Next generation leaders talk about the state of the Christian products industry and their hopes for the future, Part 1

As part one of an ongoing series, Christian Market sat down with five up-and-coming retailers and suppliers who combine a passion for their work with innovative thinking. They spoke about the challenges we face now, the opportunities we must seize, and what is needed to grow the marketplace.

Vice President & Publisher, Fiction
HarperCollins Christian Publishing

Years in Industry: 18

State of the Industry: More stable than it has been in the past 10 years as we’ve weathered the recession and the e-book revolution.

Top Challenge: Creating sustained growth and continuing to win consumers’ attention as we compete with a wider array of content and entertainment choices than ever before.

Greatest Opportunity: We’re very fortunate to be dealing with content that never loses its relevance. And as many challenges as the leveling influence of technology has created for our industry, we’re also extremely fortunate to be living in a time when we have such direct access to consumers.

What Is Needed: We need to continue to fight for a world in which content creators can earn a living as creatives. We also need to keep working harder to understand the consumers we serve.

Future Outlook: I see an unprecedented openness to faithbased content from unexpected places. Our company does an amazing job of opening up new outlets for our content. Potential customers are more dispersed, but this very same challenge is also an opportunity for reaching more broadly in terms of potential outlets and potential consumers for our content.

Living Room Books & Gifts

Years in Industry: My whole life.

State of Industry: The industry is in a rush to get more products to consumers at any venue. They have really hurt the Christian store that needs the top-selling products in their store to survive.

Top challenge: Companies learning to value the Christian stores over the big boxes and offer better opportunities to push customers into the local business. Offer early releases on special products and use social media to help customers seek out local stores.

Greatest Opportunity: I think where small independent stores have the advantage is offering exceptional customer service. We know our customers and try our best to get the products that help grow their faith.

What Is Needed: I would like to see more products that offer a purpose with the purchase.

Future Outlook: I’m excited to see how social media will continue to play a role in advertising as well as creating a community with consumers. What new development in technology will help me better reach my customers and introduce them to the products I carry in the store I manage?

Vine & Branches

Years in Industry: 9 months

State of the Industry: I believe the industry as a whole is in trouble. With that said, I’m hopeful that with a few tweaks in our business models, we will begin to see things turn around.

Top Challenge: The current business model for most stores is the biggest challenge. We need to stop competing with Amazon and iTunes. We will never win that battle.

Greatest Opportunity: It’s a great time to dream and to be creative in our approach to our business. We get to explore and find new ways to reinvent our industry.

What Is Needed: It’s crucial that we find new ways to become relevant to our customers. We need to be willing to reduce our margins on books and Bibles. We may not make desired margins on books and Bibles, but we’re making money in secondary sales such as wall art, clothing, journals, etc.

Future Outlook: We’re excited about being part of the new era of Christian retail. For those who are willing to reinvent themselves, we believe the best is yet to come. It just might look different then we thought it would.

Publisher, Christian Living & Leadership Books
B&H Publishing Group

Years in Industry:

State of the Industry: It’s an exciting time to work in any sector of books, because there is so much disruption. I know market disruption can be chaotic, but I’m excited because we’ve seen time and time again that periods of disruption of status quo give way to greater opportunities on the other side.

Top Challenge: The generational shifts that play between Boomers and Millennials can’t be overstated. The ripple effects are tidal waves that shape everything we do. Second, the shift from rural and suburban living to urban living is continually coming to the forefront of national conversations.

Greatest Opportunity: As publishers, we contribute to the national conversation. When we amplify the voices of those who hold the best content to help people flourish, we walk in sacred trust with those who have done this job for hundreds of years before.

What Is Needed: We need to serve readers well by listening to them, seeking to understand. We communicate so that they may understand, not demand they adapt to our preferred methods for content delivery. This means holding fast to Christian orthodoxy, regardless of cultural pressure to accommodate. Lastly, this also means confronting divisive issues, both practical and theological, with both conviction and kindness.

Future Outlook: Even when the enemy has sought to divide our country and churches, I’m reassured that God has a plan for spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth. My sense is that a small part of that plan is to use books, and that is what animates me at work.

Senior Manager of Publicity
Zondervan and Thomas Nelson Bibles and
Zondervan Church, Academic, Reference, & Reflective

Years in Industry: 9

State of the Industry: We’re experiencing some flux. I entered publishing when e-books were on the upswing, the recession was beginning, and retail stores were continuing to close. E-book sales leveled off (and now appear to be declining) and space in the retail market is still a challenge, making it difficult to get books in front of readers.

Top Challenge: In addition to the loss of retail shelf space, the way we use media to get information has changed immensely.

Greatest Opportunity: The breadth and compartmentalization of media is a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity to concentrate our efforts to reach the right readers with the right books.

What Is Needed: We need to publish books that are relevant to readers—and to do that, we need to anticipate their deeply felt needs and who the authors are who can best speak to those needs.

Future Outlook: I’m excited that as technology continues to advance, we could see faster, more responsive publishing. I’m also excited to see how technology is already enabling us to leverage our books into online education courses. Continue the discussion next month, as CBA engages those who will be leading the Christian products industry into the future.

— Lora Schrock

Read about other future leaders: Who Will Lead?, Part 2Innovation Leads the Industry Forward, Part 3Unity and Innovation Advance the Industry’s Legacy, Part 4