Christian Bookshops — who needs them?

That, I think, is the essence of the question posed by Eddie Arthur in response to my post about Core Stock yesterday:

Why should I buy books from you (or another Christian bookshop) when I can get them from Amazon at a significant discount?

Eddie admits to playing devil’s advocate in posing the question, but even so it’s a question that all booksellers — not just Christian booksellers — are acutely aware of; and if we want to survive, we need to tackle it. But for me, it’s about more than survival: I believe Christian bookshops have a vital role to play in Christian mission — as I observed a couple of posts back, a Christian bookshop is much more than just another business.

But not everyone, it seems, is convinced. In April I responded to Bill Kahusac praying for a Christian bookshop to be closed down and since then I’ve come across several others who don’t like what they’re finding. Phil Whittall — co-owner of Illuminate, Shrewsbury — posed essentially the same question as Eddie at the end of last year, albeit from the other side of the fence:

… 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?

He received several responses: they’re all worth reading, but this, from Matthew Hosier, was perhaps the most telling:

… 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.

Now that truly is depressing. Almost as depressing as being a web server trying to serve a missing page. And it’s a parallel problem: if we’re not delivering the content people are looking for — content that church leaders such as Matthew feel confident enough about to be able to recommend our shops to their congregations — then perhaps we do have our backs to the wall.

Or do we? Is that why we’re there, to serve the local churches? Or are we there to serve the local community as resource centres for their spiritual lives? Or are we simply there on a par with every other business, competing to make a profit? Can we do all three — serve the local churches, serve the local community and make a profit?

For Christian bookshops profit isn’t — or shouldn’t be — our driving force: we are called be a prophetic presence on the high street, not simply another profiteering one. And for that we need churches behind us, supporting us as part of their mission strategy, helping us to reach out to our communities, to be places where people asking questions about spirituality and faith can make their first tentative steps.

We exist to serve God’s kingdom: Amazon exists to make money.

That’s the difference and that’s why I say you should buy from us, Eddie. You too, Bill; and you, Matthew. We also need your help to become the places you’d like us to be. If you visit a Christian bookshop and don’t like what you find or can’t find what you want, don’t just walk away or go to Amazon: talk to us. You have a vision for God’s kingdom: so do we. Let’s work together.

Unless, of course, getting books at the lowest possible price really is the only thing you’re interested in…

Related Discussions

Lessons from America

The Christian bookstore remains important because it keeps publishers in tune with their customers.

Verne Kenney, Vice President of Sales, Zondervan
Cited in Christianity TodayHow to Save the Christian Bookstore

33 thoughts on “Christian Bookshops — who needs them?

  1. Pingback: Christian bookshops » The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker

  2. I really, really shouldn’t allow myself to get drawn into this… I could be reading a book instead!

    You may be interested to know that I now live in a town with a good Christian bookshop (Keith Jones, Bournemouth), and that I have started using it, even though it is more expensive than Amazon, doesn’t carry everything I want and isn’t so convenient.

    But I still quibble with your position. The point of my original post on Phil’s blog (oh, why didn’t I keep my mouth shut!?!) was that too many “Christian” bookshops are anything but a “prophetic presence.” There are other more accurate, and less flattering, adjectives that could be applied.

    My bigger point is that I have serious reservations about anything other than Christians being labeled as “Christian.” By definition you cannot have Christian schools, Christian political parties, Christian music, or Christian shops. The people in them may be Christians, but the institution itself cannot be born again (this is only possible for men and women made in the image of God) so they can’t be Christian!

    I dislike the legalism that develops when “Christian” is used as an adjective. You are standing for a Christian Party? Does that mean I have to vote for you, even if I dislike your politics? You broadcast Christian music? Does that make it wrong for me to listen to a different radio channel even if your production standards are poor and I don’t like your playlist? You run a Christian business? Does that mean I have to use you even though you are not as good as the other business down the road run by pagans? Am I somehow failing to support the team?

    What about the Christian who works at Amazon? Do they fail to have a kingdom perspective? Do the Christians who work at the BBC somehow not reach the same grade of sanctification as those who work at Premier? Is a Christian who voted for Boris (or Ken) somehow less righteous than one who voted for the Christian Party?

