Christian retailers met January 23—28 in Nashville for CBA Advance, the association's midwinter show, which grows smaller each year amid continuing questions about the need for two annual conventions. In a business hit hard by expanded retail channels for Christian product and resulting store attrition, embattled CBA store owners are a shrinking constituency, and many publishers chafe at the expense of two trade shows.

Asked whether attrition had leveled off in 2005, CBA president and CEO Bill Anderson cited 337 unique store closings last year, compared to 288 in 2004. However, he also said there were 437 store openings, "so our net gain is 100." Said Anderson, "I think we've hit the bottom already and are now moving forward."

Since store openings were not tracked in 2004, it's hard to compare 2004 and 2005. What is clear is that attrition is primarily occurring among smaller stores: according to Anderson, 74% of the stores that closed did less than $250,000 in annual sales. He gave a current number of 2,144 CBA member stores, down from 2,206 last year and 2,407 in 2004.

Still, some publishers agree that attrition is slowing. Mike Hyatt, president and CEO of Thomas Nelson Inc., said, "My sense is the decline has stabilized. And the mood of the show was upbeat and positive."

One subject that had everyone buzzing was the turf war over the collection of sales data for Christian stores. CBA recently launched its own sales tracking system, CROSS:SCAN, which will compete with ECPA's STATS (Sales Tracking and Trends Analysis Survey) program. (For a fuller examination of the complex issues involved, see next week's issue of our e-mail Religion BookLine.)

Several publishers complained of low retailer attendance; professional attendees (total attendance minus exhibitors and youth) was 1,355, compared to last year's 1,382. CBA could not say how many buying stores were represented. This year there were 210 exhibitors (83 book publishers), down from 225 (86 book publishers) in 2005.


ECPA to End Winter Tour


Even as CBA grappled with the future of Advance, Evangelical Christian Publishers Association president Mark Kuyper told PW at the conference that his organization's five winter regional ECPA shows would be their last. "Retailers are buying very differently than when these started 13 years ago," Kuyper said. "Whether it's Above the Treeline or Ingram's iPage, they're placing orders far more frequently than ever before. And a lot of our publishers have sales teams who are presenting directly to the retailers. So to invest the money for a traveling trade show for publishers just doesn't make sense anymore. When you look around, you see that trade shows in general are not as effective anymore."