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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