Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Annual CBA retailer's show illustrates changes under way

At the annual International Christian Retail Show in Orlando, FL, this week, the trends besieging the U.S. economy are self-evident in this large assemblage of companies that supply books, music, and other Christian products.

Ridiculously high gasoline prices appear to have cut into the usually robust attendance. Empty booth spaces and less than booming sales appear to reflect the hysteria surrounding the supposed recession impacting the U.S. economy coast to coast. The absence of huge, expensive advertising banners reflect the credit crunch. 

Or are these things really as they seem?

The wild card here is the role that Internet shopping and online advertising and promotion play in today's sales of books and other items. Is business really slowing down as it appears? Or it is changing and morphing into some new forms?

Fifteen years ago Internet shopping was more like a pipe dream that only a small portion of the population understood. Today, it's as common as bluebonnets in spring in Texas. I rarely venture into a retail store to purchase clothes, books, and a whole array of other products and services; instead I travel to my favorite shopping websites such as and Every time I do this I marvel that I never need to leave my computer. I pay bills, do my banking, read the daily news, and receive and send prayer requests using my computer.

I also marvel how much of my business itself is conducted on the Internet. Five years ago, books-on-demand printing was in its diaper stage.  Today, knowing whether a book was produced one book at a time or printed on traditional presses rolling out thousands of copies an hour requires an expert eye and a lot of luck. On most computers the work of artists and writers travels at the speed of email.

Change is a hallmark of life these days. It seems to travel at the speed of lightning. This means old ways are passing away; new ways are emerging—all this at breakneck speed.

That's what makes assessing this year's show, sponsored by Christian Booksellers Association, so difficult. I asked a fellow participant what he thought of the world's largest Christian retail show. He responded, "I just met a man whose whole bookstore is online. He only purchases books one at a time from the wholesaler after he already has sold them through his online store". He seemed shocked at what he had learned.  I was shocked that he was shocked at what he had heard.

Websites now feature all the new book titles launching into the market this year (a main reason store buyers once attended CBA each year). Even CBA offers online seminars like it formerly reserved only for this annual show. 

I have no crystal ball on the future of CBA's International Christian Retail Show, but I do know that all the hubbub about the high gasoline prices, the so-called recession, and the hysteria of the "credit crunch" caused by the overheated real-estate market earlier this decade will force us to change—perhaps in some very drastic ways.  But change is not always bad. God always can use change for His good. 

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