A reader writes:

I wanted to ask a question that’s bugged me for a long time about Catholic publishing: where the heck are the Catholic books in grocery stores? You see evangelical works popping up all the time–there’s a dedicated section for Christian/spiritual/Bibles/whatever in most grocery stores/Fred Myers’/what have you. Often, the books there are from publishers I never see anywhere else. What are they doing that we are not? What do they have that we do not? I can name off the top of my head a bunch of books that, given a snazzy cover and a cheap enough brand of paper, I could imagine populating grocery store shelves. I’d say your This is My Body would be one of them–accessible, eyecatching title. I’d say Dave Armstrong’s Biblical Evidence for Catholicism could do it–unexpected title, likely to catch people’s eye and prompt a response. Hahn’s A Father Who Keeps His Promises and Rome Sweet Home, at least. Pope Benedict’s interview books. Why the heck don’t we see more of his stuff at Costco?

I understand that the costs could be a real challenge to small publishers, but again–the evangelicals are there. It can be done and is being done. If we were willing to pump out our stuff in really cheap paperback format, I see no reason why we couldn’t establish a presence at Costco and Walmart–where I’d bet most Americans who buy books will ever shop for them.

Anyway–do you or your readers have any insights into why we just aren’t present there?

Beats me. Any readers in the Catholic publishing industry who can enlighten him?

  • Irenist

    This always bugs me, too. If a shopper at Wal-Mart is looking for Christian reading, they’ll end up with evangelicalism almost every time.
    Other peeves:
    Why do Borders/B&N always have lots of New Age trash, but never any Aquinas, and few if any Catholic Bibles?
    Why does Whole Foods always have yoga/Buddhism themed stuff, but never anything Christian? Is there something incompatible about organic veggies and Christianity that no one is telling me?

    • http://stevenadunn.wordpress.com Steven Dunn

      In defense of B&N, my local store carries Aquinas, Augustine, and many other Catholic books, as well as a decent number of Catholic Bibles. I can’t speak of other locations, but my B&N has always appeared impartial in its selection of Christian religious material.

    • Faith

      This bugs me too. Especially at the local B&N where they stick books by Dawkins and such in the Christianity section. Hey Atheists, get your own damn section! And, Whole Foods, I’ve stopped shopping there except for a few items. So expensive and trying so darn hard to be groovy. So all these rich people (because you have to be rich to shop there) are into self-worshipping via yoga and trendy pseudo-buddhism. Ick.

  • Neil McCaffrey

    The simple answer is, because they don’t sell. Gone are the days when a conservative or Catholic book can’t find its way into stores. Stores as publicly-traded companies want sales. They will sell anything. But when it’s tried, it is almost always true that the books don’t sell. I have seen a sale to Costco or Walmart result in less than 90% returns.

  • Neil McCaffrey

    Oops, I meant to say “I have NEVER seen a sale to Costco or Walmart result in less than 90% returns”

  • Bruce Newman

    My take, as a recent convert to Catholicism from evangelicalism, is that the books in question are to solid reading what instant Quaker oats are to the the oats it takes ten minutes to cook. They’re made for short attention spans and modular thoughts. Most Catholic writing, at least what I read, is not.

    • http://pastinthepresent.wordpress.com/ Michael Lynch

      I think that’s it. The “evangelical” books you see in grocery stores and Wal-Mart don’t reflect the spectrum of evangelicalism; what you see are books by Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer because light, positive reads from televised megachurch preachers sell lots of copies. It’s the same reason these stores sell bestselling novels but not literary fiction. They don’t specialize in books, so they only sell books that appeal to a mass audience.

  • Matt

    Probably it’s just because evangelical books aren’t explicitly labelled as evangelical, so it’s assumed that they might appeal equally well to Christians of any variety.

  • http://attheturnofthetide.blogspot.com Caspar

    The problem with the above responses is that the last Catholic book I recall seeing on grocery store shelves was the massive white Catechism. It apparently sold well enough to merit inclusion on those shelves. Why the heck would it be any different for some of the great popular apologetics works of today?

    Further, I love a well bound and printed book, but where the heck are our cheap paperback editions of a lot of these books? Are we serious about the new evangelization or not?

  • http://stevenadunn.wordpress.com Steven Dunn

    They don’t look as nice on the shelf next to Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • http://attheturnofthetide.blogspot.com Caspar

    Okay, so the last comment about the new evangelization was too strong. I’m sorry. This is an issue I’ve been bothered by for some years now, and so feel strongly about it.

  • Keith Strohm

    Part of the reason is that books in places like grocery stores and drug stores are mostly sold through what is called Rack Jobbers–people who basically “rent” store shelf space and fill it with products they either own or products that they have chosen to carry (or that other people pay them to carry). Typically, the rack jobber owns the merchandise and the store owns the shelf space. The rack jobber only gets paid when an item is sold from the shelf they rent.

    Often, these rack jobbers are actually large distribution companies that have inroads into many many stores–which means that manufacturers (or publishers) who want to have their products in a store have to give up a lot of “points” on the discount, or pay for premium space, or both. I don’t work in Catholic publishing, but I have run a “small” publishing company before and I know that most companies the size of Catholic publishers can’t afford the extended discount or the cost of premium product placement.

    Sometimes, stores might make “endcap” shelf space available through their own buyers, but they will charge publishers very high prices…often called Co-Op. Again, Catholic publishers rarely have the marketing budget/margin to afford these prices.

    The White Catechism was published by Doubleday Religious Publishing, part of a much larger publishing group with some bargaining power and deeper pockets.

    Anyway, these are some reasons why you don’t see a lot of Cathoilc books in bib-box stores and groceries.

    • http://attheturnofthetide.blogspot.com Caspar

      Thanks, Keith, for an informative response. Which then leads to the next question–why don’t the bishops recruit some organization like the Knights of Columbus to fund the occasional renting of store shelves across the country to promote the YouCat, for instance, or the Pope’s latest, or pick-your-excellent Catholic book?

  • Keith Strohm

    Part of the reason is that books in places like grocery stores and drug stores are mostly sold through what is called Rack Jobbers–people who basically “rent” store shelf space and fill it with products they either own or products that they have chosen to carry (or that other people pay them to carry). Typically, the rack jobber owns the merchandise and the store owns the shelf space. The rack jobber only gets paid when an item is sold from the shelf they rent.

    Often, these rack jobbers are actually large distribution companies that have inroads into many many stores–which means that manufacturers (or publishers) who want to have their products in a store have to give up a lot of “points” on the discount, or pay for premium space, or both. I don’t work in Catholic publishing, but I have run a “small” publishing company before and I know that most companies the size of Catholic publishers can’t afford the extended discount or the cost of premium product placement.

    Sometimes, stores might make “endcap” shelf space available through their own buyers, but they will charge publishers very high prices…often called Co-Op. Again, Catholic publishers rarely have the marketing budget/margin to afford these prices.

    The White Catechism was published by Doubleday Religious Publishing, part of a much larger publishing group with some bargaining power and deeper pockets.

    Anyway, these are some reasons why you don’t see a lot of Catholic books in big-box stores and groceries.

  • ivan_the_mad

    This is one of the reasons that the Internet is a good thing, since it helps level the playing field for merchants.

  • Jmac

    I’d like to think that it’s simply due to the fact that Catholic writers are of a higher caliber than Joel “I’m not saying pray yourself to wealth, but pray yourself to wealth” Osteen.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    Bruce Newman,

    There are oats which take even longer than 10 minutes to prepare. You should try some. They are deliscious!!!

    But don’t go to Whole Paycheck to buy them!


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