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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

What studies don't qualify . . .

by Nicole Petrino-Salter


Notable novelist Bonnie Calhoun recently posted this article on Facebook. Within the article Novel Rocket author Cynthia Ruchti made perhaps the most telling comment here: 

     Cynthia Ruchti, an award-winning fiction author and American Christian Fiction Writers professional liaison, said fiction readers are real fans, but their interests range beyond just the most popular genres.
     "What matters to readers is the story itself," Ruchti said. "That suggests a broader selection of genres help create a destination in the store for fiction readers. It's important to understand the opportunity to present a broader appeal to fiction readers who are often going elsewhere to purchase books."

Cynthia is spot on with her assessment. Publishing often adheres to trends to take advantage of the purchase power of certain niche readers. However, as we've pointed out countless times here, there are multiple readers who are virtually ignored by some publishers which I think is a significant reason for Christian booklovers to seek out more genres in the general market and gravitate away from Christian bookstores and what they offer.

Christian bookstores have taken a hit in recent years. Although many prefer real books to e-readers, the e-readers offer prices anyone can afford and an endless selection of all kinds of genres.

Those of us who've owned, run, or worked for businesses realize the expenses to operate can be daunting. The overhead for buildings, stock, and employees means the profit margin for keeping a store open and above water must be significant. Nevertheless, as prices for books can be noticeably cheaper to purchase online - sometimes even with shipping costs - the convenience factor of running to the store for that novel - if the store has it in stock - is not always considered a favorite choice.

The main factor for many of us pursuing writing and reading Christian fiction sold by CBA stores is the little variety in genres and overpriced books. I think the general concept of Christian bookstores has suffered from keeping so much other "stuff" in the stores besides bibles, books, greeting cards, and a few decorative items reasonably priced. The competitive market demands books be sold at a slimmer profit margin which means budgets must accommodate the market to stay in business. And a business needs all the consumers they can find. By limiting the inventory to bestselling, familiar authors, three or four genres, employees who don't have a working knowledge of fiction in order to recommend authors and genres, all equal a formula for failure.

Times are tough right now for CBA bookstores. Publishers need to rescind their return policy so retailers will only order what they think they can sell. This is one way to determine what's really going on from the buying public. Publishers can then make adjustments to what they need to look for and just maybe more authors can earn out those advances - if there are advances being offered anymore.

Just some same old, same old thoughts on the Christian publishing/selling/buying perspective.

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. Most days you can visit her here. Her latest e-book is Destination.


  1. These are some excellent insights, Nicole.

  2. Thanks, Ane. Always appreciate you.

  3. I just finished reading a book called Worth Every Penny. It's a business book geared toward small businesses that provide specialty products. Photographers. Gift stores. Florists.


    The premise of the book is that most small businesses can never hope to compete with big box stores on price. There's no way a small bookstore can compete with B&N or any other national chain if the only thing they have to offer is a lower price.

    The strong suite for such businesses is the Wow Factor. Things they provide that national chains don't have the time for, the profit margin for, or the interest in. It all boils down to customer service. Developing relationships with customers, treating them like family, and earning their loyalty.

    That seems like something most brick-and-mortar bookstores fall short on. How are they setting themselves apart from the big guys? How do they make their customers feel special? What are they doing to earn customer loyalty? What Wow Factors are they providing?

    I've been taking a hard look at the way I run my business (art, writing, teaching) because I've fallen victim to the discount mentality. I can see how I might change my business plans to earn the loyalty of customers who are willing to pay more for my services and products because of all the value they get from me.

    It's a difficult paradigm shift to make, but it seems like the same ol' same ol' isn't working, so something new needs to be tried.

    In short, the bookstores selling CBA fiction need to find ways to make their books, products, and services worth every penny to their customers.

  4. Carrie, I agree to a point. The way to sell the "same" product is to sell it cheaper with the defining point being that customer attachment you described from good service. I worked for a Christian bookstore (small chain) that provided excellent customer service but their prices were the norm for CBA bookstores: higher. They did run sales, but those sales were mostly for the bestsellers debuting a new release. And in keeping with the CBA, their selections were predictable and not geared to unique genres.

    I do agree people will pay more after establishing a loyalty with a seller, but their faithfulness isn't guaranteed as I'm sure you've discovered. Sometimes it's all about the "next big thing".

    In this "new" publishing industry the owners/managers of Christian bookstores need to be hip to Indie authors and give them a place on their shelves. It requires due diligence and lots of reading to discover with whom they want to contract. Indie authors need to hustle those deals to gain exposure however possible - and that's not an easy assignment.

    JMO of course.


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