Monday, July 23, 2007

New Info on Data Gathering in CBA

Last week
Michael Covington, Information and Education Director for ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), wrote me a letter in response to a recent post in which I mentioned seeing nothing new at ICRS regarding how sales data are gathered within CBA. You may remember that Michael first wrote me back in February, taking the time to further explain issues regarding data gathering after reading my posts on the subject.

To refresh your memory, here's what I posted Monday morning, July 11 that prompted Michael's recent letter:

Someone asked the other day in a comment about any news in the data world. That is, the data system that creates our bestseller list. There's a lot of talk here about Above the Treeline and Cross:Scan, data systems that help booksellers keep track of sales and inventory, etc. However, I see nothing that speaks of a new reporting system for the bestseller list that would be all inclusive. Now I hear that, besides the large Family Christian chain, Lifeway also does not report to STATS, which supplies the bestseller list. Which leaves me scratching my head as to who reports at all, other than independents and some smaller chains.

Here is Michael's response (posted with permission):

I read some of your blog posts from ICRS with great interest today. Sorry I didn’t get to stop by the Z booth and say hi so that you have a face to go with the name; however, like you I was back-to-back all week long. A couple of things I wanted to bring to your attention. You made mention of the data landscape. If you were at the ECPA Christian Book Awards ceremony on Monday night, you heard Bill Anderson announce that CBA and ECPA were hopeful that a formal announcement could be made at ICRS regarding a Strategic Data Alliance between Pubtrack Christian and CROSS:SCAN, but due to the untimely death of CBA’s legal counsel we have had to postpone such an announcement until CBA can secure new counsel and the legal docs can be reviewed one last time before the deal is inked. I can’t go into the details of that deal, but I can tell you that we are hopeful that once done, it should go a long way toward securing more retail sales data for both Pubtrack and CROSS:SCAN. It is important to note, that at this point CROSS:SCAN is only providing sales data reports back to participating retailers and not to any publishers. The partnership between ATT [Above The Tree Line] and CS is one that allows ATT to send data from any of their subscribing retailers to CS [CROSS:SCAN]
and the retailers’ designation. In return, CS provides ATT with the same report they send to their direct submitters only through the ATT interface. At no point does CS send data they receive directly from retailers on to ATT.

Your observations about LifeWay and Family not reporting to Pubtrack (STATS has now gone the way of the buffalo) is correct (nor do they report to ATT). We continue to talk with these retailers and are hopeful that publishers will ask them to consider participating once again in Pubtrack. On a related note, ECPA recognizes that Christian book sales, though once mostly sold through Christian retailers, can also be found in multiple other channels. Mass Market (Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, etc), General Trade (Borders, B & N, etc.), Internet/Book Clubs (CBD, Amazon, Crossings, etc.), Church Bookstores, and Direct-to-Consumer. In fact, though once the dominant channel for Christian book sales, Christian retail now accounts for less than half of many ECPA member publishers’ book sales in fact, for some the percentage can be as low as 10%. Don’t get me wrong, as a former Christian retailer myself; I still believe (as do most of my publishing colleagues) that the best place to purchase a Christian book is in a Christian bookstore. Nowhere else will a customer find a business with a ministry heart, which carries the full breadth of Christian titles and is more concerned about the content in the books they sell. However, with more than half of consumers buying Christian books elsewhere it is very difficult to fully grasp how Christian books are selling even if we had every single Christian retail store sending in data to one data aggregator, at the end of the day it’s still only a slice of a much larger pie. Pubtrack still maintains data for hundreds of Christian retailers and is a representative sample of the market with chains, franchises and independents evenly spread out across all regions and still boasts the highest number of subscribing Christian publishing houses. However, the future of book sales data has got to be more holistic, and you need to know that we are already hot on the trail of a new way of capturing data that will instantly give us a look at the sales of Christian books across all channels. So stay tuned...

I was impressed and very grateful that Michael would take the time to explain this information just after ICRS--when he had to be very busy in returning to his office post-convention. And, boy howdy, if ECPA can come up with a way to gather data across all sales channels, that would be fantastic.

Tomorrow: the second half of Michael's letter--on a completely different subject he wanted to tell us about.

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