all. So customer taste and store relationship drive what’s put on shelves and sold in stores. Christian stores probably have the greatest assortment of Christian fiction titles compared to most big-box stores, and certainly more than the mass-merchants you mention, who mostly cherry-pick best-seller titles and throw them in wooden bins like one might find at a flea market.

One conversation topic at CBA’s conference last month was the need for greater collaboration between retailers and their suppliers to improve sales, as well as the more novel concept of “co-creation,” meaning enabling customers to help create products they want in collaboration with their retailers and suppliers.

Words like cooperation and collaboration indicate that people have to understand each other’s needs and requirements so they can work more effectively for a common goal. In your case, that would mean selling more romance fiction.

It’s probably difficult for a retailer who might consider a publishing or author partner to hear the partner say the retailer is ignorant and lazy. Not good communication tools. Retailers come in all shapes and sizes, just like authors. Some authors write very compelling books and sell a lot, some don’t. Some retailers sell a lot of fiction, some don’t. The point in the original post discussing store experience and collaboration is to help retailers focus on how to serve customers who want specific resources that align with store purpose and mission.

The development of inventory-management tools helps retailers manage this complex job by seeing what consumers are voting for – voting with their dollars. Retailers then build customer relationships around that.

If customers aren’t voting for certain kinds of fiction, opting instead for TV or Internet time, retailers aren’t going to force people to buy something they don’t want regardless how well it’s merchandized and promoted. That’s the new retail. The reality of product commoditization means retailers have to provide more than a transaction. As Pamela Danzinger said at the conference, people don’t come to buy, they come to experience.

Carol Johnson’s work and that of her special task force has increased fiction titles in Christian stores, and I suspect also helped boost fiction share of sales to where they are. I suggest that instead of just calling names, you work with your local retailers to develop a cooperative plan to let people know you write interesting books and help your retailer understand how that fits into the local market. I know retailers want to sell more.

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