    I want to vote for people whose politics I agree with. I want to listen to music I enjoy. I want to employ a mechanic who can actually fix my car. I want to buy books from a supplier who offers excellent service. And more than that, I want to encourage every believer, no matter who they work for, to live with a kingdom perspective and make Jesus known in that place. I want them to be a cultural missionaries. And I do not like kitten posters!

    There, I’ve said it. Probably shouldn’t have. Probably going to get stoned! But I’ll resist making any more responses to the responses that flow from this response.

    Oh, and I’ll keep shopping from Keith Jones – and from Amazon!

  3. I agree with Matthew. Keith Jones is great and I always make a point of visiting when in Bournemouth.

    When I lived in Dunstable, there was a great little Christian bookshop ( I spent many hours in. They didn’t stock everything I wanted, and their prices weren’t cheap, but they did care about what they stocked (the elders had personally approved every book), and I respected them for that, and tried to buy from them as much as possible.

    Having moved to Southampton, I find it a lot less easy to be enthusiastic about supporting my local Wesley Owen. After all, if your main display includes titles by Brian MacLaren, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, Benny Hinn and Tom Wright, you clearly are not at all concerned about sending mixed messages about what Christianity is all about. Like Amazon, it would appear that they exist to make money, and if I will buy it, they will sell it.

    I would prefer though to buy from internet Christian bookshops in preference to Amazon, but the choice is not great. What is really crazy is that it is often cheaper to buy from Christian bookshops in the US, even with the shipping costs making up half the price of the order.

    Personally I see the future of Christian bookshops being based on the premises of larger churches, and probably with an internet presence. But Phil, it is great to hear that you have a passion for your bookshop to serve the kingdom, and if there were more likeminded Christian bookshop owners, perhaps Christians would be able to see the value in supporting their local Christian bookshop.

  4. Matthew, Mark — thank you both for your comments; looking forward to hearing from Luke and John 😉

    Seems to me that the points you raise are precisely the reasons we need to be working together. Christian bookshops (sorry Matthew, I hear what you say about the use of the word ‘Christian’ but that’s the way it is used, so I’m not going to bet bogged down in a debate over that — though you may find my ‘Christian or… what, exactly?’ post interesting… ) — as I was saying, Christian bookshops shouldn’t be working in isolation any more than churches should: we’re all in this together.

    As I said, if you don’t like what you find in your local Christian bookshop — or in any bookshop you happen to visit for that matter — please don’t just walk away: talk to us. Get involved. Help us, with you, to become the best that we can be.

    And that includes talking to the guys at WO about your concerns. Meanwhile I’ll be passing on what’s been said to some of the folk I know at WO…

    I’m not anti-Amazon, by the way: I use them quite regularly myself, and often encourage my customers to do so: more about that another time…

  5. I have to agree that a lot of so-called Christian bookshops stock absolute tat. They are full of Jabez Junk, really bad books, God channel schedules and really cheesy cards.

    The bookshops that refuse to stock this rubbish are usually, as the other guy said, full of browning paperbacks that set off my allergies.

    Now, the shop that Phil runs is fantastic. If other shops were like his then I would be there.

    My local shop in Fulham is practically useless. The best theology they have is from Benny Hinn and T.D. Jakes. I went in once to find a Bible, but they had difficulty with that as well.

    I hope Phil will be able to expand his shop soon.


  6. Hi

    I think it’s really important for Christian bookshops to have a presence on the high street, mainly because it helps keep Christianity mainstream (but also because I once saw in WHSmith that all their bibles were shelved under ‘poetry’…!)

    BUT – at Church on the Net, a website which explains Christianity & church to people who have no connection with either but may be seeking, we link all our suggested reading to Amazon. We only link to Christian bookshops if they titles we’re recommending are not available at Amazon. It’s essential that seekers experience a way to access Christianity which is already within their frame of reference. It’s not good if Christian resources are only available from sources which may appear ‘cultish’ to outsiders.

    However, it must be said that Amazon’s search engine is beyond compare, as are the additional features such as reviews, links and more. Most online Christian bookstores are a real pain to use, search-engine-wise!

