by Steve Laube
Last week was the 2011 International Christian Retailing Show (ICRS) in Atlanta, Georgia. Tamela Hancock Murray and I had a busy time. Statistics released declared that professional attendance was up 9.7% to 1,748, primarily representing buyers. Total attendance was up 5.83% to 4,918. International attendance was up 16.17% to 431 attendees from 61 countries.
The busiest place on the convention floor was the International Marketplace where licensing into other languages created a constant buzz.
Tamela attended the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association banquet on Sunday (where her client Kathi Macias won Novel of the Year) and the Christy Award banquet on Monday. We both attended the Baker Publishing Group banquet Sunday night and I attended the Crossway Books banquet on Monday. (Whew. Banquets galore!)
We had over 35 appointments with different publishers and editors spanning the breadth of the industry. It is always invigorating to exchange idea and take a pulse on the health of the marketplace. But if you add in the aisle and hallway conversations it was closer to 50 significant opportunities.
On Wednesday I participated in a panel discussion on Christian Fiction called “How to Grow Sales by Better Understanding the Fiction Publishing Process.” Other panel members included Allen Arnold (Thomas Nelson Senior Vice President and Publisher, Fiction), Sue Brower (Zondervan Executive Editor, Fiction), Margaret Daley(award-winning author and American Christian Fiction Writers President – and one of my clients), Jeane Wynn(Wynn-Wynn Media), Carla Williams (Publicity and Editorial Director at WinePress Publishing) and Rachel McRae (Book Buyer, LifeWay Christian Stores). It was a fun hour of conversation with about 40 people in attendance. I marveled at the turnout considering it was the last panel discussion of the convention on the last day when the majority of attendees had already left.
What did I think? I think ICRS is the key event of the year, especially for the editorial side of things. Writers conferences are a tough place to do “business” because the intent of the gathering is different. Here there were top executives attending meetings as well as their acquisition editors. Many publishers utilized group meetings so there was a lot of opportunity for brainstorming and dialogue. The only way to replace that would be to make a personal visit to each publishing house.
Is the industry healthy? If you mean Christian Retail, then I would answer that it has a solid pulse. The winnowing has slowed and the strongest are surviving. It is still tough to make it in any sort of retail environment. If you meant is publishing healthy, I would answer most certainly, yes! The Internet is glutted with pundits declaring that book publishing is on life support and that e-books are sucking the lifeblood of the industry. That is hardly the case. Granted, there is considerable upheaval in business models but like any mature industry they are being intentional and strategic in their implementation of new technologies and initiatives. They cannot move as fast as some, which creates opportunities for entrepreneurs. But in general I sensed an optimism that was missing the last two years. Previously there was a sense of fear, but that is gone. We now work with the survivors….so to speak.
This was my thirtieth consecutive ICRS (formerly CBA) convention. Thirty years, every Summer. It only means one thing. I’m getting old!
But it also means I’ve had the privilege of watching this industry grow up, mature, and change. The convention is still the only time in the year where the entire industry gathers in one place. There is nothing else like it.