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Pre-BEA's RBTE Gets High Grades
Lynn Garrett and Phyllis Tickle -- 6/12/00

The Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit--launched nine years ago to serve the liturgical segment of the Christian book market--met in St. Charles, Ill., May 29-June 1, drawing 185 exhibitors and 207 bookstores, a 15% increase over last year when the show was not able to piggyback on the Los Angeles BEA. Confirming the benefit of that association, RBTE co-organizer Peter Dwyer told PW, "We were up in retailers considerably this year." Asked what RBTE will do in 2002 when BEA moves to New York, Dwyer said, "We are surveying attendees to see what they want. Obviously, holding a show on the East Coast is much more expensive."

Along with Roman Catholic, Episcopal and mainline Protestant publishers (as well as one each from the Jewish, Islamic and Orthodox Christian faiths), other kinds of houses were also at RBTE, a reflection of the recent softening of historic divisions between faith groups. Evangelical publisher Zondervan returned to the show after a three-year hiatus. Other evangelical publishers were also investigating RBTE. Roaming the show floor were Bethany House's Carol and Gary Johnson, who told PW they were contemplating exhibiting next year. Dwyer noted, "There's some turnover in publishers each year, although in total it is quite small." The Catholic Marketing Network--formed to serve the more conservative Catholic publishers and stores who find RBTE too ecumenical--was holding its smaller trade show the following week in suburban Chicago (June 6-9 in Rosemont), but Dwyer said he had seen no decline in RBTE exhibitors as a result. Citing the advantages of RBTE from the publisher's point of view, Doubleday Religious publisher Eric Major said, "You're dealing with open-minded people here, so you can display a very wide range of books."

Some RBTE exhibitors went on to BEA, finding different benefits in each show. John Thomas, marketing director for Paulist Press, spoke for many when he told PW, "At RBTE, we never stop writing orders. BEA is a great place to network and do rights business. We definitely find value in both." Also in evidence at RBTE was Christian Distribution Services, the new company formed by Larry Carpenter, previously president of Spring Arbor. Carpenter cited a growth in his client list to 28 publishers, up from 20 in January.

At RBTE, as at BEA, much of the excitement centered around e-commerce. Nancy Marshall, president of the Episcopal Booksellers Association, told PW that since its January launch, the Web site for her store, Episcopal Book Store in Seattle, has increased sales 7.9% over those of the first five months of 1999. More important, Marshall noted, nine out of 10 online orders have come from new customers.
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