Chip MacGregor

August 11, 2008

The Future of CBA and ICRS


I’ve had a bunch 0f questions about the future direction of publishing, especially the future of CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association). Let me try to tackle some of the questions that have been posed to me or posted in the "comments" section…

Carol asked, "How is the much-touted Christian Book Expo different from the current ICRS?"

ICRS (the International Christian Retailing Show) is a collection of everyone who sells into religious stores. It includes jewelry companies, art distributors, t-shirt and tie manufacturers, card companies, music and entertainment corporations, and all the wacky stuff from Testamints to Gospel Golf Balls. There’s a sense that the show has lost its momentum. Next March, the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) will host the Christian Book Expo in Dallas. Many are viewing it as an alternative to ICRS. The focus will solely be on books, it will be open to the public, and they are hoping t0 line up major media for the authors at the show.

I have long advocated Christian publishers focus on BEA (the annual general-market book show) by sending editors, setting up media, and asking the folks who run it to put all the religious publishers in one location. But BEA just doesn’t thrill the old CBA crowd. Too expensive, too much competition, and too much liberal nuttiness to make Christian publishers comfortable. (They all attend, but it’s more of a sales show, so they don’t bring many authors or editors.) Will the new Christian Book Expo work? Beats me. But when your current plan isn’t working, you need to try something else. One of the weakest aspects of ICRS this year was the lack of media, so the ECPA types have decided to focus on a Bible-belt city, try to draw commercial crowds, and make it a "happening" that will attract TV/radio/print people. I’ll be hoping for the best.

Another person asked, "Will the new ECPA show make up for the loss of revenue from ICRS?"

Let me clarify a few things… The new Christian Book Expo is under the leadership of ECPA (a collection of Christian publishers). That organization is going to be around awhile. The money they’ve made at ICRS is simply through writing book orders (most of which is now done before the show) and selling international rights (a growing area for Christian publishers). So they hope to increase their income through selling space at the new Christian Book Expo. They’re also going to try to get the international reps to show up.

ICRS is under the leadership of CBA (an independent trade organization representing religious bookstores). CBA basically makes all its money on the ICRS convention — so I’ve had some folks tell me CBA will never give up on ICRS; that it’s the only way they can stay in business. Maybe. But if the publishers pull out of ICRS, it’s a pretty small show, and shrinking fast. Hard to see how it survives.  The leadership at CBA might move toward smaller, regional shows. Or they might try to re-think the whole thing. OR it’s possible CBA as an organization could close up shop, at least as we currently know it.

Tiffany asked, "How do you think the reduced exposure at ICRS will affect authors? And do you see events like BEA or the Christian Book Expo having more authors participate in an attempt to boost sales?"

Authors everywhere are talking about the fact that their publishers are bringing fewer and fewer authors to the show. I’ve been told the Christian Book Expo is going to make the participation of major media a focus, and I hope that’s true. It’s funny, but I don’t see many people talking about the lack of media at ICRS, and I can’t figure out why that’s being ignored. This year’s event didn’t attract half the media we used to get. With no media, it barely makes sense for a publisher to bring authors — all you can do is have them come for a meet & greet with some bookstore owners, but that’s an expensive proposition. Of course, that all points to the continuing need for authors to do their own marketing.

Important News to Know: Last week Ballantine cancelled a novel entitled The Jewell of Medina. The book was written by Sherry Jones, and is a fictionalized account of A’isha, who was wed to the prophet Muhammad at age nine. It tells the story of the life of Muhammad through the eyes of his youngest wife. The agent for that book, Natasha Kern, is a friend of mine and a fine agent. It’s not being talked about very much, but here’s why you need to hear about it: Random House said they cancelled this book because it might be offensive to some in the Muslim community. In fact, they were afraid of a possible terrorist threat from extremist nutjob Muslims. The book contains no sex scenes or patently offensive themes to Muslims. Apparently for all their talk about having open minds and inter-cultural discourse, the folks at Random House will cave to religious extremists who email threats to them. Asra Nomani wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about this, noting that this is "a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world."

And Kudos to a Friend: As long as I’m mentioning other agents, I’d like to add a note of congratulations to Deidre Knight, a longtime agenting friend in Atlanta, for being given a Golden Apple Award. Deidre, who is well known in CBA circles for being the agent behind 90 Minutes In Heaven, was named "Agent of the Year" by the New York chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

Lots more questions to answer in my next post. Keep those cards and letters coming, friends!

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