What a relief that Thomas Nelson has announced a new promotional plan for mega-selling author Max Lucado. The publishing giant will be making sure its author giant is in front of audiences for the foreseeable future:

“Thomas Nelson has announced an ‘unprecedented’ three-year sales program for best-selling author Max Lucado’s products. The Lucado Impact Plan incorporates all product lines – adult, children’s, gift products, Bible study, fiction and Bibles – for both frontlist and backlist titles.

“Nelson Senior Vice President and Group Publisher David Moberg said that the long-term program was a first for the book industry. ‘The plan is unprecedented,’ he said. ‘This is a unique opportunity for retailers to strategically leverage all that only the Lucado brand can offer their consumers.'”

This is further confirmation that Lucado’s books will help obliterate opportunities for other authors to have their product place in Christian retail chains. His end-cap displays, floor displays, hologram displays and floor-covering displays (I’m making those last two up, out of sarcasm) all ensure that the limited space available for books in Christian bookstores – bursting at the seams with gifts and music – will become even more limited.

Max became a franchise in the ’80s, as his publisher realized that his unique style resonated with the public. Now, his products go far beyond books, to include gift books, study Bibles, children’s videos, calendars, greeting cards and so on.

A recent Lucado title, riding the Rick Warren wave, was a New York Times bestseller. The title is unfortunately narcissistic, but that’s what the industry demands these days: “Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference.”

Just as Clinton said publicly in April 1995, that he was still relevant (after less than 18 months in office), we can rest assured that Max is still relevant.

What a relief.

Not sliding off a cliff?

Data from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association indicates that at least some Christian publishers are not sinking out of sight. Fifteen reporting publishers saw an aggregate increase of almost 5 percent last year.

We are told that eight of these publishers did even better, with an over 14-percent increase.

However, that old publishing bugaboo, returns, continues to raise its ugly head: year-to-date figures are almost 14 percent.

Perhaps more publishers will jump on the e-book bandwagon, still just easing its way across the publishing frontier.

By the way, a plug for Rose Publishing, one of those reporting a decent 2010. Rose is a terrific publisher of teaching materials.

Apps! Get your apps!

One possible answer for the returns problem is e-publishing. Of course, returns can be managed the old-fashioned way: finding sales channels that won’t return books, but that is a crowded market, as dog-eat-dog publishers trample over each other for those sales. If, say, a publisher locates a decent-sized ministry that purchases good quantities of a particular book, you can rest assured 50 others will soon follow and deluge said ministry with sales pitches.

However, the new frontier of technology is delivering books to newer audiences, and that’s exciting.

Apps devices for phones is providing authors and their publishers intriguing opportunities. Publishers Weekly asked several publishers about this, and not surprisingly, most didn’t have “programs per se.” Which means they are so focused on keeping the lights on with traditional methods, they have no one in place to focus on this new market.

Just this week, I had discussions with several editors and authors, and I can tell you that the forward-thinking ones embrace the technology and are committed to navigating through thorny questions such as how this affects author royalty rates, etc.

One of the big questions right now is, should apps opportunities be looked at as actual revenue streams, or are they marketing devices?

Chronicle Books is one of the few houses really going after the apps market.

Lorena Jones, Chronicle’s publishing director for apps, said the house is moving aggressively into apps right now. The company is first focusing its development on apps based on food and drink books and will be launching children’s and entertainment apps for the Nookcolor and other platforms in 2011.

Hachette Book Group is doing something interesting, negotiating with the Ansel Adams estate to produce an app that would make available some of the famed photographers’ prints and letters, with the ultimate goal of enabling users to make their own postcards.

At least they are attempting to provide some useful “free stuff” to customers. That is something Christian publishers could use a lesson in developing.

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