The pioneers within the Christian retail marketplace represent thought leaders and innovators who have spread the Gospel through the retail channel around the globe. They have helped shape the promotion and distribution of Christian products— not only in the U.S., but in every country of the world.
One of these innovators is Jean-Luc Cosnard.
A bona-fide leader in the French-speaking market with 300 million potential customers (only 2 percent of whom are evangelical, with even fewer than that in France), Cosnard had ministered in media, television, and radio, but he’d never worked in the publishing industry until Zondervan approached him with an idea in 1996.
“They proposed that I become a consultant for their francophone company Vida, which was losing money,” says Cosnard. “[They wanted me] to reverse the tendency. I proposed a business plan they accepted, and in three years, Editions Vida was as profitable as ever. They gave me the freedom to do whatever was useful from my point of view, including changing the team and relocating the company. I was general manager for four years and then purchased the company in 2000.
“It has been a great challenge,” he continues, “but I made the decision only when I got the conviction that God was in this project and that He would help and equip me. I remember He told me that He would show me the way day after day, even though some days might be more difficult. I can testify that He did just that. We are now the No. 1 francophone Christian publisher.”
“Even though the francophone market is 300,000 people in the world, it is still limited. We needed a miracle in order to succeed. Since 2000, we have known beautiful and regular growth. There were quite a number of challenges to make the best editorial choices, to run the business, and to be able to sell books at an acceptable price in places like Africa, where our print runs are not like they are in English,” he says.
Changing times and new technology have affected international markets, but the demise of the well-run Christian bookstore is still just a rumor. Cosnard sees Christian bookstores as a means to a Gospel-spreading end.
“The Internet has changed customers’ behavior,” he says. “It has been sad for the bookstores. They have a hard time surviving in some areas. But we always see new candidates for this difficult business, and many new bookstores flourish every year. The ebook has not radically changed customers’ habits. [They] generally still prefer physical contact with paper books. The proximity of a bookstore is still a tremendous instrument for evangelism through personal contact.”
Quality as a Business Plan
Cosnard’s business plan was simple: in year one, stop losing money. Break even by year two, and by year three, make a profit. He found success by bringing an eye for quality to the operation.
“I don’t pretend to be a pioneer in this ministry,” he says. “But for sure we have contributed a lot to develop the idea of professionalism and excellence in the Christian milieu. For example, we improved the quality of the books, the editing process, the quality of paper, and the design of the covers. Before, most of those things, including typesetting and covers, were done in the U.S. Now we do them here.”
He elaborates, “Coming into the Christian publishing industry with a new look, a look from the outside, plus being aware of the needs of people, the needs of the body of Christ, are two things that have allowed us to succeed. We live in a world that has changed a lot in the last few decades. [But we’ve got to remember] it’s not the world who has to come to the church, but the church who has to go to the world.”