God often turns up unexpectedly. The God of surprises delights us by turning events in our favour. If God is for me, who can be against me?
Relax, listen, pray, breathe. Security and planning are the antithesis of faith and trust. Put yourself in God’s hands – and be surprised.
In life, faith is required – and trust. It’s possible to ‘secure’ God out of your life. If you do this, you may miss His quiet intervention.
Today – live just for today. Worry can be all consuming and is ultimately pointless. Not for nothing does the Bible tell us not to worry.
Faith and trust can result in surprises. These would not be possible if you are constantly worrying – and leaving God out of the picture.
Trust in God’s word – not in the word of those in the world. I’d far rather rely on the Divine certainty than on human plans and promises.
Looking back, I regret not listening more frequently to God – and less to people. But it’s never too late and I’m catching up. You can too!
Get to the end of yourself and your plans. Allow God to intervene. He will surprise you. He intervenes when it seems we have nothing left.
If you keep everything beyond the risk of requiring faith, you may never experience His intervention. God will come to you in the moment.
These thoughts were originally written and posted on Twitter during April 2013.
For those in the trade unable to attend London Book Fair this week, here are some of the images of the past few days.
Turkey was the Country in Focus for this year’s Fair.
The Books are My Bag national promotion was launched this week.
Kobo ereaders had a major and impressive presence at this year’s fair.
Monday was a very busy day at the Fair this year with very full aisles.
Canadian retail blogger, PaulThinkingOutLoud was upset recently by one publisher’s website and its aggressive discounting policy. Writing in his blog – which is well worth following – he saw this as
‘Another example of a publisher or distributor bypassing the brick and mortar stores. Although some of this might be legitimate overstock inventory, it raises the expectation of consumers for this level of discounting to be normative, which adds to the discouragement of already battered retailers’.
In another post, Paul writes movingly of competing emotions during the closure of one of his stores. He ends with an appeal to press on towards the goal of in-store ministry.
Do you feel battered by falling sales or emboldened by spiritual opportunity? Yes, Christian bookshops continue to close, footfall is in decline, competition from online is savage and at best support from churches is patchy. Yet we are not always that well informed of current trends in the wider publishing scene. In the same way as what happens in the USA often affects the UK, the same is true of events in the general market impacting the Christian trade.
Generally speaking, our grasp of the financials on both ‘sides’ is often lacking. Retailers operate on lower margins with high fixed costs (upward only rents, rising business rates – up 2.6% again in April) whereas publishing in the main has higher margins and a far more flexible cost base. Clearly there are worries on all sides and as publishers face lower physical sales, print-runs continue to fall making the viability of mid-list titles ever more tenuous. Many publishers struggle with storing high levels of physical stock, much of which will eventually be written-down. Ironically for publishers, digitalisation represents yet more cost and a growing overhead; this, coupled with falling average cover prices (ebooks sell at half the average price of a paperback: £3.21 v. £6.31).
Our industry is a torrid place. The physical consumer book market declined by 4.6% in value in 2012, with fiction down 4.5% and non-fiction down 6.3% – only Children’s books held steady. The value of print sales slumped by £74m last year. (It could be worse – in Australia their market fell 6.3%). The marketplace churns violently in a volatile landscape; over 200 libraries were closed between 2011/12 and in another sign of turbulence, Cambridge University Press ceased print production on their Cambridge site after 400 years.
Yet 2012 saw the continued growth in digital publishing, social media marketing and self-publishing. Hive became established. Amazon’s Kindle grew faster than ever and a number of other e-readers, notably Nook, Kobo, and Nexus gathered momentum. Controversially Waterstones began to sell Amazon’s Kindle, recognising that they had neither the time nor money to develop their own platform. The Fifty Shades publishing phenomenon came out of nowhere ending the year with sales of £47.3m.
The market for ebooks was revised upwards to £300m late last year and continues to grow, albeit more slowly. Major publishers report e-sales of between 8% and 17% of overall revenue. In November, the ebook agency price probe in the USA and the EC brought a chill to the major houses as they battled against what felt like unfair external pressures. Now ebooks sell for an unsustainable 20p (a marketing idiocy pioneered by Sony) and most slots in the Kindle top 20 are populated by cheap ebooks. Nielsen data suggest that there are 7m UK ebook adopters, with heaviest use amongst ages 35-44, lowest in the under 20’s. However, the BBC reports that just as many UK adults, 7.4m or 15% of the population have yet to access the Internet.
Bookshop closures continue apace with The Booksellers Association figures documenting ongoing decline: down to 1,028 shops (2012) from 1,535 in 2005 – conversely Children’s bookshops are thriving with more opening this year. In the USA, the one surviving major bookstore chain, Barnes and Noble announced after Christmas that they expect to slim down store numbers by a third. B&N have 689 stores currently with 190-240 of these slated to close over the next decade. It’s a widely held view that the holy grail of ‘Discoverability’ is best achieved in a physical bookshop; browsing activity is their USP.
