ICRS Observations 2010

Some have asked for my thoughts on this past week’s International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in St. Louis. I’m glad to answer.

This was my 29th consecutive booksellers convention. At its height there were approximately 14,000 in attendance, many years ago. That is no longer the case. Statistics released indicate total attendance was 6,812. Registered pick-ups in attendance was  4,747 (flat compared to 2009); professional attendance was 1,675 (up 4.5% over last year); and international attendance came in at 390 (up 4% over 2009). I’m not sure if they combine exhibitors and retailers in that first number of if the exhibitors (publishers, etc.) are included in the second number. As an agent we are considered “professional” attendees.

Apparently the national average retail trade show attendance is down 16%, so the convention is feeling pretty good about this year’s showing.

I’ll admit to being skeptical about St. Louis as the locale. In my nearly 30 years of attendance it had never been in that city. I was pleasantly surprised. I was fortunate to be staying at the hotel directly across the street from the convention hall which made moving from one thing to another very easy. I was also impressed by the number of fine restaurants in the area, most within walking distance. I had the fun to host two author-related dinners and both restaurants were excellent.

Since I don’t go to the convention with tourism in mind I have no idea what I might have missed, other than traveling to top of that Arch. However I spoke to the husband and son of an author who thoroughly enjoyed the area and filled three days with a wide variety of activities.

For me the event began with the Christy Award reception on Saturday night. Our agency had three authors who were finalists. None received the top award, but being recognized as a finalist is an honor in and of itself. I love the Christys and what it represents. If you ever have someone criticize Christian fiction as being vapid or poorly written, challenge their assumptions by suggesting they read the finalists. I predict they will be chagrined to have made their accusations after having a chance to read some of the incredible writers represented among the award finalists.

The rest of the week was a series of scheduled meetings and “hallway” or “aisle-way” conversations. I had thirty scheduled appointments and probably ended up with over 50 significant conversations when the time was done. Even had the chance to discuss deal points on a new contract that surfaced during the convention (that almost never happens).

I was also privileged to hear a hour and a half presentation by Hachette Digital. They are working very hard to maximize the opportunities created by the digital revolution. I came away feeling like some very smart people are working hard on doing smart things in this world. They were open to questions and suggestions. Very impressive. Thank you Rolf, for the invitation.

Tuesday was an odd day in that every meeting was in the hotel until late afternoon. I did not actually hit the convention floor until 4:00. That was something new for me since, in the past, most meetings took place on the convention floor or in Publisher suites. This was also the first year that not a single appointment took place in a publisher’s suite!

Because the convention itself was smaller in scale it fit in the hall very well. There were always people visibly roaming the aisles all the way until the closing announcement on Wednesday afternoon. It “felt” busier because of that.

The International rights section was a hive of activity. Goodness. There was never a dull moment in that space. It is incredible to think of the marvelous activity of great Christian literature and its impact around the globe.

I’ve had some disagreement with a colleague or two over whether the ICRS convention is a dinosaur that will soon disappear. I tend to remain positive about its place in the industry and truly hope it does not go away. There is simply no other single event where so many industry-related people gather in one place. I can think of a half dozen conversations that would not have happened if were not for this event.

For publishers it has become an Author-Relations event, not much of a sales opportunity. The stores have already placed their orders for forthcoming books and music. And while there are fewer Christian stores, many major big box retail buyers were in attendance. Therefore while actual orders may not be placed at the show, the seeds for new sales were being planted.

Since both Chi Libris (fiction) and AWSA (women speakers and authors) organizations have their retreat in the days before the convention, many authors are there. I believe we had at least 12 or 13 of our clients who were there for at least part of the event.

The gift section was humming the entire show. And that will always be. Many gifts are such that they have to be physically held or seen in person before knowing if they are a product the retailer can sell. If ICRS goes away the retailers will have to rely on the general market Gift Shows which would not have as many vendors and their selection opportunities would decline.

All the usual suspects of kitchy art, gifts, and toys were there. Nothing made me exclaim, “you’ve got to be kidding.” So that either means I’ve become immune after all these years or there were simply fewer products to see. (Years ago, my all-time worst observation was a clown making balloon art. He was methodically putting together a six foot high brown crucifix with a flesh colored Jesus on it…all made out of long thin “clown” balloons. From the back of the adoring crowd I muttered a little too loudly, “My kingdom for a pin.” And then walked away shaking my head.) In general I don’t mind most of that material since I sold a lot of it during my days as a Christian retailer. For many people the items are a real blessing in their church or home. But that balloon art exhibition was over my line.