  7. Hi Nicola – thanks for that. Have you used I think they give Amazon a good run for their money… and you can link to their search results quite easily using ISBNs… (I do it all the time with my reviews)

    I hear what you say about allowing people to access Christianity in a way that’s already within their frame of reference, though…

  8. In short – almost nobody, they’re a total waste of space.

    (just being needlessly provocative, you’ll understand 🙂 )

  9. There are a lot of interesting points here. It is certainly clear that Christian bookshops have an image problem; probably well deserved, unfortunately. Some of the comments about stock range I would take issue with, however; what I hear you saying, Mark, is ‘Wesley Owen do not exclusively stock titles that respresent my particular brand of conservative Christianity’. Joel Osteen may not be your cup of tea,
    Mark; he is not mine either, but the fact is there is a Christian constituency out there who do like to come into Christian bookshops and buy Joel Osteen titles. Wesley Owen I am sure have their faults, but they are trying to serve a larger cross-section of the whole Christian community.

    What does it say that the authors you mention are all together on the shelf? I would say that is excellent; let’s add some more, maybe Eugene Peterson, Gerard Hughes, Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Rowan Williams …. it is hardly the whole range of Christianity, but it is an attempt to serve a larger Christian community. It is not necessarily purely predicated on making money.

    Certainly bookshops from a single perspective with a theologically screened stock have a place, but surely there ought to be shops that attempt something broader-based.

  10. I fully agree with Phil’s comments about mission. However, I think there is another way of looking at this also, and that is that Christian bookshops are a subset of the larger set of … er, bookshops. All dedicated bookshops are struggling with the changed buying patterns of Joe Public, and many are going under. Now the fact is that nobody owes us a living; I do not believe we have any right to appeal to the Christian public to come to us and support us unless we provide a really good service, a good environment for customers and all the rest of it.

    But on the other hand, there has to be some sort of collective decision in the mind of the public as to whether they want there to be bookshops, Christian or otherwise, out there. Nicola, I do see a certain inconsistency in your comment; on the one hand you direct all your potential readers to Amazon, but on the other you think that having Christian bookshops is a good thing. I can understand your reasons for directing them to Amazon, but the fact is that if we all end up sitting at home enjoying the convenience, speed and money savings of Amazon (yes, I use them too from time to time!), we will one day find that there is no bookshop available when we fancy an hour’s browsing. And I think that is worth pondering.

  11. Thanks for both of those posts, John. Personally I’d like to see Wesley-Owen expand their range of stock beyond the evangelical pop-Christianity stuff that tends to predominate… and the idea of a bookshop where — as Mark describes it — “the elders had personally approved every book” sounds scarily like the Thought Police taking control (rather like Matthew’s church bookstall policy, which he describes in his observations back on Phil Whittall’s blog).

    As you say, John, nobody owes us a living, and I’m certainly not trying to argue for that. There’s no reason why a Christian bookshop should offer an inferior retail experience: on the contrary, there’s every reason for us to excel.

    Nicola — can I encourage you to put in a link to the UK Christian Bookshops Directory, please, as well as point people to Amazon? At least that gives enquirers the choice.

  12. I said I wouldn’t make any more responses, but I am so weak…!

    I’m enjoying the debate, and just thought of an illustration I should have used in my first comment. As well as now shopping at Keith Jones, since moving to the beautiful town of Poole my family has started to buy its meat at a local butcher rather than at a supermarket. There is an ethical dimension to this in that, yes, we like to see small local shops in our community and not just Tesco, and, yes, the meat is probably more traceable than it is in the supermarket. But the big reason for our switch in shopping habits is that the local butcher offers a service and product that is superior than Tesco, but not disproportionately more expensive.

    If any independent bookshop is to survive (whether it specialises in theology, fishing, cooking, or whatever) it also needs to offer that “added value” that makes people want to use it. I don’t use a plumber just because he has a fish on the back of his van; but I will use him if he is good at his job. Want my custom in your bookshop? Make it a good bookshop!

  13. Can I shamelessly plug my own website? Am I serving mammon if I ask people to take a look at (See what I did there?)

    Price is important, so is service. We have customers who come who don’t know where to start looking for a book or Bible that will help them. Maybe they’re not connected in with church yet or perhaps they’re hearing things at church they’re not sure about. A local shop can help provide a point of reference, a guide to help you weigh up your options and we hope in the right direction. Lose your bookshops and that service goes.

