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Christian Publishers Sharpen a Direct-to-Consumer Focus – Publishers Weekly

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In order to deepen their relationships with consumers, publishers are trying new approaches, deepening their commitments to strategies that have worked in the past, and adjusting their participation on social media platforms.
InterVarsity Press launched its IVP Book Drop in August 2021; subscribers pay $9.99 per month for two books chosen by IVP, with a focus on Millennial and Gen Z readers, according Justin Paul Lawrence, divisional v-p of marketing and sales for IVP. The program has over 100 subscribers, and IVP will promote it heavily at the Urbana Student Missions Conference hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, in Indianapolis in late December.
IVP has long been promoting direct-to-consumer sales through its IVP Book Club, in operation for more than 40 years. It adds new members monthly, according to Lawrence. He also points to IVP's email newsletters, the largest of which has over 40,000 subscribers. “We’re happy with click-through and have seen growth in the yield per subscriber in 2022,” he says.
While 1517 Media—with Beaming Books, Broadleaf and Fortress imprints—sends monthly e-newsletters and themed emails featuring categories that target specific demographics, the most effective campaigns “involve a combination of social media, web, email, in-person, and print tactics working hand-in-hand to lead customers down the funnel to purchase,” says Alison Vandenberg, senior director of marketing and sales for 1517 Media.
As an example, Vandenberg points to The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy. Author Karen Walrond was interviewed on Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, leading to increased media and influencer interest, speaking events, and local news stories. “By following our authors and other influencers, engaging in niche media and tracking trends, we listen to what our core audiences care about and create content plans that contribute meaningfully to that discourse, drawing connections to our books and authors along the way,” said Vandenburg.
Baker Publishing Group (BPG), with six divisions and its Baker Book House retail store, “is investing more heavily” in a variety of channels including social media, according to Nathan Henrion, executive v-p of sales, who pointed to increased interest in BookTok and waning interest in Facebook. “We’re looking at what social media is used the most by target demographics, and looking at emerging platforms where our demographic is.”
BPG is making a big effort to gather consumer data by investing in proprietary Customer Relation Management (CRM) software, designed “to digest huge amounts of customer information to allow us to make informed decisions,” says Henrion. “It will allow us to understand our readers to the nth degree, to be more engaged with our readers.”
The advantages include direct-to-consumer marketing focused on what Henrion calls “power readers,” finding readers trolling for products on a specific topic, conducting reader surveys, measuring engagement levels, growing email lists, and tracking every engagement with a customer. BPG also has the unique ability to meet consumers directly at its retail store in Grand Rapids, Mich., and has moved publisher-direct sales to the bookstore website, “because we didn’t want to compete with the store for our end consumer, says Henrion.
Though attending and selling at conferences isn’t new, publishers such as IVP and Kregel Publishing have tweaked their approaches as Covid restrictions have eased. IVP sells at 30-40 events per year, and Kregel is planning to attend at least 15 live gatherings in 2023. Lawrence of IVP says sales at the recent Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in Charlotte, N.C., which featured IVP author Michelle Ferrigno Warren (Join the Resistance), were the highest ever at that conference, and the best for any event in the last seven years.
Dave Hill, executive director of sales and marketing for Kregel, says conferences are the perfect spot to get face to face with lots of people. “We gain an enormous amount of qualitative consumer research with people speaking to you on the spot,” Hill notes.
Hill added that Kregel has three monthly e-newsletters—academic, trade, and Spanish—and a blog presence for academic books. “Newsletters have done well. We know products featured get good exposure,” he says. As for social media, Kregel uses platforms to specific audiences. Academic books and authors do well on Twitter; trade and fiction gain traction on Facebook; and books for younger audiences sell best after promotions on TikTok.
Other publishers are also leaning into a variety of other ways to reach consumers. Tied to celebrations of Native American Heritage Month, IVP is using all platforms to heavily promote the First Nations Version, a Native translation of the New Testament. The house is also utilizing its Every Voice Now, The Disrupters, and Get in the Word with Truth’s Table podcasts as well as others, while also reaching out to protestant denominations, Christian colleges, and other religious organizations to promote its products to potential buyers.
For its part, BPG is looking into subscription-based video content, while 1517 Media is expanding into live events such as ALA’s annual trade show and Publishers Weekly’s U.S. Book Show. 1517 is also exploring pitching books to be included in themed subscription boxes, such as The Feminist Book Club, which recently picked up Chingona: Owning Your Inner Badass for Justice and Healing by Alma Zaragoza-Petty.
“The tools we have for understanding and connecting with customers are changing rapidly as reflected in recent policy changes and downsizing of social media companies,” adds 1517’s Vandenberg. “Our audiences will eventually find new homes through channels that feel safe and fair. It will be up to us to meet them where they are, wherever they land.”
Henrion agrees. “There can’t be any sacred cows anymore. If a channel isn’t working, we don’t use it.”

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