The debate over the future of our libraries is equally as fierce. The UK Government’s Sieghart ebook library lending review is yet to report but author, Terry Deary said recently: ‘Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in the electronic age’. How to win friends! It’s worth noting that the PLR on printed books from library lending is more than £6m paid out to 23,000 authors. The debate remains live as people continue to ask if digital will trounce the physical book or whether in due course it will all settle down benignly?
There’s a lot of anger amongst booksellers towards the perceived lack of a level playing field. Writing in The Bookseller, Charles Tongue of the Stroud Bookshop said, ‘I believe Publishers are blindly colluding with Amazon and the result will be the destruction of High street retailing’. He was widely applauded.
I like Foyle’s of London advertising slogan; This Bookshop Will Change Your Life – no ambiguity there! Earlier this year, Sam Husain, CEO of Foyle’s sent an open letter to publishers arguing the need for better terms (an average of 60%) and increased support (promotional stock on consignment). He stated that the current bookshop model is broken, needing a complete rethink. This at a time as Foyle’s announced eight redundancies. Bravely, Foyle’s and The Bookseller have since conducted a two-day ‘Re-imagining the Future Bookshop’ workshop, held in London, allowing the trade to collaborate on what the bookshop of the future might look like.
WH Smith continue to do a sterling job in showcasing books but even their sales fall year on year; down 7% to the end of August 2012 and down a further 6% in the 20 weeks to mid-January 2013. Another indication of the parlous state of the High Street trade is wholesaler Gardners sales results which dropped 3% to the end of February last year. Blackwell’s did improve their results last year but remain loss making.
Waterstones is far from being out of the woods with the release of poor results (admittedly pre-James Daunt) showing a £37.3m loss. I wish Waterstones well because if their 290 branches were to disappear from the High Street then it would be a very serious matter, and I might add, particularly for publishers. However, I’m encouraged for two reasons: anecdotally, people seem very warm towards the ‘W’ brand and some are switching their buying away from the mighty ‘A’. The question is, will it be enough? Waterstones iconic branding campaign last autumn was well received and this year it has plans for the refurbishment of another 60 shops.
My other reason is that when I visit Waterstones, they generally prove to be busy places and people are markedly buying books. It’s just a shame that Waterstones do not ‘do’ Christianity better and with more visibility. On a positive note, I welcome the announcement by Waterstones of the launch of its staff-training academy and Certificate in Bookselling (accredited by the University of Derby); surely a vote of confidence in its own future by a visionary book chain?
Maybe I’m pipe dreaming? After all, Amazon had overall sales in the UK in 2011 of £2.91 billion (on which they famously paid £416m UK tax). They reported Q4 worldwide revenue growth of 22% to £13bn last Christmas! Latest innovations include customer collection lockers in railway stations and newsagents. This is an immensely powerful online juggernaut and our small trade faces a very significant challenge indeed!
Yet I dare to believe that localism can prevail, customer attitudes can change and that people continue to care about their local shops – you must just hope that I am right! The demise of retailers, Jessops and Blockbuster earlier this year followed by HMV going into administration shows just how tough conditions are. Incredibly, HMV was selling 27% of all CD’s and 38% of DVD’s at the time of its demise.
I would echo Philip Downer’s (ex-Borders) comment from last year;
‘The old days of Borders and Ottakars will not return … Coffee, carrot cake, cards and an ebook offer are now essentials for Indies who want to stay in business and thrive for the future’.
We have to give customers a reason to come to our shops. Why should they shop with you? I was recently handed a forward-dated 15% off voucher for a national (non-book) retailer. It worked. I visited the shop on the stated date, I used my voucher … and I bought far more than I had intended. In the Christian trade we must start thinking more creatively and connecting with customers in a very different way to the past.
Church engagement is a hugely important topic that needs far greater attention and one to which we shall return in the next issue. Many shops find difficulty in communicating with ministers. An earlier church / retail compact has seemingly broken down as leaders shop around – usually online – driven by ‘best price’ owing to the Churches’ own financial constraints. Managers struggle to venture outside their own premises due to low staffing levels or sometimes, unwillingness. And yet, somehow, retailers have to get back in touch with their core customer base – the Churches.
The days of waiting for a church to contact you are long gone. It’s often a salutary task to record daily footfall and till data – but it may just serve as the severe jolt you need in order to take action?
This article was written in early March 2013 for Together Magazine (April – May 2013)
Santorini is an island in the southern Aegean Sea, 120 miles southeast of the Greek mainland.
