The International Christian Retail Show met June 23-25 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga. According to CBA, total attendance was flat at 3,722; the 2013 show drew 3,739 attendees.
The CBA cited a 2% increase in professional attendance, from 1,485 in 2013 to 1,520 in 2014. Christian store sales were up slightly last year, though stores continue to close.
Some exhibitors also downsized this year. FaithWords, Hachette’s Christian division, had only a meeting room on the floor. For the first time, InterVarsity Press had no exhibitor booth, only a table in the rights area.
“This was a bit of a cold turkey move,” said Jeff Crosby, IVP's associate publisher. “The work that needs to be done we were able to do without a superstructure.” IVP would likely continue to maintain a presence “in some way” at ICRS, Crosby added.
Tyndale House maintained a booth, but rearranged it to focus on holding meetings rather than displaying books. “We’ve gone bare bones,” explained Sharon Heggeland, director of sales operations.
CBA president Curtis Riskey, who took the helm in 2010 and soon streamlined the association’s operations and budget to reflect steep store attrition and the shrinking trade show, has tried new things for each annual meeting.
There has long been a ministry component to the show, with CBA-sponsored service projects for the local communities where the convention meets; this year that was expanded and refashioned as a consumer event on Sunday called the Change a Life Festival, with the public invited to see Christian performers and authors, including Duck Dynasty stars Phil and Alan Robertson. The festival benefited Buckhead Christian Ministry, which provides services to the needy in Atlanta.
Many of the publishers who spoke with PW said the old trade show model no longer works, and ICRS must change or die, but all agree there is value in some kind of annual gathering. ICRS is an important place for many to sell international rights and meet key accounts.
Bob Whitaker Jr., publisher at Whitaker House, said its booth space would be smaller if it didn’t do as much international business as it does at ICRS. He noted the relative strengthening of the dollar was affecting international sales, lowering the profit margin.
Tamara Crabtree, executive director of marketing and sales at Abingdon Press, however, was positive, saying the first day of ICRS was “really good” for the house and provided an opportunity to see independent CBA retailers, some of whom had appointments, while others just dropped by. “For us that’s still a vital part of our business,” she said.
There were other familiar signs of robust business: signings that generated lines. Popular inspirational novelist Karen Kingsbury packed them in as she signed and promoted The Family of Jesus, a novel from Howard (July); Whatever You Grow Up to Be, a picture book from Zonderkidz (Feb.); and a line of cards and gifts from Dayspring, done with her daughter Kelsey, who was there to sign plaques with her mother.
Digital publishing was also, of course, a topic of discussion. Publishers continue to test strategies and products, including digital e-book giveaways and direct-to-digital fiction.
Mark Kuyper, executive director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, said, “Digital has stalled—in the beginning it was about publishing stuff that was already in print, and publishers need to move beyond that now.” With the proliferation of new business models and formats, Kuyper said ECPA was in strategic planning this year, asking, “what is a publisher?” and exploring such moves as adding new member groups.
Next year’s ICRS in Orlando, Fla. (June 28-July 1), will fulfill the last of CBA’s long-time contracts for large convention centers, and Riskey hinted at a significantly different show in 2016, though he would not provide specifics. “I’m soliciting ideas from everyone,” he said. “We have to serve diverse needs, and I’m open to all ideas for what [my constituents] want the show to be.”