    Matt is right though, the local shop has to persuade its customers that it’s worth coming to them, even if it is ‘slightly’ more expensive. By providing a website hopefully we’ve resolved the convenience aspect. Which others including Keith Jones also do…

    I’ll have to do some research but perhaps we could find out from people in towns where their bookshop has closed and find out whether it is missed or not…

  14. I’d like to respond to Mark’s comment that because WO Southampton stocks varying theologies, then it means they are they’re only out to make money.

    I work for Wesley Owen and can state categorically that that isn’t the case! The shop in Southampton, and I would suggest that many other Christian bookshops, exists to serve a broad and diverse local Christian community, who wish to buy as broad range of authors as Mark lists.

    WO isn’t into limiting choice but reflecting what the Christian community is talking about and asking for.

    As Phil so eloquently states, if you want to see something in your shop tell them! These bookshops are so different from regular shops and internet sellers, as there is so rarely a purely profit motivation behind them. The overwhelming number of these shops are charities with kingdom values and are not profit driven.

    And Phil… note your comment about WO stock expanding beyond pop theology…can I ask if you have been to any of our shops recently? You’ll notice our selection is way wider than that, so that tag is, I think, unfair now….which was the last store you visted??

  15. Hi Iago and welcome 🙂 — and thanks for setting me right. Last store I visited was Brighton: love poking around the bargain section, picking up stock for my own shop (should I admit that? Oops!).

    Then I wandered past the stand at CRE… where I picked up a copy of Engage… which is all the proof that’s needed really, isn’t it? Engage moves well beyond the pop stuff.

    I stand corrected: humble apologies. Other WO critics also please take note!

  16. Hmm, perhaps my comment came across a little harshly. I should clarify that I do often shop in the Wesley Owen in Southampton, and I’m glad they are there. I’m just saying its harder to feel quite so much “brand loyalty” towards them as I have done to other Christian bookshops I have used.

    And I am also supportive of Christian bookshops stocking from a broad diversity of viewpoints. I make a point of reading at least a couple of books a year by authors who are ‘outside’ of my theological comfort zone. But does that mean that a bookshop simply has to stock everything that with a ‘Christian’ label and is popular. Check out the “Hearts and Minds” bookshop blog for a wonderful example of a Christian bookshop who are broad but passionate about what they stock and recommend:

    There is one other Christian bookshop I visit in Southampton – literally a minute’s walk from my house. But I only go there if I want Puritans or Lloyd-Jones. You can’t even buy John Stott or John Piper there, they are so particular about what they stock. To be honest I would be very surpised if they make any profit at all. Surely there is a healthy amount of middle ground between “only exactly what I agree with” and “anything goes”.

  17. A few of my Christian bookshop pet peeves.

    1. The truly awful greeting cards. Seriously. There are some fantastic artists, graphic designers, cartoonists – please I beg you use your skills to create a wider variety of cards for things like baptisms!!

    2. Scowling shopkeepers. I have to say that both the Christian bookshops in Aberdeen have very happy, smiley folks who are always up for a little bit of chatty conversation. However, the Glasgow and Edinburgh bookshops I’ve been into leave much scope for training in basic social skills for their staff.

    3. Disorganised shelving. If you are looking for a particular author or book it’s practically impossible to find. And the categories books are organised under are sometimes completely bizarre…

    4. Cheesy Christian tat. Yep, ok let’s have a little tat but not a shop full.

    5. Background music….please don’t play droning out of tune stuff. Or bands murdering a popular worship song…

    6. And this is not the book shop’s fault. But publishers…who allowed the publication of ridiculous marketed products such as ‘365 Daily Devotions for Dieting’ or ‘The Bride’s Bible’…

    That’s my rant over 🙂

    Having said that I do like to try and support my local christian bookshops where I can. A great place particularly for getting bibles and music books for worship leading.

