Home > Book trade > Christian Bookshops – Use them or (probably) lose them

Christian Bookshops – Use them or (probably) lose them

It’s not only pubs that are going out of business in the UK – recent figures show that the quintessential English Public House is closing down at the rate of 30 per week (source: BBPA/MT).  Retailing is now hard graft for many professions. Shopping habits are changing fast and there is much less time available for those trips to the High Street. When time is found, then competition for both time and money is increasingly fierce.

Christian bookshops are not immune – and many are having a difficult time. There have been some major shake-ups in the past couple of years, with a lot of shops going and, thankfully, a few coming. Accurate figures are hard to come by but there have been many closures in recent months. I doubt that there are more than 250 shops across the whole of the UK now capable of a viable future?

The IBS-STL debacle at the end of 2009 and the SPCK meltdown in 2008 badly destabilised Christian retail in this country. Any recovery – if it even proves possible – remains uncertain. There are shops that some would say deserve to go under (those that are poorly run, badly stocked and outdated) but there are many fine shops that would be a massive loss to their communities if they were to disappear. Good examples are GLO Motherwell;Scotland’s Leading Independent Christian Resource Centre’ and Faith Mission Portadown, which jointly won the Industry award this year for ‘Large Christian Retailer 2010’.

This Christmas is the time, for those of us who care about the future, mission and ministry of Christian retailers, to ensure that we go out of our way to support these shops. The final quarter of the year is THE time when retailers look to achieve a financial surplus to help them make it through the following year.

It seems to me that we have a choice – to help keep these shops on the High Street or by our often passive inaction push more of them out of business year-by-year. For me it’s more than just a trade; it’s about maintaining a Christian presence on our High Streets. Time is running out – fewer and fewer specialist Christian shops remain as each year goes by.

Demographics also conspire against these specialist shops. Church attendance in the traditional denominations is largely declining and newer Churches with their younger audiences, such as Hillsong and 3C, tend to be pretty self-contained in terms of their resource requirements.

As I listen to people, I am increasingly of the opinion that many simply do not understand that if these shops go, then they will almost certainly not re-appear. The economics of Christian bookselling do not stack up without a high degree of subsidy or self-sacrifice. These shops are in danger of becoming a cultural and religious anachronism. Their future lies in the hands of us, the customer; but we are increasingly voting with our feet and our keyboards.

I fully recognise that not everyone has a Christian retailer close by. In these cases, the immediate temptation is to shop for Christian resources on Amazon, the all-conquering online retailer. I am uneasy with its growing power and supremacy in so many areas of retailing life. Personally, for Christian material, I would suggest using www.eden.co.uk/, the excellent Chester-based online specialist ‘etailer’ with its high standards of customer service and a wide ranging stock selection.

I contend that anyone interested in the survival of the Christian literature ministry should, this Christmas, and whenever possible, buy something at their local Christian bookshop. Where this proves impractical, then by all means use Eden, where some money from each order goes to support children in Malawi via the auspices of the Christian charity, World Vision.  

Don’t know what to buy this Christmas? You could do worse than start with Operation World and give someone a really challenging and inspiring present. Read my review here.

One last thought. Maybe, during 2011, this trade should work together on a wide-ranging PR and marketing initiative; ‘Christian bookshops; use them, don’t not lose them’.

You can locate your local Christian retailer here.

  1. November 23, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Hi Eddie,
    As ever cool, calm, collected, insightful and spot on, a wonderful call to arms as it were.
    One small thing though is that of course there is also the possibility that people can use the websites of their local(ish) shops as well as or alongside of Eden, many of us have them now – and even where they are perhaps, as with mine(www.lincolnchristianbookshop.co.uk), only an A-Shops for the sale side of it the small amount of affiliate commission earned on them actually does genuinely help with maintaining the shop and so by doing this the local(ish) shop is in a way still supported without any loss or inconvenience to the customer who prefers using the internet and getting the best bargain they think possible.
    In terms of bargains and best prices or perception thereof, it should of course be borne in mind that if the customer phones/emails or visits the local shop they may well find that the shop can or may be able to match the price they think is only achievable online (though admittedly sometimes they can’t), alternatively they can always look on the difference as a charitable donation or tithe to supporting a local christian mission.
    Again thanks Eddie for posting a great post.

  1. November 23, 2010 at 10:25 am
  2. March 11, 2011 at 10:04 pm
  3. June 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm
  4. June 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

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