The inshore waters of Nisos Thira (Santorini) consists of a deep bay formed from the crater of a submarine volcano. Sailing and then anchoring in the crater is an eerie and unsettling experience.
Santorini is what remains after an enormous volcanic explosion in 1650bc that destroyed the original single island and created the current caldera (volcanic crater) – a huge central lagoon measuring 7km by 12km, surrounded by steep 300m high cliffs on three sides.
The main town is Fira, perched at the top of the cliffs, 1,000 feet above the bay. The volcanic rock of the cliffs is very dark, accentuating the beauty of the white and blue of the buildings in the town.
Today I visited the CLC Bookshop in Ave Maria Lane, London, adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral and just off Ludgate Hill. The shop moved here from much bigger premises on Holborn Viaduct in August 2011.
CLC London is now the largest Evangelical bookshop in England and is run by CLC, an interdenominational Christian charity, now operating in 58 countries with 180+ bookshops around the world. CLC began its work in Colchester in 1941 and its London presence has been in this area of the capital since the first shop opened on Ludgate Hill in 1946, just after World War 2 ended.
The nearest tube station is St Paul’s (Central Line) and from there it’s literally a five minute walk through Paternoster Square across to the shop. Pater Noster (Latin) means ‘Our Father’. The Square lies near the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest part of the City of London.
This area – originally Paternoster Row – resonates with the history of publishing houses and booksellers as, in the 1940’s; this was the centre of the British publishing trade. In December 1940, the entire area was devastated during the London Blitz – but miraculously St Paul’s Cathedral was saved. An estimated 5 million printed books were lost in the ferocious fires caused by the bombing.
Emerging from Paternoster Square into Ave Maria Lane (I love the name of this street given the theological predisposition of CLC!), the first building you see is a well-lit and well-signed modern bookshop - but leaving no-one in any doubt that this is a ‘Christian bookshop’.
I still mourn the closure of the Scripture Union / Wesley Own shop in London’s West End at Wigmore Street. As the book market changes and the European recession continues to bite, bookselling in our towns and cities is changing markedly and the world of Christian bookselling is no different.
I applaud the efforts of Manager Petra Nemansky and the CLC team who are doing such a sterling job in increasingly difficult times. I hope that the shop will go from strength to strength as the very last thing that London needs is the demise of yet another well located Christian bookshop.
Please pray for the important ministry of this shop, only a stone’s throw away from the buildings of the London Stock Exchange and if you’re in London, especially if you are anywhere near St Paul’s Cathedral, please do visit the shop – you will not be disappointed.
Taking advantage of the lull in our recent snowy weather, we did a winter walk around the Hampshire village of Selborne (between Alton and Petersfield on the B3006). Free NT parking (with new toilets) is available behind the Selborne Arms (SatNav GU34 3JH). This short walk is part of the 21-mile long Hangers Way.
The village is famous with naturalists around the world due to the pioneering work of the Reverend Gilbert White, Vicar of Selborne from 1751 to his death in 1793. White published one of the classic titles of English literature; The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), a book which, incredibly, has never been out of print! White was born in the village in 1720, returning after attending college in Oxford where he had been ordained.
Our walk led us up onto Selborne Hill and Common (owned by the National Trust) using the well-trodden ‘zigzag’ path actually cut into the hillside by Gilbert White and his brother John in 1753. The sides of the path are lined by expertly laid low hedgerows. The view from the top over Selborne and the surrounding countryside makes the fairly steep ascent (360ft) worthwhile.
We climbed in the snow but when we got into the beech-hanger woodlands, we were up to our ankles in thick, heavy clarty mud. We slipped and slithered – over the brown mulch from decaying autumn leaves – back down into the village, calling into Gilbert White’s House Tea Parlour for strong Assam tea and warm scones with clotted cream. Yes, I know it’s only January but summer teas do seem such a long way off!
We visited St Mary’s Church on the way back to the car. This rather beautiful stained glass window in memory of Rev. Gilbert White is worth noting … ‘For a faithful priest and a writer of genius’. His striking black memorial stone is set in the floor just in front of the altar.
This walk can be extended beyond the village along the Oakhanger stream but we’ll come back and do that another day. We’d seen enough mud for one day but the views from Selborne Hanger made our mud bath truly worthwhile.
I wonder if the Tea Parlour are still cleaning their floors?
Now this really is crazy – here’s what I take for my gadgets every time I go away in order to communicate and keep in touch with work and everyone back home!
UK mobile + separate charger
International mobile + separate charger
Laptop + separate charger
Tablet + separate charger
Ipod + separate charger#
Ipod speakers + batteries
Camera + separate charger
Shaver + separate charger
USB lead for the phone
USB drives for backing up data
Whatever happened to convergence? Why are electrical leads and chargers not made more uniform? Anyway, I’m just about to pack it all away and travel home again, so here goes …