    I have a competition of sorts though to find the cheesiest titled christian book…if anyone would like to nominate a title. Not very serious, and hopefully a bit of fun rather than a rant like I’ve just had…

  18. I’m not sure I can enter the cheesy book title competition with a good conscience – even though after five years working in a Christian book shop the eventual winner quite possibly passsed through my hands and I may well have smilingly recommended it as a really life-changing item.

    Trouble is, to be honest I personally still find quite a lot of it cheesy. Just visualise if you can Joel Osteeen’s smile on the cover of his latest block buster and you will know what I mean. Really very cheesy. But it isn’t all about personal taste, is it? And that book has helped some people. I know because they have come and told me about it, and bought extra copies to give away.

    Top tip for an independent book shop: get to know the people in town who ‘read it, give away’ and BUY FOR THEM. They are the ones who are doing the real business of the Kingdom when it comes to books, and they are not likely to be the same ones who are more interested in the best deal on the internet, or the coolest or most theologically pure book shelf.

    Admittedly it’s got much easier since last year we exited our deal with a major supplier (STL) which tied us into buying almost all of our books from them with no choice at all about what they sent us. The high levels of books geared to the American Midwest market largely reflected their purchasing choices, not ours.

    Now we are truly ‘on our own’ with our choice of books and will stand or fall by whether we buy what customers in town want. It’s scary!! and it means listening to our customers. So to echo Phil’s point, please talk to us. It’s the only way we’ll have a hope of getting it right.

    Something that hasn’t been mentioned so far in the debate on what kind of books (and other items) Christian book shops should sell is the ecumenical and community roots of so many Christian book shops. That is why in our shop you find the range of titles that some other contributors have found a bit confusing. Yes, we also carry John Macarthur, Joel Osteen, Brian McLaren, Benny Hinn and Tom Wright! As well as both Todd Bentley (come on, you can’t ignore him!) and Hank Hannegraff (whose fans would like our selection purged).

    Some of our customers don’t much like the rosary beads we sell, others would take it as an anti-Catholic move if we stopped. Some hate the sailing boats with scripture texts on the sales, others adore them. Personally I baulk at books with explicitly cessationist titles, but not at Benny Hinn! Go figure. At the same time I privately really dread customers who want to talk to me about Todd Bentley. I just suggest they read his book. Call me irresponsible but I happen to believe it’s best to make your mind up on the basis of somebody’s own testimony, not somebody else’s testimony about them.

    The big thing though, is that it’s all about Christian unity – six days a week every week we show the town that Christians of every different church can and do put aside our differences, remember that “95% of our Christian DNA is the same”, and work together. I think there’s good scriptural evidence that is important Kingdom work, and Satan hates it.

    The fact is, bookshops like ours only exist because communities want them, set them up and support them. What may be happening is that we are ‘dumbing down’ a bit because the well heeled, educated Christian book buyer is now shopping elsewhere.

    Over the five years I have been in this business, we have seen some big changes. Waterstones has moved into our high street and Amazon into our homes. Our book sales have fallen by 25%. The independent book shop (not Christian!) two doors down from us became a remainder shop, then closed altogether. We have had to diversify into cards and gifts to stay in business.

    Oh and about dust, staff with social skills defecits, and really awful websites. For the small independent it is so often about shoestring budgets, low wages, short staffing, volunteers who have a variety of reasons to be there, and a management committee with little experience or time. Not a string of excuses – but things to bear in mind when deciding whether or not to patronise your local Christian book shop.

  19. It is now 12.08 and I opened up at 9.30, it says 10.00 in the window. I have had two customers and £3.35 has been put into the till. I, for my sins, am the manager and treasurer of this bookshop. We have a Bookshop Committee who meet every 3 months, but basically I work on my own, the wife and her team of vounteers, provide me with some respite care and I soldier on. It is interesting to read what the general public think about us. We stock a wide range of authors and I do know the location of the Bibles and all other stock. We have no brown books but it is not easy with very limited resources to satisfy everyone’s needs. The bookshop is affiliated to Amazon and potential customers can search Amazon through our own website and we get a little return from Amazon.

    Selling is not our only purpose of being here. We spend a fair amount of time listening, praying with and counselling members of the public. I and all our volunteers are Chritians and belong to various Church denominations.

    It would be a sad day if there was not a Christian presence on the High Street

    Colin, Churches Bookshop, Isle of Man.

