ICRS: Day Four

I never thought I’d be so glad to see Wednesday. ICRS continues though Thursday, but we were done early. I was ready to get home.

keeled over

I ate breakfast with Mike Coleman, CEO of Integrity Media, the largest Christian music company in the world. I did not really know Mike until we met at last year’s convention. We bought Integrity Publishers from him, and he and I became friends through that transaction. I always enjoy being with him.

Mike mentioned that music sales through SoundScan (Nielsen’s point-of-sale tracking system for music products) were down 20% year-over-year. Wow! This is an enormous drop. I asked Mike what besides piracy is contributing to this steep decline. He said:

  • Quality of releases. There is dearth of new exciting music products. Nothing is really bringing people into the stores. Traffic at retail is way off. (We are facing a similar challenge in the book publishing industry.)
  • Legal downloads. While piracy continues to be a major problem, legal downloads are growing exponentially. This is still primarily an iTunes phenomenon. It has created a shift in music sales from brick-and-mortar stores to digital downloads. (Although digital books are not having the same impact in our industry, the shift to Internet purchases through Amazon.com and ChristianBook.com is having a similar impact.)
  • Shift to a song-centric model. Another (perhaps unintended) consequence of iTunes success is that consumers are less loyal to artists and albums. They are no longer forced to buy an album to get the two or three songs that they want. They can just download those songs. This is dramatically changing the entire business model.

As Mike talked, I thought to myself, Book publishing is tough, but at least it’s not the music business. I don’t see how any business could sustain a 20 percent drop in sales in one year. Fortunately, for Mike, his business is not as artist-driven as others, and he is fairly insulated from these general trends. IntegrityMedia continues to prosper.

Next I met with Les Dietzman, president and CEO of Berean Christian Stores. This is the third largest Christian retail chain in our industry (behind Family Christian Stores and Lifeway Christian Stores), with about 22 stores in seven states. Les is the former CEO of Family and a seasoned veteran. He’s also a gracious and trusted colleague.

He introduced me to Scott Steele and John Nies, two of his Board members. They are both with JMH Capital, the private equity firm that now owns Berean. (They bought it last year from Standex.) Les asked me to share with them about 3:16, our new Max Lucado book and campaign (more about that in a minute).

Interestingly, Les also asked me about blogging. He wanted to know how I got started, why I continued to blog, and what the results have been. I also took the opportunity to encourage him to start his own blog. Note to the industry: we need more CEO bloggers.

At 10:30 a.m. Thomas Nelson hosted a special “3:16 Partner Brunch.” The purpose of this meeting was to provide an overview of 3:16, a major new book from Max Lucado. We wanted to explain the scope of the project, our launch strategy, and release timetable. Most importantly, we wanted to give our partners an opportunity to hear Max share the basic message and his vision for the project. (In case you’re not aware, “3:16” is a reference to John 3:16, perhaps the most important verse in the Bible.)

We had about 150 people in attendance. These included key retailers, pastors, media, and our licensing partners. I gave an overview of the project. Here are a few 3:16 “factoids” that I shared:

  • This is the biggest book launch in the history of our company. We are initially printing one million copies of the book. This is also the biggest first printing in our history.
  • We will simultaneously release the book in nine languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Dutch, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Many of these publishers were in the room with us. A few years ago, simultaneous releases were unknown in our industry. About a year ago, we set a goal to release all of our top books simultaneously in at least five languages. 3:16 is our new “high-water” mark and took an unprecedented amount of coordination. This is indicative of our commitment to what we call “global publishing.”
  • 3:16 is way more than a single book. It is one product in a constellation of ancillary and related products. For example, we have an audio book, a gift book, an evangelism booklet, a pre-school board book, a teen edition, a small group study guide, and a small-group DVD study. That’s just the Thomas Nelson product.
  • In addition, our licensing partners are releasing a major adult church curriculum and a companion workbook (Lifeway), a church musical (also Lifeway), an evangelism tract (Crossway), a compilation music CD with major Christian artists (Indelible), a high-definition DVD called 3:16—The Stories of Hope (also Indelible), greeting cards and gift products (Hallmark/Dayspring), branded apparel (Kerusso), and jewelry (Bob Siemon Designs).
  • We have two marketing launches planned. The initial launch will be September 11, 2007. If 9/11 are the numbers of terror and despair, then 3:16 are the numbers of hope. The secondary launch will be March 16, 2008. Interestingly, 3/16 is Palm Sunday. We are planning a major church campaign leading up to Palm Sunday. We are also planning a major TV special for Easter Sunday, the following week.

I then introduced Max Lucado. In case you are not familiar with him, he has more than 50 million books in print. His 60-plus titles have been translated into more than 60 languages. Christianity Today dubbed him “America’s Pastor.” Publishers Weekly, the major trade journal for the book publishing industry, recently said, “there aren’t many authors bigger than Lucado.” His books are regular fixtures on national bestseller lists including The New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly. Max has been featured in a wide range of media, including USA Today, “Larry King Live” and “NBC Nightly News.”

Max then spoke for about thirty minutes. He is truly one of my very favorite speakers. He is always so humble and authentic. He is the same person on the platform as he is one-on-one. His preaching is simple, elegant, and poignant. He is a master story-teller. He has a way of communicating that makes you feel he is speaking directly—and only—to you. As usual, I teared up several times.

Popular Christian recording artist Jaci Velasquez, sang God So Loved, a wonderfully uplifting song, which was also based on John 3:16. This was a very appropriate finish to Max’s powerful message.

Gail and I then had lunch with a prospective employee candidate. This was our second meeting. When possible, I like to have Gail meet people we are considering for key positions. She has great intuition and sees things that I often miss. I also think it is helpful to the candidate, because it helps them see me as a real person whose life involves more than just being a CEO.

After lunch, we loaded up the car and made the four-hour drive back to Nashville. We were both exhausted but very satisfied. Interestingly, I felt more encouraged than I usually do after these conventions. (I plan to blog on why later.)

We started listening to the audiobook of David McCullough’s John Adams. However, before we were twenty miles outside of Atlanta, I asked Gail if she would mind driving, because I was having a difficult time staying awake. We swapped places, and I quickly nodded off.

We arrived hope at about 5:30 p.m. I hadn’t seen Marissa, my youngest daughter, for a week, so it was a treat to be with her. I unpacked and then mindlessly surfed the Internet for an hour or so. I was in bed by 9:00 p.m. and looking forward to a run in the morning. Believe me, I need it. You can put on a lot of weight at a trade show. Based on the scales, I have about four pounds I need to work off!

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