ICRS Observations 2016

On the last week of June Dan Balow and I attended the 2016 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in Cincinnati. It was my 35th consecutive year attending…which only means I’m old…

By now you may have heard some reports regarding the low attendance, which are true. There were only 2,114 registered attendees, nearly a 30% drop from last year. Fortunately the convention hall was the right size for the event. We didn’t feel like we were swimming in an ocean of empty space.

A few observations from my perspective as a literary agent, which is admittedly different than the perspective of a retailer or publisher or author.

1) Every single meeting we had was invaluable to our agency and to our clients. Unfortunately there were fewer than in past years. We made some invaluable connections simply because were were in a face-to-face meeting and not as slammed by time restraints.

2) With the convention center being one block away from the major hotels it was easy to get from an appointment on the sales floor to an appointment at a hotel and back again without having to sprint or cut short a meeting. It has been years since it was this convenient.

3) There were fewer editors in attendance which was disappointing. But again, those we did see were invigorating meetings. Very few fiction editors were there partly because the Christy Awards were done differently this year and there wasn’t the normal draw for novelists and their publishers.

4) There is no other place or event where the entire industry gathers at the same time. I enjoy walking slowly through the various exhibitor displays, no matter how big or small, just to see the variety in products and ideas. Non-book products can be instructive in predicting trends in the market and in design.

5) It was a delight to attend an early Monday morning SpeakUp breakfast, hosted by Gene and Carol Kent (Carol sporting a sling for her broken arm…let Gene tell you that story.) Despite the three hour time difference in my body clock it was great to hear many inspirational stories from some of our industry’s best speakers and writers.

6) “Hallway Conversations” are also invaluable. These are those unscheduled discussions that occur just because you are in attendance. Sometimes they can have big dividends in the future.

7) Thanks to a generous invitation from Carl Dobrowolski of Goodwill Rights Management Corp. over a dozen of us attended a nighttime Cubs vs. Reds baseball game at the Great American Ballpark (formerly Riverfront Stadium). We saw major league baseball history that night when Kris Bryant hit three home runs and two doubles. Something never done before in a single game in baseball history! So while that had nothing to do with our industry, it was great to make some new industry friends.


I count the event as a success. It would be easy to complain about attendance and modest appointment opportunities, but the valuable meetings we did have made up for quantity with quality.


Next year it will be in Cincinnati again from June 28-30, 2017 (Wednesday-Friday).



20 Responses to ICRS Observations 2016

  1. Cindy Thomson July 11, 2016 at 5:22 am #

    Thanks for your report. I had not heard anyone else talk about it. And being a Reds fan, I just have to say GABP is a completely new park. Riverfront was torn down. If you didn’t visit the hall of fame you should next time. It’s excellent.

  2. Richard Mabry July 11, 2016 at 5:44 am #

    Steve, it sounds like the meeting was good for you as an agent, but what about authors? Is attendance by them a matter of vanity, or is there a benefit for them as well?
    Thanks, as always, for keeping us abreast of what’s happening in publishing.

    • Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 8:48 am #

      A good question Richard. I’ll bet authors who were there could address that benefit much better than from my perspective.

      I saw dozens of authors there. More non-fiction authors than novelists.


  3. Brennan McPherson July 11, 2016 at 6:47 am #

    With increasing focus on digital sales + remote employees, do you think there will come a time when a considerable portion of publishing trade shows/conferences will be conducted via live video conference and segmented into small groups for virtual meet-and-greets? The self-publishing industry seems to be heading this direction, though I could definitely see more benefits in a physical conference for the traditional publishing world.

    It seems obvious from the work of Author Earnings that more authors nowadays are making a living wage than ever before, so it seems the lower attendance is really more of a sign of a shift in the marketplace, rather than a contraction. Interesting time for the publishing industry, for sure! Thanks for a bit of insight into the retailer show. Always wonder what my publisher is doing there…

    • Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 8:46 am #

      Actually the rise of the self publishing industry has little to with any dramatic change at the convention itself. It is more about
      1. the evolution of retail for one thing (the rise of online shopping);
      2. the change in the nature of the convention from a place where orders are written, to a showcase for new products, to a meet & greet. Decades ago, new books and new music was first debuted at the show. It was where you went to find out what’s new. But retail became more sophisticated and needed to find out much earlier in the year about the Fall releases. Thus the “big reveal” went away…and along with it some of the buzz.
      The “big reveals” now are Movie screenings which have a much shorter time from unveiling to the big screen in theatres.
      3. The number of Christian retail stores are fewer.

      None of that has anything to do with Author Earnings and self publishing. It is true that many authors are making a great living self publishing. But one expert told me the other day “that same percentage of success stories reflects the same percentage of success stories in traditional publishing.” So while self publishing is a great option for some, not everyone is successful at it. Just like any business.

      And Brennan, your publisher was there. Carlton and I waved at each other at one point. 🙂

      • Brennan S. McPherson July 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

        Right… I didn’t mean to say self-published authors are changing the game, but rather that they’re reacting to changes in technology. And I was curious if you foresee traditional trade shows shifting to more of a webinar format. If trade shows are offering less now than years ago, there’s less of a draw to pay all that money and travel there. But if people could attend in the comfort of their office on their web-cam, that could offer some benefits. I just used self-published authors as an example of people in the publishing industry using webinars effectively (though I’m sure there’s many others). Hope that makes more sense?

