It's a buyer's market, and Thomas Nelson is looking to buy, closing in on one deal to acquire a small inspirational publisher and searching for other similar opportunities. "There are a lot of small publishers out there right now that are hurting," Nelson chairman and CEO Sam Moore said during a conference call to announce his company's first-quarter financial results. Moore described the company with which Nelson is having acquisition talks as a publisher with annual sales of between $7 million and $8 million.

Nelson is in a better position to buy these days, having gone through a year of cost-cutting aimed at boosting profits in a sluggish market. For the first quarter ended June 30, strong sellers such as The Traveler's Gift and Waking the Dead enabled Nelson to post a 5% increase in book sales, offsetting a decline in revenue from conferences. Though Bible sales were flat, sales of other books increased 8%. Total revenue for the period edged up 1.5%, to $41.8 million, and operating income increased to $1.7 million, from $1.5 million in the first quarter of the prior year. Breaking it down by channel, CFO Joe Powers said sales in the CBA market rose 10%, to $15 million, while ABA revenue was up 7%, to $10.5 million. Direct sales to churches fell 15%, to $3.8 million.

Moore called the quarter "satisfactory," but added that the book market remains soft. He said conference sales were Nelson's "biggest disappointment in the quarter." Conference revenue fell even though Nelson had one more conference during the quarter than in the comparable period the prior year. "I think some of that reflects the soft economy and the war in Iraq," Moore said.