Thursday, September 25, 2008

Supporting Christian Bookshops

Tim Challies in Canada, has posted on this subject and it's one dear to my heart. As the owner of a Christian bookshop (that is constantly fighting to survive) I thought I'd repost it here and see what response I get to exactly the same poll. Here's Tim's post

"Last week I added a poll to this site and asked where you buy the majority of your books. The results really surprised me. As of this moment Amazon has a clear lead with 55% of the votes. That means that half of us buy the majority of our books from Amazon instead of the local Christian bookstore or one of the many online Christian retailers. There are almost three times more votes for online retailers as brick-and-mortar retailers. While I'll grant that this poll is far from scientific, it does show a clear trend (and one that makes sense of the fact that so many Christian bookstores are closing their doors).

In the comments, of which there are currently 89, many people indicated that Christians should do better than Amazon--that we should go out of our way to support Christian-owned businesses (see, for example, this one or this one)." read more

The original post here and the comments are very revealing...

The situation in this country is exactly the same, with plenty of shops closing their doors and very few attempting to reopen them.


Hughbo on 26 September 2008 at 11:01 said...

I have two problems which generally stop me supporting my local Christian bookshops - usually I opt for Amazon:

Firstly - cost. I've just finished as a student, and now work on a voluntary basis for a church. Buying online, sometimes direct from publisher or Amazon will save you a couple of quid per book.

Secondly - discernment. I love it when local Christian bookshops sell good books! However, most that I know will do exactly what Wesley Owen does... stock all the prosperity and revival books because they sell!

Phil on 26 September 2008 at 12:29 said...

Hi Hugh, thanks for the comment. Your point was raised a few times over at Challies blog, and this questions was one raised by people over there - would you say buying from a place that sells pornography or witchcraft (which amazon does) is more or less discerning than buying from a place which sells prosperity/revival books?

Paul said...

It doesn't surprise me that in an online poll, online retailers are the most popular. Has anyone done a similar poll standing on the high street (outside a book shop for example!)?

I too tend to buy on line from non-Christian retailers because of price, but also because of better service - usually quicker delivery times. Its also much more convenient having something delivered to your door, when getting into town is a pain.

Having said all that, I agree that Christians should support Christian businesses - not just book stores.

Hughbo on 26 September 2008 at 15:22 said...

Well I guess my point is that local Christian book shops are generally no better than Wesley Owen - they stock books that sell rather than books that are good. Amazon aren't claiming to be Christian, or selling 'good' books they sell everything and anything. Essentially, by advertising yourself as a Christian bookshop you are saying that you are selling books that are helpful for Christians - different people have different ideas about what is and what isn't helpful.

So I don't feel under any obligation to support a business which makes the choice of profit over discernment.

Amazon is cheap and postage is quick. Often it's the only place to get new books from the States. Will occasionally buy stuff direct from Good Book Company, or IVP.

Phil on 26 September 2008 at 15:57 said...

Hi Hugh, thanks again. Every business has to make a profit, the challenge for a christian bookshop is that it's virtually impossible to be on the high street and make a profit from 'good books' alone and as you point out who is to say what is good? How narrow or broad should a stocking policy be? I think my point is, while no Christian business has a divine right to survive or have your business, surely supporting a business that at least tries to be Christian and support local churches and local economies is better even with their flaws than subsidising a business that is happy to sell anything?
However from a customer service point of view, we have a lot to learn from Amazon and the likes but losing otherwise great customers like yourself will never help us.

Steve Mitchell on 30 September 2008 at 21:25 said...

As someone who works for Wesley Owen, and knows that they don't just stock books because they sell, and don't just stock all the prosperity and revival books. Hugh's comment is an untrue and unhelpful generalisation. Our current Book of the Month is "Reason for God" by Tim Keller, a solid defense of the Gospel!

We go to a lot of time and effort in selecting titles, often depending on the needs of the local church.

Yes, we will sell books from different theological perspectives, as the church has different perspectives.

So please don't characterise us unfairly.

Hugh, it's clear from your blog that you come from a reformed perspective, are you saying that bookshops call themselves Christian, should only stock what you would approve of??

Phil's right, it's hard for stores to be viable, but most of us aren't trying to stay in business by selling everything & Amazon.

Hughbo on 2 October 2008 at 16:12 said...


My point is that Wesley Owen (nothing personal, just the bookshop everyone knows) does sell anything and everything that calls itself Christian - as does Amazon. So then, would you not choose Amazon that is cheaper, inevitably has the book in stock, and although there's not a physical shop has a better quality of service (unless the Royal Mail fails!).

I accept that there is a broadness of theological perspective... but maybe don't think about my opinion... What about Wesley and Owen?? I think they would be turning in the graves (obviously not because they're with Jesus - unhelpful metaphor) at at least 25% of the best sellers in you average Wesley Owen!

Steve Mitchell on 2 October 2008 at 23:04 said...

Appreciate your reply Hugh ....though I do want to pick up on some things you said.

We truly don't stock everything that calls itself Christian.

We reject a huge number of titles. For example for this month over 500 new titles were presented to us, and only a fraction of those shown to us, end up on the shelves of our shops. From the rest, not all get listed on the website, those selection decisions are made based primarily on whether that title has real worth & value rather than whether they will just will sell.

If we ever did that (and we won't) I know there will be a mass walkout of folk working for us.

As for Amazon, yep, they're truly the big boys in online bookselling, but more of us Christian stores are using Marketplace to sell, and at competitive prices.

As for Amazon holding stock, well that's not their business model, they aggregate info from lots of suppliers and then have a really efficient supply chain, great customer service & cool marketing. But they order the stock, they don't hold it in stock, which is why some regular Christian titles have their hard to find tag.

So we're working at it, and accept that from an online perspectibe Amazon is top of the pile, but I find it hard to accept that they can sell anti Christian books and we get the flak about discernment!

As for Wesley & Owen, I guess they'd turn in their graves (metaphorically of course) about most of the church in 2008. That name came about ( before my time) as representing different parts of the church, which I guess is what we're debating here....should we promote one particular theology, or try and serve the whole church in all churchmanships.

Grace & peace....Steve

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