        Obviously physical books aren’t going away. I read almost exclusively physical books myself… but the internet has changed the way everything works.

        Hah! That’s too fun. 🙂 [about Carlton]

        • Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

          No. I do not see a convention being replaced by webinars. It isn’t a teaching conference. It is a trade show. Different animal entirely.

          And books are not the only thing at the convention. For the Christian retailer the gift section is critical for an in-person evaluation of the product.

          For the International publishers and their representatives it is a place where they gather without a current viable alternative.

          The trade show is much more than a bookselling event. Always has been that way.

          While a webinar is a nice vehicle, it is rather impersonal and loses the one-to-one aspect of a conversation.

          If it were only seminars and classes, that is one thing. But walking the floor and having conversations with people throughout the industry is hard to replace.

          For example, at ICRS I made a connection with a publisher which just had major turnover in editorial. I now know who to talk to. Beforehand I was stymied.

          I had a long conversation with a veteran bookseller who I’ve known for decades about his store and the demographic shifts in his constituency.

          I spoke to a sales person at a publisher who I’d not met before and I was able to get a good answer to the question “What is the biggest challenge you face on a regular basis in your job?”

          You see? This would not happen with an impersonal webinar. This is face-to-face synergy that only happens when people gather together with a common purpose.

          • Brennan McPherson July 11, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

            I do see! Thanks for the thoughtful response!

        • Brennan McPherson July 11, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

          Also… I only mentioned Author Earnings to show I wasn’t speaking doom over the book industry because of smaller attendance. I know AE’s is a huge proponent of self-publishing, but I just used them to point out that the book industry is growing, rather than shrinking. It’s changing, yes, but that just means there’s new opportunities.

          Boy, nothing came out like I hoped it would. Hope this is clearer.

          • Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

            I’m not being critical of Author Earnings. It is a fascinating study extrapolating data from Amazon information and making some interesting observations.

            But be clear that AE is very much on the side of Indie-publishing as the way to publish. They might view the positive things I have to say about traditional publishing as simply wrong or head-in-the-sand. I’ve been “fisked” by some of them who don’t understand where I really stand. (I’ve been accused of being anti-Indie publishing, which couldn’t be any further from the truth.)

            I stand in a place where I think ALL methods of publishing are viable options. And am grateful that technology has matured to allow writers multiple choices.

            At the same time I think some Indie authors shouldn’t be going that route for any number of reasons. And some authors going traditional should not go that route for any number of reasons.

            As Dan Balow says, “It is one thing to be published. It is another to be published well.”

          • Steve Laube July 12, 2016 at 8:21 am #

            Another article that is rather instructive regarding the recent history of disruption in both book retailing and book publishing:


            • Brennan McPherson July 13, 2016 at 6:08 am #

              Great stuff. Never heard of idealog before! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Jeanne Takenaka July 11, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    Steve, it sounds like ICRS was a productive time or you and Dan. I’m curious to know, to what do you attribute the lower attendance? What were some of the trends you noticed?

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s always insightful!

  5. Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    For another perspective read this one from the Christian Small Publishers Association:


  6. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. July 11, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    Thanks for the heads-up on next year’s show, Steve. As a newbie to this whole idea of publishing, it sounds like an invaluable opportunity. I have marked my calendar for next year’s event.
    I hope that some of the opportunities you mentioned regarding the Cincinnati event are available next month in Nashville!

    • Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 10:05 am #


      I should clarify. The ICRS is not a public event where anyone or any writer can just sign up to attend. It is a membership-only association convention. Authors who attend get a badge via their publisher. It is not a writers conference like ACFW. It is a professional association event intended for the retailing and publishing industry.

      In the general market the BEA is very similar, not open to the public. Only those with specific credentials from their publisher or organization can attend. However, they added a public event (called a BookCon – like comic-con) that takes place that same week. They have famous authors come to meet their fans, and the fans turned out in a big way.

  7. Kathy Cassel July 11, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

    Wed-Fri? How is that going to work? There are some small conferences that take place just prior to it and then the kick off Sunday morning with author boot camp/

    • Steve Laube July 11, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

      Everything will shift to later in the week. Nothing on the weekend. Ostensibly so that the retailers can be back home and not miss a weekend of sales on either end.

      It means the travel day will be Tuesday, I think. Too far in the future to grasp for now.

  8. Carla Jo July 12, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    In listening to details given in this blog and these comments I become more understanding of your agency’s part in the big picture of connecting quality writing with the appropriate publishing company.

    If my work fits the part of quality writing for publishing well, then I would need your ability that this convention continues giving you in the ‘managing well’, to get to where I want to go. So there is also managing and managing well.

    I will be rereading this to glean more answers to my curiosity about trends in marketing and design, products and ideas that would benefit my work.

    Managing has been my word of the week to explore. I’ve been grateful for a newer friend helping me organize my house and woman cave papers, books, and other stuff. Adjusting our working energy has brought out her wonderful and trustworthy ability to manage my sorting of items, process sequencing and doing what fits in between for quality and quantity decision making to get me where I want to go so much faster.

    This week’s experience has consolidated my understanding of my need for a project managed well to be published well.

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