Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic in regarding Bible Society’s acquisition of CBC, the Christian Booksellers Convention, as an effective obituary notice for CBC. Perhaps merging CBC with CRE, the Christian Resources Exhibition, is not so much the end of an era as the beginning of a new one.
Perhaps combining a supposedly trade focused event for retailers with a consumer driven event organised by publishers and suppliers does not sound the death knell for the trade event, but those publishers and suppliers will have their work cut out to convince me that they’re not going to simply use this as an opportunity for direct selling that will effectively sideline retailers’ interests.
Following Norman Nibloe’s retirement after CBC 2008, discussions about the possibility of Bible Society taking on the running of CBC for 2009 have been no secret. The actual logistics of the deal, however, were not unveiled until last week, when an announcement was made via a press release issued on Wednesday 12th November 2008: you can download or view it as a pdf here (44kb) or you can read a lightly edited version courtesy of Christian Marketplace magazine. To me, two paragraphs in particular stand out:
It is anticipated that publishers intending to exhibit at the 2009 event will transfer their bookings to the Esher event. The opportunity presented to publishers means that within the ‘trade section’ of the combined event, there will be exposure to the 12,000 expected visitors to CRE in May 2009.
The implications of this are straightforward: the so-called ‘trade section’ will not be a separate trade section at all — it will be wide open to all comers. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine those publishers attending wanting to deal with the extra work that would be involved in running two separate stands, one for the general public, another for their trade customers. It is equally difficult to imagine how space at Sandown Park could be allocated for a trade show and a public exhibition to be run simultaneously: anyone who has attended CRE will know full well how crowded the exhibition already tends to become.
This, quite simply, makes it a non-starter for a retailer focused trade event. We are already faced with online competition from our suppliers: are we also expected to smile sweetly and welcome direct, face-to-face competition as those same suppliers offer our customers deals to walk away with that we will never be able to match because those suppliers will not offer us terms that will make such deals possible?
Next we have some comments from James Catford:
Commenting on the acquisition, he said, ‘This move has been waiting to happen and represents the best possible opportunity for CBC to flourish and grow in the future. Due diligence has taken place throughout the process, and our experienced team will do everything we can to support the Christian trade with the support and encouragement of both retailers and suppliers.’
James, of course, knows the Christian book trade very well; but I suspect his knowledge is rather one-sided, that of a supplier, having worked for both HarperCollins and Hodder before taking on his current role as Bible Society Chief Executive; and that leaves me wondering:
“Due diligence has taken place throughout the process,” he says. Really? Extensive consultation with retailers? That, surely, must be an essential part of due diligence in relation to the future of a Christian retail trade event; and that, as far as I can see from my viewpoint as a retailer and as a member of the Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group (BA CBG), seems conspicuously absent. In particular, careful consideration of the impact on Christian booksellers in the North of moving their 2009 trade show to the South East? In depth discussions with the organisers of LBF, the London Book Fair, the UK’s leading book trade event, and the Christian publishers who exhibit at LBF year in, year out?
But perhaps this really is “the best possible opportunity for CBC to flourish and grow in the future”; perhaps I have not been paying attention in meetings; perhaps I have missed the relevant reports in the trade press; perhaps I read the wrong blogs: I stand ready to be corrected. Somebody, please: convince me that I’m wrong…