Next spring, everything about the marketing and selling of Christian books is going to change. The ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) is going to host the Christian Book Expo in Dallas, March 20-22. Modeled after the very successful Guadalajara Book Fair and the Los Angeles Festival of Books, I think this is going to be the next big thing for Christian publishing.
Why? Because of the direction the organizers are taking. Instead of being focused on retailers, the focus of this show is going to be on authors and content. The public will be invited, and the whole idea is to expose readers to authors and their work. Think about this: there are going to be 180 workshops at the Expo. They are planning readings, and performances, and dozens of speakers. There are going to be mini-events where authors discuss contemporary and theological issues. There will be activities for families, and an entire area dedicated just to children’s books. They are planning 11 different panels, with world-class participants, to explore what the authors have to say about today’s significant social issues. (The panels are going to be sponsored by Christianity Today.) And they’re expecting major media, the participation of every ECPA publisher, as well as most general market publishers who produce Christian books. I think this event is going to raise the awareness of Christian publishing in this country. Best of all, this will be a books only event, meaning all of us get to focus on authors and their works.
Here’s something that might surprise you: The Guadalajara Book Fair attracted 525,000 people last year. The LA Festival had 140,000 attendees earlier this year. The fact is, people are still interested in books. And since last year was the biggest year ever for selling religious books, it’s fair to say that people care about Christian books (even if CBA and their retailers convention is struggling to survive). So this is the perfect time.
A few days ago I got a phone call from Mark Kuyper, the President of ECPA, and had the chance to ask him about the Christian Book Expo. His enthusiasm for the event came through clearly. "This is an author show," he told me. "The focus will be on Christian authors and their ideas." Frankly, it was nice to hear the guy in charge of the organization talking about books rather than talking about marketing. "We want to reach as many people as possible with the life-changing message of books," he said to me, before noting that this is going to be "a great opportunity for readers to interact with top authors" as well as to "discover up-and-coming Christian writers." Part of the overall plan is to drive people into stores to buy more books, and Mark mentioned that they are going to work with local bookstores and churches, making this show a catalyst for Christian publishing instead of just making the event itself a big selling opportunity.
Oh… And they’re going to try and keep the cost to less than $20.
Frankly, I’m thrilled. CBE (I assume they’re calling it "CBE," even if that’s too close to "CBA") is no doubt going to see some involvement from music companies (since there are certainly musicians who write books), and from movie and entertainment companies (since many of them are translating Christian novels into film). But to think that somebody is trying to energize readers instead of retailers gives me hope for the future.
Yeah, I can already hear it… No doubt the people at CBA at upset with this plan. But they don’t need to be. Theirs is a show for retailers. This is a show for authors and readers, and I think it has the potential to significantly re-shape the way we think about Christian books. Huge news. I can hardly wait.