The Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (June 1—4), held in St. Charles, Ill., and serving Catholic, Episcopal and other liturgical bookstores, was able once again to piggyback on BEA in Chicago, and the show's numbers were up across the board, with 167 exhibitors (92 of them publishers), compared to last year's 152 and 72, respectively; there were 19 more stores (185) than last year, represented by 307 buyers (293 last year). There were 922 total attendees, compared to 825 in 2003.
Still, Peter Dwyer, publisher of Liturgical Press and co-director with Bob Byrns of RBTE, told PW that the two see no reason in the near future to change RBTE's venue when BEA moves to sites other than Chicago. "We're staying here," he said. "We just don't see a strong overlap in the core audiences for the two shows. This format seems, instead, to serve the needs of these retailers not just in terms of products, but also in terms of their strategic needs for community and contacts. It's almost like a retreat for many of our merchants; and it would be a mistake to change that, we think."
On the first day, traffic on the floor seemed lighter than usual, but publishers reported some pickup on day two. Jeremy Langford, editorial director of religious studies at Rowman & Littlefield, said that RBTE "has been excellent, in that we are doing a lot of branding and identity-building. This is our second RBTE as Rowman & Littlefield. We're trying to introduce R&L religion to the trade with the very select list we're doing for that market, and also to make sure that the Sheed & Ward imprint is in the front of people's minds for the liturgical market." He added, "The show feels less hectic than in the past, but that's given us more time to nurture our key accounts." The second day at the booth was heavier, with stronger orders, Langford said.
New Episcopal Leadership
Opening day of this year's RBTE was especially significant for Patti Byrns, partner for the past four years with husband Bob Byrns in the marketing consultancy firm of Byrns & Associates. On June 1, she officially became director of global marketing and sales for CPI, the newly renamed and reconfigured house formerly known as Church Publishing Inc. At RBTE, CPI had its first double-booth and attractively designed exhibit, was distributing its first-ever seasonal trade catalogue and celebrating a new rep arrangement with Abingdon Press, an agreement that will give the house its first in-store presence in its 86-year history.
One of the Episcopal Church's four "official" publishing houses, CPI is under the direction of Ken Arnold, who took the helm less than two years ago and, according to Byrnes, has been the driving force behind the new image and push. Episcopal booksellers, whom the company was actively courting at the show, were especially pleased to find that CPI, principal publisher of the Church's central worship tool, The Book of Common Prayer, was instituting a trade discount schedule of 30% for the volume. The refusal of the old Church Publishing Inc. to extend a trade discount on the essential book had been a source of bitterness between the house and the retailers. "A 30% discount is not perfect or as good as we hope it will be, but it's a step in the right direction," said Byrns.
Just as AAP was releasing its own figures showing a 54.9% growth in April for religion and a YTD of 34.2%, Morehouse publisher Debra Farrington and her staff were celebrating their own part of that good news. Morehouse, a division of Continuum, is a publisher of Anglican materials worldwide and has enjoyed a 15% growth this fiscal year over last, "which is only part of the story," said Farrington. "Last fiscal year we also grew 15% over the year before."
The Episcopal Booksellers Association, a professional association of 90-plus stores that had its beginnings at RBTE, used its annual meeting on June 3 as the occasion to announce that Jane Reynolds of The Good Bookstore in Rochester, N.Y., will serve as EBA's next president. Founding president Nancy Marshall of The Episcopal Bookstore in Seattle had served the association for its eight years. "It's so good to be able to pass it on to someone else now, especially to Jane," Marshall told PW. "She'll do a brilliant job, and I can just be a member for the first time ever."
Brenda Knight of Red Wheel/Weiser, which acquired Conari in 2002, reported strong interest at RBTE in titles about Gnosticism, including The Gnostic Book of Hours by June Singer. Not surprisingly, given the aftershocks of The Da Vinci Code phenomenon, the publisher has acquired more titles on the early Christian era, including Tobias Churton's The Golden Builders: Alchemists, Rosicrucians, First Free Masons (Sept.).
One of the books getting the most attention and buzz was World Library Publications' Blessed Art Thou—Mother, Lady, Mystic, Queen, a visually rich collection of prayers and texts about the Virgin Mary that was published June 1. With art by Michael O'Neill McGrath and text by Richard N. Fragomeni, the oversized book drew "oooh's" and "ahhhh's" from convention-goers, for whom McGrath is a particularly popular and respected artist.
Phyllis Thompson, manager, and Barbara Ladner, assistant manager, of St. Andrew's Bookstore in Jackson, Miss., are veterans of RBTE. Both were excited even more this year than at previous shows. "We're just seeing so many new things," Thompson said Wednesday morning. "Look, it's lunch already and we've only managed to see one half of the first aisle!"