The 8th Annual Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit, meeting again in St. Charles, Ill., June 1-4, drew 162 exhibitors (down from 175 last year) and 180 stores (220 in 1998). Show co-organizer Bob Byrms, director of marketing and sales for Crossroad, explained that the lack of the BEA connection affected this year's numbers, as did the timing of the Catholic Marketing Network show (held the following week in Philadelphia) and the fact that Logos Association buyers attended BEA instead (they attend RBTE on alternate years). Still, the number of publishers exhibiting held steady at 90, and show co-organizer Peter Dwyer, marketing director at the Liturgical Press, said, "There's been good buzz and publishers say they've done good business."

That assessment was confirmed by Eric Major, recently appointed publisher of the newly formed Random House/ Doubleday religious publishing division, who said on the second day of the show, "We have not stopped all day -- we're selling books by the case. Not only are we taking more orders, but they are bigger orders, which demonstrates the confidence of this market." Added Mark Tauber, marketing manager at Harper San Francisco, "Our sales have been stronger than last year, and because of BEA not being here, we weren't expecting that." Cecil Staton Jr., president and publisher at the traditionally Baptist Smyth & Helwys -- which, he said, has enjoyed sales increases of 30% over the past year -- told PW, "This has become a strong market for us. We're not even going to CBA this year."

Tables reserved for international business also saw steady traffic. Cecilia West, sales director for the Columba Press in Dublin, said, "This is a rights show. The only interest BEA has for us is a couple of university presses who don't come here. This is even better for us than Frankfurt."

Booksellers at the show were ebullient over the just-announced abandonment of the B&N/Ingram deal, but were not happy about the closing of Spring Arbor's Belleville, Mich., offices. Yet all agreed that the biggest story at this year's RBTE was the rise of the Episcopal Booksellers Association, officially launched one year ago at the show. Said Steve Hanselman, director of sales for Harper San Francisco, "They're taking over -- they're going to have to rename this show." Nancy Marshall, co-owner of the Episcopal Bookstore in Seattle and current EBA president, noted that eight years ago there were only two non-Catholic stores at RBTE. Now EBA boasts 69 member stores. The success of EBA has inspired Catholic bookstores to begin organizing -- three meetings during RBTE resulted in the formation of a task force headed by Stephen Allen, manager of the Graymoor Book & Gift Center in Garrison, N.Y., who said, "We're getting some functions going -- like an e-mail network -- and then we'll decide on structure and leadership."

Recognizing the differences between these two segments of the liturgical bookstore market, some publishers have developed specialized catalogues. Oxford University Press now offers four special catalogues for Bibles -- including those for evangelical, mainline Protestant, Anglican and Catholic stores. Although it d s not publish separate catalogues, Penguin Putnam organizes its religion catalogue by market, grouping titles under the headings "CBA," "Catholic and Theological Interest" and "Children's."

As at BEA, new children's lines, imprints and titles were much in evidence at RBTE, as were Spanish-language programs and distributors.

One publisher whose children's titles have been very successful with liturgical booksellers is Jewish Lights, which enjoyed a busy RBTE. One bookseller -- Elizabeth Cauthorn, manager of Viva Books in San Antonio -- said that Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's Jewish Lights titles for kids have been consistently strong sellers in her store. Said v-p of marketing and sales Jon Sweeney, "Last year, when Sandy Sasso was here, we sold four times as much as we ever had. Despite more modest expectations for this year, we're up 25% over 1998."