Those of you who read my blog are readers who are looking for wholesome books to read and enjoy. Why should you care about the Christian publishing trends? Because if Christian publishing fails or is absorbed through mergers and acquisitions, we may find less of those good, clean books to read.
This past week, I spent several days at the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS). During that time, I heard a presentation by Steve Laube, who is head of the Steve Laube Agency and Enclave Publishing. Steve spoke to the women of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA) about the state of the industry.
Steve reminded us that we’ve had rises and falls in the industry before—but we who write and speak must remember that publishing is a business—we must never forget that. Decisions by publishing companies, even Christian ones, are made due to profit and loss.
We were also reminded that “your ministry is your bottom line.” If we are fortunate enough to have unlimited resources, we may be able to write and speak with impunity—if we don’t, we too must be concerned with keeping our businesses in the black. Those who are prepared for a hard journey will survive. Those who are unprepared will not.
In general, Steve told us, publishing is very healthy right now. It is a $15 billion business, which doesn’t include self-publishing businesses. The e-book side of the general market industry has begun to “settle.” In 2012, e-book sales rose 44% over the previous year. In 2014, they rose 4%. For most publishers their fiction sales are 50% ebook and 50% paper. Meanwhile, there is no way to determine how large the Christian publishing industry is—it is hard enough to define what’s Christian!
The advent of the ebook has changed the format in which many books are sold. Novels sell better in ebook because they are “consumable” and are not kept after reading. Non-fiction however is more keepable. 40% of the best-selling general market books come through one publisher, Penguin-Random House, which is the biggest in the world. Don’t forget that publishing is a global concern—will the book translate well? (Penguin-Random House is owned by a company in Germany and Hachette is owned by a company in France.
Across the industry, there is a full shuffle in editorial changes every year. Editing and determining what a house will want is a labyrinth. Personal interests drive the publishing industry’s choices.
As far as sales are concerned, there is a strong tension between Amazon.com, traditional publishers, and independent publishers. Amazon is so large that book sales are a miniscule part of the whole. They can lose money in that arena and not care. But for many publishers, Amazon is 50% or more of their business—including digital.
Retail is alive, but there are fewer stores. Family Christian Stores’ bankruptcy has been difficult for some. They have 266 stores nationwide. The hardest hit have been the gift suppliers. Some of the smaller book publishers are struggling with the lost revenue. But most of the larger publishers have already adjusted—the money is gone; they have moved on.
We need to work toward increasing our visibility as authors. The number one influence is newsletters vs. social media (Facebook and Twitter). Newsletters (and blogs) are controlled by us. They are read by people who want to read us. We need to learn what our open rate is—the average is five-ten percent. How do we increase the open rate? Steve feels a quarterly newsletter is best—unless you have a lot of new product throughout the year. Any more frequent and there is a danger of becoming spam.
Some interesting statistics:
There are one million total English words of which 75% are technical or scientific. There are 175,000 words in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). Stats from testyourvocab.com indicate that the average person has a vocabulary of twenty thousand words, but we only use around ten thousand. John 3:16 is twenty-one words. Shakespeare used thirty thousand words. The King James Bible uses twelve thousand words.
To learn more about Steve, click the link: Interview with Steve Laube
“We can change the world word by word.”