Musings on Commerce: A Review of the Christian Booksellers' Association Convention

Diana S. Frazier
Monday, July 16th 2007
Jan/Feb 1999

Noise is at a low ebb. It's late Saturday afternoon at the annual Christian Booksellers' Association Convention in Dallas. It's 105 degrees outside, but the temperature in the big convention hall is comfortable. Most of the displays are up; vendors have until 8:00 p.m. to get ready or they will have to wait until Monday morning when more than 13,000 attendees arrive to crowd the floors as the commerce begins. Al-though booksellers are excluded from the floor until the ribbon-cutting ceremony in forty hours, I slip in on a press pass.

It's been a while since I've been to one of these deals. In fact the last time was in Washington, DC at the then brand-new convention center. I did not come to Dallas willingly. Largely because of my memories of kitschy bookstore paraphernalia like "scripture underwear" and the annual fashion parade by the likes of Tammy Faye Bakker. That was the early '80s. But things have changed.

The first thing I notice is that music is big. The huge, attractive, contemporary booths of Provident Music Distributors, Chordant, wordenterainment (that's one word), and Diamonte Music Group dominate the floor. It's high tech, complete with music videos, a jumbo-tron screen TV and the words "WOW 1999" projected in green light high above the displays on the far walls. (I don't know why the "O" in WOW is underlined.) All the major artists are pictured in large display prints, including Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, and the late Rich Mullins. CDs, cassettes, and promotional materials fill the interior displays.

There are a few friends from the publishing industry around who I greet, but I can't resist starting my quest. I want to see how much stuff has WWJD (what would Jesus do) plastered on it this year. I'm not disappointed: besides the standard bracelet and shoestrings, there is a board game, a New Testament, an easel-backed woodcut table display, notepads, post-its, and a canvas backpack. Plus, the 100-year-old best-seller In His Steps has been reissued with that same catchy title by the author Charles Sheldon's great-grandson. This book promises to help you "Walk in his footsteps. Do what Jesus would do. Make a Difference."

Also promoted this year is PAG wear, as in "put on the armor of God." I only saw dog tags, but I'm sure it will catch on by next July. Another competitor in the bookstore specialty product line is FROG, the answer to WWJD. You know, "fully rely on God." This new witnessing tool comes in the form of stuffed frogs, T-shirts, flick-a-frog toys, key chains, pencils, and the ubiquitous coffee mug. Finally I find merchandise from a company with a mission to provide apparel for the New Millennium. Using a funky graphic logo of the letters "dwr" representing their slogan "do what's right," this company supplies T-shirts, CDs, jewelry, pencils, pocket scriptures, mugs, baseball caps, key chains, and a study guide.

Of course, books are displayed here, too. Rows and rows and rows of them. There are all the usual odd juxtapositions that you see in your local Christian bookstore. It's just that here in Dallas, it's larger than life. Baker Book House has large displays for The NEW Birth Order Book, Kids OnLine, On the Road Again (a book about travel, love, and marriage to help men in the '90s have it all), plus an assortment of books for the superwoman with titles like Women Who TRY Too Hard. Wedged in there on a floor display is a collection of titles by R. C. Sproul. Crisscrossing the aisles I find Kenneth Hagin Ministries' Faith Publications booth with prominently displayed books like Faith FOOD Devotions and How to Fulfill Your Destiny. Across the way is the Harrison House display with an interesting title by Kenneth Copeland: Managing God's Mutual Funds-Understanding True Prosperity. Not too far away it's hard not to notice Albury Publishing's life-size advertisement that asks "Got Jakes?" It's a reference to T. D. Jakes' new book on weight loss.

I see familiar booths like Crossway with new titles by John Armstrong and Phil Ryken. Plus Moody (the name you can trust) is pushing well-known names like Alistair Begg and Erwin Lutzer.

I see a display for "Beautiful Music with Scriptural Insights" by Chuck Swindoll. And Word Publishers has an enormous display for Frank Peretti's newest book. The problem is that one of the t's in Peretti is illustrated as a rugged cross. What's that about?

I've been wandering for close to two hours and I'm beginning to feel the relentless effects of the hard concrete floor in my arches and calves, so I look for somewhere to sit for a few minutes. There amidst the plastic, metal, and lights is a rustic store front, with screen doors and an old-fashioned diner-type booth. Complete with old Coke bottles in a wooden crate and a soda-jerk looking counter, this display is worthy of the elaborate boutiques down the street at Niemann Marcus. Discreetly displayed on a wooden knick-knack shelf is a book with a warm, inviting cover. I'm suckered in. I pick it up. Yup, Broadman and Holman's new best-seller, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe. It's the ultimate lightweight, say-nothing book for the "universal need of the soul." A young salesman proudly lets me know it's been out since January and it's already in its third or fourth printing and selling well at Borders and Barnes and Noble. I bet it's right next to the Celestine Prophecy and the Bible Code book. Not to mention Chicken Soup for the Soul.

On Monday it's my job to persuade booksellers to take Modern Reformation to sell in their stores. I sense it's going to be an uphill battle. As I settle into my hotel room this evening I'm struck by what I didn't really see: theology. You know: books on Christianity at a Christian booksellers' convention. Now I know those titles are there, but they aren't prominent. Once again driving home why Modern Reformation may never be big, but will at least be out there for those who get tired of the Soul Cafe.

Monday, July 16th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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