  20. Had to join in here and just put forward a few (okay a lot of) views & thoughts based on the discussion.

    I have been running Christian bookshops (various ones of the SPCK ilk mostly) for almost 14 years, and one of the things I most remember is my first Bookshop Managers conference with SPCK when there was a big discussion about the brand, the name and what we stocked etc. It was quite heated at times, at that point we had some shops that sold a lot of general books and made good money! but the then leadership wanted us to move into a different outlook – some of us agreed – some didn’t, but the one thing I said then and that I say now and stand by is that I can run and (excuse the bad grammer here!) be a Christian bookshop without ever having a so called christian book on the shelf – because its my actions that make the christian bookshop, by our actions and attitudes we spread the gospel and outreach – the books are helpful but not the thing that makes the connection. However that being said I strongly advocate that we should have shops, yes real physical ones, that are out there stocking books with christian centric themes and views – and on this it should be diverse as the faith is diverse! Jesus had 12 disciples not one and I can tell from the gospels that all of them had differing views and outlooks, so for me thats my model, putting forward the differing characteristics inherent in the faith so as to reach as many as possible and not bar the gate.

    I left SPCK/SSG over a year ago now and not happily I admit (the tribunal word was not just a word! but being christian we settled out of court). That was ok as I was going to go independent anyway, I got myself a beautiful dirty and run down shop (so ok its units on an indoor market but believe me my stall is as large as my old shop was!) however it was to general books I was going as I love them and did not want to compete with my old shop and risk my staffs livelihoods.

    I love selling general books, US Imports etc, and I get to sell Jigsaws, models, dvds and specialist genre’s that I and the customers seem to like (I guess this is the equivalent of Christian tat??)
    However I missed selling Christian Books – that had not just been a job to me – it was a vocation! I studied theology up to Masters Level, and my mother tells of me from very small when being asked what i was going to do when I grew up saying i was going to work for god and have a bookshop – so my job was a vocation, a commitment, and act of faith (yes I know that sounds holier than holy – but believe me anyone who knows me knows I ain’t holy! this is just how I feel).

    So back in February I went back to my love and am now an independent Christian retailer as well as a general bookshop.

    I have sacrificed my income, my savings and viable selling space to put in a dedicated Christian & church supplies unit (and getting the permission off the council to do so is a saga in itself and we have to say Religious Books above the actaul unit! I kid you not getting the permission to do this took nearly 3 months due to the word christian, it would have been so very much easier to give in!) I admit this was my choice and my decision but I do believe that it was the only right thing to do – a city or large town should have a christian bookshop – not everyone uses the internet or has credit cards, and sometimes church candles just get broke by the flower arranger tripping down the altar.
    However I need to state here that most of you wont like my shop, as I said it is in a market – so it has no swank and naturally lots of dust! the whole interior of the market looks like it escaped from a bad 80’s film, however the one thing it does have is immense outreach possibility as there is no barrier to it and the general public at all, no scary door and anyone walking past can see the crosses, bibles etc.

    I have a spinner of cards and would hope that they are not too cheesy – actaully they look pretty much like most of the cards being sold in the card shops outside except they have a scripture verse inside etc. I do have gifts and olive wood holding crosses, rosaries and prayer cards etc, christian tack I suppose but I would hope not too bad! I have a simple policy – if one of my family wouldn’t buy it I don’t buy it – after all my family is an average family ranging from a kid to the grandpy’s! long term married, divorce stats and single parent kids, agnostics, atheists and the committed! Some of us have degrees and some just finished school, some are travelled and some aren’t! It seems therefore like a good policy to hold.

    So I want people to use me, and I hope that I give good service and am serving a purpose.

    Do I mind if you buy from Amazon – not if you genuinely can get it much cheaper – but lets be honest a lot of Christian Books on Amazon are not cheaper and some even carry a surcharge! and these are books that are common to my (and I am sure a lot of other christian bookshops) shelves, and don’t forget to factor in carriage and wait time! if you buy it from me there is no wait time (except at the till) if it’s in stock and if it isn’t then there is no postage charge when I order it in for you! (same goes for many other bookshops too).

    Also remember Amazon and the like tend not to offer you bookstalls when or if needed!

