Why Thomas Nelson Doesn’t Attend Trade Shows

In the last two weeks, several people have asked to meet with me at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) being held in Denver, July 12–15, 2009. I have had to tell them that Thomas Nelson is not exhibiting this year. We also didn’t exhibit last year. Some have asked why.

registration staff at a trade show

Historically, trade shows have played an important role in publishing and bookselling. I have attended scores of them and have very fond memories of connecting with customers, authors, and the media. But the market has changed. Dramatically. We simply cannot justify the enormous costs associated with these trade shows—especially in this tough economy.

I originally wrote about this when we decided not to exhibit last year at either BookExpo America or ICRS. Last week, someone in the media asked me if I had any regrets about this decision. Without hesitation, I said, “None.” Why?

I believe there are better ways to connect with our key customers in a way that is more meaningful to them and to us. Trade shows made sense when the industry was more fragmented. It was one of the few ways to connect face-to-face with retailers. But things have changed. The industry is largely consolidated.

Because of this, we meet face-to-face with our top 600 or so customers in Christian retail channel at least four times a year. These customers account for 95% of our revenue in this channel. Our telephone reps call on another 600 customers. These account for an additional 3% of our business. So that only leaves the stores that account for 2% of our total volume in this channel. We simply cannot justify the enormous expense of a trade show to reach these 2%. It’s not cost-effective for us. The same could be said of the general market as well.

We will continue to send a handful of our staff members to ICRS. (We are members of CBA, the association for Christian retail and the sponsor.) There is still value in networking on foreign rights, international, and remainders accounts. We just won’t exhibit.

I am not suggesting that this strategy is right for every publisher. For some, it may make great sense. It just doesn’t work for us.

Question: Where in your business (whatever that might be) are you spending too much to reach the last 2% of the market?
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  • http://www.houseofjames.com Lando Klassen

    I've been selling Christian books since 1973 up in Abbotsford, B.C. Canada and was very involved with CBA Canada before we shut it down. I applaud you for not spending the money to be at ICRS and other shows. In our changing retail environment we must continually evaluate our expenses and return on the investment. Thanks for being a leader in this area.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    What's your take on the future of trade shows (not simply books, but all kinds)? What kind of model do you see emerging in the future?

    I've thought a lot about this, but can't seem to figure out a solution that's forward-thinking ("apple-ish"). Perhaps it does boil down to relationships, where it should always boil down to. And how you foster those relationships perhaps looks more tribe-ish than retail-show-ish.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I don't think one size fits all. I think the future is all about personalization and customization. Trade shows will continue to be important to smaller companies who don't have an alternate way to connect with their customers. The question is, how long the big companies be willing to subsidize this for their smaller competitors?

      Though the Christian Book Expo in Dallas tanked, I still think it is the right idea. The best way to make these works is to invite the public.

      • http://generatornetwork.com Mike Rapp

        I agree, Mike. Twenty years ago, trade shows were fundamental to our success because the Christian publishing industry was growing 20% a year, and nearly 80% of our total sales for a product happened on initial shipment. That's an equation that makes trade shows a potential windfall. Lots of new customers walking the aisles looking to buy tons of product they will never return.

        If trade organizations want to attract the publishers, give them a reason to attend, and that reason will always center around commerce. Fill the place with fans and you have a money tree. But just hanging out with other friends in the industry is nothing more than an extremely expensive vacation for sales reps.

        At the end of the day, publishers support their stockholders, authors and retailers. A trade organization that doesn't significantly add to that equation is not necessary. It's sad at many levels, because I really loved the times I got to attend GMA and CBA, but now there's just not a compelling reason to attend.

        • http://generatornetwork.com Mike Rapp

          I should also add that many, and I would guess most, publishers have secretly wanted to stop attending the trade shows for many years. They just could never bite the PR bullet. But the recession gave everyone a common sense reason to pull the trigger.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    In my educational world, we have to focus on the last 2% of our market because those students determine whether we are successful or not–if we don't meet our AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) goals, we lose control of our school(s). We have to meet these students' needs and work with them, and believe me, we do. Our biggest challenge is to make sure our middle ground students are also getting what they need to gain the skills they need. The upper level kids have AP courses and can also take courses offering college credit. Of course, all of this requires collaboration and perservance on the part of our staff, and we also have to count our pennies.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/benjizimmerman benjizimmerman

    I have received calls from 15-20 vendors asking me if I will be at ICRS. I said no. I don't know where our store ranks with Thomas Nelson but I receive both calls and visits throughout the year from my reps. But of the 15-20 that called to see if I would be at ICRS, I would rank every one of them a "dying" company that has been merged with another company or bought out. None of them are forward thinking. These are the same companies that send me catalogs where the cover designs are from the early 90's. They expect me to call in my orders (because they don't have access to email ordering – or so they tell me). They are falling more and more behind with each passing year.

    Why would I go to ICRS to meet with them?

    I applaud you Mr. Hyatt for being on the front end and trying to figure out how to be effective and efficient. I look forward to another year of partnering with Thomas Nelson Inc.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your partnership with us. We appreciate the business!

  • Rob

    Great Insight, thanks

  • Todd Hoyt

    I seem to understand the question as this trade show only has use for meeting the remaining 2% of the stores not serviced by Thomas Nelson. If that is the case, I would disagree. Yes, it is expensive to be at ICRS. Yes, it is not the strength it used to be. Yes, there is not the same significant order writing there used to be. However, it is still important to be there and visible and there are important reasons for us to attend. Additional face time and conversations with chains stores, independents, international, other publishers, trade groups, partners, ministries, and others only foster and strengthen relationships. Also, when a few less suppliers exhibit, remaining publishers receive additional booth activity. Our needs as a smaller publisher in a newer and growing market are different as well than a larger, more established publisher. To introduce, explain and offer newer growth options for retailers is a great opportunity. Listening to and learning from the retailers who have the ear of the customer cannot be understated. Those are all advantages an exhibitor will have over a company who does not exhibit.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I don't disagree with the importance of fostering relationships and listening to retailers. That's why we meet face-to-face, four times a year, with the 600 accounts who drive 95% of the revenue. We get to meet with these same retailers for half a day, in an undistracted environment where we have one another's full attention. If you don't have this same opportunity, then trade shows probably make sense.

  • Pingback: No, Thomas Nelson Is Not Being Sold | Michael Hyatt()

  • http://link Daddy64

    Greenie- you are part of a ‘we right now’ even if you don’t see itAnd there are three ways of looking at Malthus- he was correct, he was wrong or a bit of both. ,

  • http://twitter.com/dbonleadership Dan

    I agree with you. Their are better ways to connect with people rather then trade shows.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      We haven’t been now in three years. We haven’t missed it a bit, other than the social interaction with our colleagues. We get that in other venues.

  • Spameattter

    Is Thomas Nelson really just a ghost writer?

  • http://www.smashhitdisplays.com/ trade show booths

    seems that you are maintaining a steady blogging pace. Well done! Looking for
    more updates from your end. Thanks a lot!