I enjoyed taking pictures of client’s book covers and displays and emailing those to them. A lot of fun for those who couldn’t attend.

Bottom line? Publishing is alive and well. Publishers are still looking for great content and great authors. The Christian retail business is small, but those who survived the “crash” are still working hard and serving their communities. It is nice to see there are those still dedicated to the call of being booksellers.

I can’t wait to get to work each day to find out what’s new in this terrible, horrible, wonderful, exciting, frustrating, exhilarating business.

10 Responses to ICRS Observations 2010

  1. Avatar
    Lynnda Ell July 3, 2010 at 7:37 am #

    Thanks for the peek at ICRS, Steve.

    As an engineer in the electric power industry for almost twenty years, I participated in many national and international conferences. I always found professional conferences to be worth the time and effort. The synergy and dynamics of so many talented people putting so much energy and passion into a single event make it easy for growth and innovation to take place.

    For that reason, I hope your expectations of a continued strong ICRS conference is correct.

    Be blessed,


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    Susie May Warren July 3, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    So great to see you there, super agent! Thanks for a great dinner and great conversation! Suz

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    Lisa Copen July 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Thanks, Steve!

    This was the first year I DID attend the AWSA conference, but headed home without going to ICRS. As an author with a ministry that is its own publisher, the expenses involved were more than I felt I could, in good faith, spend on book giveaways, shipping the books, and being represented at booths such as the Small Christian Publishers Assn, where I usually am.

    I was a bit sad to get on the plane and not had walked the floor, but a bit relieved that bills won’t start arriving next month to pay for it. It’s fun, but the best use of my funds can be spent elsewhere.

    Glad to hear a positive spin on it all and also know that there are a lot of publishers and others deep into the digital/technical side of development and research. I taught the 2 workshops at AWSA on internet marketing and I know that some of the women thought, “Goodness! I don’t want to have to learn to do this!” (Which you don’t actually, just grab a teenager and hire him to do it…) but it was good affirmation when the publishers/editors panel followed the workshop and they said they DO look to see how many friends you have on Facebook or how many Twitter followers (though they mentioned just looking at numbers and not QUALITY of followers–hopefully they DO realize anyone with 55,000 Twitter followers [the # they gave] has spammer followers, not legitimate ones!)

    Anyway, think of you often and I’m still out here; chronic illness ministry continues to expand and grow as our population changes, just like I thought it may 10 years ago. Hope to cross paths with you sometime soon.

  4. Avatar
    Rebecca LuEllaMiller July 3, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks for an excellent run-down on ICRS, Steve. Interesting to compare your post with Chip’s. (His were also upbeat).


  5. Avatar
    Pam July 4, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Thanks for the ICRS report. I loved seeing the pictures and reading the reports on Facebook and on the various blogs.

    Very good to hear that attendance was up, given that many trade shows are struggling. Hoping attendence continues to grow at a sustainable rate.

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    Karen Robbins July 5, 2010 at 5:01 am #

    My husband has been in business for over 30 years and watched his professional trade shows grow into huge venues, split, dwindle, and then resurge. I think its the kind of thing that changes with the times and the evolution of product. Wonder if the book signings will become electronic?

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    Roland July 6, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks Steve. For those of us who couldn’t be there, it’s nice to see a heartfelt report.

  8. Avatar
    Mark Young July 10, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    And for those of us who could not attend, Steve, thanks for giving us a peek into what you experienced there. A lot is happening in this crazy, uncertain business. I look forward to the future.

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    Virelle Kidder July 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Great review of ICRS, Steve. Due to family health issues plus a new grandbaby, I could not attend. Lord willing, I plan to be there next year in Atlanta. Put me on your calendar early.

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    Allison Bottke July 10, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Oh how I miss those “hallway” and “aisle way meetings!” I’ve missed CBA…er…ICRS…for the past couple of years. Your optimistic perspective is refreshing! Thanks for taking the time to update us. And thanks for being an agent who loves what he does…even on bad days.

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