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Thursday, December 27, 2007

My local Christian bookshop...


...happens to be partly owned by me. We've just upgraded our website and I've just spent the last forty minutes or so updating all the links from books I've reviewed on this site (currently 33 of them). I doubt the sales will ever amount to much from links via this blog, but just so you know all book pictures and titles now link. Anyway, given that this blog is sometimes or even mostly about NOT BUYING MORE STUFF owning a shop which depends on people doing exactly that is a source of some tension. I think it's good for me as it stops me from being too extreme and judgmental with people because I'd risk becoming hypocritical and it forces me to think about the differences between having some money for hobbies etc and shopping for a hobby! And to avoid charges of hypocrisy I'm not really using this blog to promote my business but there it is anyway....

The other thing of course is that Christian bookshops in the UK are on a fast decline with lack of investment, increasing rental prices and costs, a declining church and one that reads less and less and then add to that the challenge of the internet and it's not a great time to be in this business and many no longer are.

So here's a question do you buy from your local Christian bookshop? If not why not? If so why? Is the lowest price everything when shopping online? Is the presence of a Christian retailer on the high street something to be desired or not? I'd be interested to know your thoughts...

4 comments:

Simon Boswell on 28 December 2007 at 11:30 said...

Hi there Phil. Interesting thoughts about the tension between the commercial need to sell more and the moral desire to buy less! I work in marketing where we come across this all the time.

I'd make the following points:
- it is essentially a good thing that you are making Christian literature available. Without visibility, people do not know its there.
- It is not wrong to encourage people to buy more of the right stuff; feeding the mind can help people to better understand their world and hence their other purchasing habits better.
- A good retailer that happens to be Christian in its ethos is much better than a poor retailer that is specifically 'Christian'.
- Know your tribe: if you are selling to a Christian audience then personally I would make more of the local church networks and arrange local events and book clubs to sell to. A shop is a very expensive overhead to sustain when you have other ways of reaching your target audience more cheaply.
- If you are focusing on selling to a non-Christian audience then understanding your shopper is even more important. Small retailers can only survive if they give shoppers what they want, and the shopping environment is key. If the books are simply lined up in rows and the shopper is not encouraged to browse, then they will just as easily go elsewhere.

Hope it works out.
Simon

matthew hosier on 28 December 2007 at 16:48 said...

Interesting post Phil. I am afraid I am your book buying nightmare - I have had a generous book allowance at the church I have been leading, but have spent it almost exclusively at Amazon. My reasons? 1. Yes, it is cheaper. 2. Yes, it is easier. 3. My local Wesley Owen doesn't often carry the books I want.

Reason 3. is really the deal breaker. I'm sure Illuminate is different, but too often I find Christian bookshops very depressing - either they are dust-filled and stock little but browning copies of 1970s paperbacks, or their stock is all kitten posters, olive wood trinkets, and books reflecting the broadcasting schedule of the God Channel. For this reason, if anything I have actually discouraged people from shopping at these outlets.

What churches can do, and what I have done, is run their own bookstall. This doesn't have the constraints of the overheads incurred by bookshops and can actually be something of a loss leader. I have always thought this an area worth subsidising if it encourages people to read good books. And that is the key - the only books that make it on to our bookstall are ones I feel confident recommending people should read.

The dominance of Waterstones, etc. means it is now almost impossible for independent book sellers to make it on the high street; so the internet is surely the future for a sector as specialised as ours. Or a really good shop, such as a cafe, that also happens to sell Christian books.

ianjmatt on 1 January 2008 at 14:44 said...

Matt

Interesting points you raise. As you probably know, I work for a major US Christian publisher (Zondervan), and from my perspective it is a rapidly changing market. We don't publish either the kitten posters or the God TV stuff, and yet about 60% of our business in the UK is done through the 'bricks and mortar' Christian bookstores. However, this is down from about 80% just a couple of years ago, so it is changing a lot. We are doing a bit more business through Waterstones/Borders/Easons etc (they have all actually come to me in the last year or so), but not enough to threaten Christian bookstores. However, we are doing a LOT more through on-line sites. Not just Amazon and Play.com, although this is a big chunk, but also Christian sites such as Eden.co.uk, St Andrews, PuraShop.com etc. This isn't that good for us, as we are trading a multitude of small accounts providing a spread of customers to just a handful.

I think it is a reality that a Christian bookstore trying to trade commercially just through a high street store is setting itself an impossible goal. However diversification, either of stock range or routes to market can help. With the nature of the internet the web site of the smallest retailer can compete in the google/facebook/saga world of online marketing with the biggest customers.

christianbookshopsblog on 10 May 2008 at 11:16 said...

Hello again. What makes you think I've got a bit of time on my hands today?

I know exactly what you mean about these tensions: we need to sell more stuff simply in order to survive, to stay in business... but we don't want people simply buying more stuff just for the sake of it... which is one reason why I personally will NOT stock 'Bible Bears'!!

Somehow we need to hold lightly to what we have...

It struck me a somewhat ironic that Zondervan's (sorry Ian, if you should happen to read this, but you can't deny it!) promotion of Ortberg's When the game is over — which is all about how ephemeral everything is and breaking free from acquisitiveness — actually fed on people's acquisitiveness to make it work, by sending out advance copies of the book and promising early bird reviewers the reward of a signed hardback copy...

Anyway, I for one am very much in favour of keeping Christian bookshops on the high street. But what I think we need to escape from, somehow, is the secular business model: we need churches behind us, supporting us as part of their mission strategy. That doesn't mean we abandon good business practice: we still aim to be the best at what we do. But profit isn't — or shouldn't be — our driving force: we should be a prophetic presence of the high street, not simply another profiteering one.

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