    I was the manager of SPCKOnline before it got danger warnings! I grew that site from its infancy just weeks after it went live! so believe me you won’t get someone more comitted to the concept of online christian retailing (and I hope in time to have the time and finances to do it again for me!), but I would always advocate real physical shops in our streets and that we still use them along with the online side. After all community involves relationship, and though my cyber friends like yourselves are fantastic – when I am grieving you cannot hug me or hand me a hanky! and though smilies make me smile they don’t really work the same way as a smile with eye contact (and no its not the same when I use icam either!), so I think there is still a place for real shops and I hope that we can see past the dust and into the heart of the shabby chic at the commitment that is there whether we agree with it of not.

    Oh and remember if the shop assistant in anyshop is scowling, looking grumpy, or is a tad biting then just have a quick check of your own face and vocal tone as basic psychology is we reflect back, and its very easy to not realise we are looking sad, grumpy, unhappy etc ourselves (I know as I am that person, I have a serious face that my niece says looks scary! when i am in a hurry, on a mission or just thinking or not), of course it also could be they have a headache, have just been yelled at by the prior customer for something not their fault or are going through some sort of hardship! Shop assistants are just human beings too!

    Ok climbing off the orange box now – hope you will all forgive me at some point – feel free to flick orange peel at me!

  21. Hello,
    Thanks for linking this on my blog, it’s an interesting post, I would be interested to hear your opinion on Christian online bookshops such as Cross Rhythms which offer Christian music (in particular) at a discount price which I guess is almost certainly aimed at profit making.



  22. As someone who has been a mananger/assistant manager in both the secular and Christian world, who has run bookstalls at literary festivals and Christian conferences guess who wins the award for being the most rude and patronising customer? Yes the accolade goes to Christians. Because we do/don’t have the King James Bible, we do/don’t have JOyce Mayer. In one day I was condemned to hell for having Jeffrey John and Nicky Gumble on the shelves. And please don’t mention the church leaders who wanted 50 copies of a book for confirmations on the Sunday and came in on a Friday, or the person who wanted us to deliver books on Christmas DAY(which was a Sunday).

    Yes there are problems in Christian Bookshops. They are generally charities or small independent businesses supported by volunteers. They do not have the time or money to compete with Amazon or Waterstones. Yet most do a good job.

    Unlike your Waterstones, which is out to take your money, nearly every Christian bookshop I know is there for the community. Some have rooms that can be used for counselling, some have coffee bars, nearly all staff would take time to listen to someone who is upset.

    If you have a problem with your local Christian bookshop please don’t complain about it. The world is split between those who moan and those who act. Get involved with the bookshop and help make it the service you want it to be.

  23. Mark,

    For myself, well truthfully any site that can undercut the RRP on any item due to the extrinsically different and lower overheads to a bricks and mortar shop always has a somewhat unfair advantage – however come to that so do some large bricks & Mortar chains! I think that in many ways all this undercutting does in the final analysis is to devalue the goods and to begin to have a nasty effect on the original producer of the material – the authors and artists.
    Also where does it all end??

    As to whether these sites are doing it just to make a profit?
    Well really there’s the rub of it, because truthfully the profit does matter, the profit is what enables the shop/site etc to continue to function and trade and do its job, it matters to me as much as anyone – though I hope that it is not the driving factor but it does matter – and so I suppose that for Cross Rythms etc it could well be that the selling of the items is where it makes the money to continue its mission. (FYI I would have no problem saying for Amazon or any entirely secular business it is just all about the profit).

    Of course the true question is can it (or any other similar christian site) do this in a less sharp manner? is the constant undercutting of price really that necessary to ensure custom? or is it possible that they could maintain the rrp and instead trade on the goodwill engendered by their supporters and the education of the site readers to understand that by supporting them they are supporting the mission, the goals, the identity engendered – and most importantly the artists etc. Is this possible?
    I think it probably is.

