Last week brought disappointing news that Family Christian Stores, the largest U.S. retailer of Christian books and merchandise, is closing all of its locations. Executives throughout the publishing industry, both religious and mainstream, expressed sadness to see another major brick-and-mortar chain go out of business. The sting of Borders closing all of its doors in 2011 is still fresh. Now, another 240 stores across America along with 3,000 jobs represented by Family will be gone forever.
After Family filed for initial bankruptcy in 2015, many people anticipated that the company had a difficult road ahead. But, it’s still a hard pill to swallow when that road finally reaches a dead end. The company cited “changing consumer behavior and declining sales” as the main contributing factors. From my perspective, it’s just another example of Amazon’s continued dominance over the entire retail industry.
Christian publishers now have one less national chain to sell their books. Plus, more power consolidates to fewer retailers, which gives them more leverage over the inventory and selling terms. Mainstream publishers see another example of brick-and-mortar retailers struggling to survive. And, everyone is still worried if Barnes & Noble will figure out how to get their sales growing again.
The loss of Family Christian Stores provides this critical reminder to publishers of all types: It is essential to grow your direct-to-consumer (D-2-C) marketing and sales channel. Relying solely on retailers to move your inventory is like relying solely on a truck with a leaky gas tank to ship all of your goods. Mastering the skill of selling direct allows publishers more control over reaching the readers they want to buy their books.
Even though the modern publishing industry is over 75 years old, it still depends on distributors and retailers as middlemen to reach the national audience and sell books. Yet, a D-2-C approach is commonplace in dozens of other industries, especially now that sophisticated e-commerce can be conducted by anyone. The Family Christian tragedy is a wake-up call to publishers. Now is the time to master essential D-2-C skills in-house.
A D-2-C mindset doesn’t mean relationships with current retailers must be antagonistic. Publishers can build their audience and still choose to drive sales to their retail partners. But, publishers must take ownership to attract their own large-scale audience.
For example, there are a few cases where a publisher has over 1,000,000 subscribers to their email list or Facebook page. However, most publishers have less than 100,000 total subscribers, which is too small to move the sales needle when desired. In addition, most publishers don’t connect with their audience frequently enough to drive sales. They build a list and allow it to grow cold. Effective execution is critical to success.
Last year, I consulted with four publishing houses to introduce D-2-C best practices into their business model. One client was able to revive sales of a two-year-old backlist book by attracting over 10,000 email subscribers in less than 21 days, which then caused Amazon to order larger quantities of the title. Other clients dramatically grew their email lists and understand how to build an ever-growing audience year after year. D-2-C campaigns generate immediate benefits when implemented correctly.
Whether you’re a religious or mainstream publisher, you can no longer ignore the importance of expanding a D-2-C marketing and sales in your business. The closing of Family Christian Stores can have a positive impact if it causes publishers to take more control over their book sales. If they do, the industry will be healthier for readers, publishers, and retailers.
Is your company behind the curve when it comes to marketing and selling direct-to-consumers? Is your organization struggling to add new subscribers or generate revenue from email? Don’t wait to get help. I’ve taught numerous organizations how to add thousands of new signups and boost product sales using low cost techniques. Call me at 770-887-1462 to discuss a customized solution for your business.