Modest improvement in the Catholic book market helped to boost spirits at the Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit, held May 31—June 3 in St. Charles, Ill. Most publishers reported strong orders, and booksellers expressed relief that the market seems finally to have turned around. "The Catholic market has been soft for a couple of years, primarily because of stress in the parishes," explained Peter Dwyer, director of Liturgical Press and (with Bob Byrns) a cofounder of the trade show. "Parishes are closing or being consolidated. But the last few months, things have picked up. It's more robust now." Exhibitor, store and buyer numbers were roughly equal to last year's, though there were fewer total attendees (842) than in 2004 (922), which Dwyer attributed to fewer staff members from exhibitors.
More than any particular book or product at the show, the buzz revolved around staffing changes. Shortly before RBTE, Michelle Rapkin resigned as head of Doubleday Religious (see page 10). Patti Byrns, whose appointment as sales and marketing v-p at Episcopal house Church Publishing was the talk of RBTE in 2004, resigned 10 days before this year's show, just shy of her one-year anniversary on the job. Byrns summed up the decision as "creative differences." She plans to freelance for Orbis, where she was formerly marketing director.
New hires included veteran religion journalist Susan Hogan/Albach, who's been named editorial director at Liturgical Press. She will join the Catholic house July 1 after 16 years of religion reporting, most recently at the Dallas Morning News. Dwyer said Hogan/Albach's job would be to "flesh out a publishing vision" for the press, giving it somewhat more trade emphasis and publishing more titles about Benedictine spirituality. Shortly after RBTE and BEA, Baker Publishing Group announced it is creating a position for a national accounts manager to handle the ABA market.
Signaling the breadth of offerings in mainline religious bookstores, several publishers—none of them liturgical houses—chose to exhibit at RBTE for the first time, including Inner Traditions, Shambhala and Baylor University Press.