The International Christian Retail Show, June 26-29 in Cincinnati, OH, attracted 2,114 attendees, a 29.5% decline from last year's 3,002 people. Despite the attendance slump, most attendees still found the show worthwhile, albeit with a reduced presence.
The show had 201 exhibitors, including eight publishers housed in the Noble Marketing booth: Baker Publishing Group, Moody Publishers, David C. Cook, Kregel Publications, Crossway, InterVarsity Press, Bookmasters, and ChristianAudio. Noble provides sales representation to CBA independent stores. “Buyers don’t have to go to eight different booths at the show, and we have saved time, energy, and money,” said Adam Dalton, retail wholesale manager for Moody Publishers. “Our decision was based on the decrease in attendance at ICRS and our support for Noble.”
Dave Lewis, executive v-p of sales and marketing at Baker Publishing, remains committed to ICRS, but is interested in cutting costs. “We’re closer to getting right-sized at this show,” he said of the joint booth.
InterVarsity Press agrees. “We’re all about serving independent retailers,” said Justin Paul Lawrence, director of sales for IVP. “They used to need us to be an enormous presence here, but with the Internet and good sales people, we don’t need to be as big a presence now.”
Another difference in this year’s show was the discontinuation of the Christy Awards banquet. Instead of the annual event, the 2016 winners were announced via social media on Monday, June 27. “It’s disappointing,” said Cynthia Ruchti, media liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and novelist.
The change undoubtedly saved fiction publishers thousands of dollars in travel costs for nominated authors and their editors. “We are excited to try this new format—the banquet was limited to a single location, but this way, the announcements are in a wider space,” said Lewis of Baker, which houses fiction lines Revell and Bethany House.
ICRS is not the only faith-based trade show suffering due to the growing popularity of online and mainstream outlets. After several years of struggle and without any formal announcement, the Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (RBTE)—the show for Catholic and Episcopal booksellers that is usually held around the same time as BEA—did not take place this year.
Despite the shrinkage, ICRS remains an important fixture for Christian retailers as a buying and selling conference. It’s also a place where publishers can introduce new books and products and where trading partners can come together to do business, network, address common challenges, and learn.
“It’s obviously smaller,” said Pamela Clements, v-p & associate publisher at Worthy Publishing. “But I’ve seen much more buyer badges than expected.” In the past, the publisher had a 10X30-foot booth, then a 10X20-foot booth. This year was smaller yet. “CBA talked about reimagining booth space this year, so we came with a slightly smaller space to reflect that vision,” said Dale Wilstermann v-p of sales and distribution for Worthy.
Patsy Jones, v-p of marketing at FaithWords, hosted a screening of The Shack for key accounts during ICRS. The film adaptation of Paul Wm. Young’s hit novel premieres in theaters in March, and a new edition of the book, due in November, was on display in the publisher’s booth. “This is the show to come to for the Christian market—everything is here, in one location,” said Jones. “It’s in transition, just like the rest of us.”
ICRS attendance reflects what is happening in the marketplace. Three new CBA stores have opened since December 2015, and 27 have closed, including eight stores in Oregon’s Tree of Life chain. Within the same time period, there has been a slight (1%) decline in sales of Christian retail, according to the CBA’s State of the Industry Report.
Curtis Riskey, who took over as CBA president in 2010, said, “We realize the industry is in disruption, that’s one of the things we're trying to change.” He announced plans to source products exclusively at CBA member stores through a partnership with the newly-created Content Road Media Corp. The products, starting with the DVD of the film The Samaritan, will be promoted by the artists, actors, and studios behind them, and should drive more consumers to Christian stores.
“Our goal between this convention and next year is to have 100 products all through this new channel to drive traffic, increase profitability and margins, and move the needle to show suppliers that this channel is united, it is not competing with Walmart and Amazon, and to prove our worth,” said Riskey.
He said the new model can revolutionize Christian retailing industry. “Strategic alliances and partnerships are the name of game these days,” said Riskey. “When you see the CBA as an organization a year from now, it will be in a very different position.”
ICRS will return to Cincinnati next year from June 28-30.