    Despite what everyone says about the buying public (after all I am one of them too!) I believe that it is possible to educate and encourage customers, and to build community and in turn encourage loyalty without always having to ‘buy’ it and them by reducing the price on absolutely everything!
    (having said this I have to put my hands up and admit to the fact that in my general book section I do reduce the price on the top new titles to offer some small attraction as I have 2 Waterstones either side of me within less than 1 minute walk and a WHSmith as well – however this reduction is at the loss of my margin & I don’t get the sales to warrant the top or extra discounts they do to offset this anyway! oh and I do run a loyalty scheme,1 point for every £10 in a transaction and 10 points = £5.00 voucher – hmm feeling a little hypocritical here now, I guess maybe what i am ultimately trying to get at is a scale and ratio thing?! hey at least I am trying to be honest!)

    The supermarkets, a number of years ago, proved that price wars and constantly loss leading, undercutting etc did not really buy customer loyalty or sustainability, all it did really was ruin their reputations for a while and in turn highlighted to people the fact that they were being tricked on prices – the looser in this was the farmer and they are still loosing (I refer of course to the bread and milk saga’s), so ok they are still doing it to a degree – books, music, clothes and electricals being their new fad to compete on – no one said they had to learn from the experience!.

    However the truth of it, it seems to me, is that constantly undercutting on prices does nothing but encourage a form of greed! (yes I know – cheaper prices = greed! seems like a dichotomy but it isn’t!).
    The greed to get the most we can for the least we can, the avarice to want more for our money at all costs! This is not about fairness or paying a fair price – it is about wanting more for less, wanting more & more, well that is the defintion of greed.

    So I guess in this instance I am a little hypocritical – because I want more too! I want the best return I can get so I can support my family, my business, my community and the charities I tithe to – but what I don’t want is this at the cost of other people’s family, business, community and charity – that’s why I try to educate myself and my customers about giving, about supporting, about value, about service. That’s why I buy locally where I can, or fairtrade or from an ethical source if possible.

    There is nothing wrong with taking care of ones money, being frugal with it – but the question has to be is that really what we are doing a lot of the time, or are we really being greedy – looking for more, without consideration of the costs to others?? I guess this applies not only to the buyer but to the sellers too? Are they just looking for more – more money, more customers, more sales, more margin etc without consideration of the bigger picture? And if that organisation is a christian one then it does have a duty, a moral and biblical obligation to look at the bigger picture all around and to question it’s motives and actions and the result they have on others.

    So Mark in answer to your question, i think that Cross Rythms and the others out there selling stuff are probably just trying to do their job, I just wish they wouldn’t undercut everything as I have real concerns about the value of doing that.
    However whether it is just about making a profit – well i hope there is more to it than that and that it is more about serving a purpose than turning a buck, but on that one I cant say I definitely know which one it’s about but at the end of the day I have to be honest and say of course profit is a motive, it’s a motive to me as well – the point is about what the profit is being earned for, how its made and how its used and the effects this has on others.
    For me its all a ‘Prophet’ style justice thing in the end!

    Okay lecture over, stepping from behind the podium – feel free to through chalk now!

  24. Guys and Girls I have a problem with all the negartive that I am hearing about the good old Christian Bookshop. I believe that one of the reasons that they are not able to provide the non-‘browning paperbacks’ or the quality books that you are looking for is that people are buying elsewhere. While Amazon and the fat cats get bigger small independents or even large group sellers are loosing out. One day the Christian Bookshop will be more of a rarity on the High Street in the Cities and everyone will ask, ‘where have they gone?’ Fortunately I will not be one of the people who will say it’s because I didn’t support them.


  25. Thanks Peter: appreciate your support!

    To my way of thinking a Christian presence on the High Street — and in the back street! — is an essential part of our Christian service and mission. We need people to embrace and support Christian bookshops, not run us down.

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  28. I feel like Neo out of the Matrix. I have downloaded so much information about Christian bookshops over the past 14 months. All I have to offer is a fresh pair of eyes on the subject.

    One of the reasons, I feel why bookshops have dropped off the radar with individual Christian’s and Churches is the loss of any sense of vision for the mission.

    Instead of being a cutting edge pioneering work extending the kingdom of God in the towns and high streets they have drifted away from their mandate. What is needed is prayer powered, faith filled, Spirit led, relational based (local church leaders, suppliers etc), Christian run outlets for believer and unbeliever alike.

    We are going through a process of change that includes a time of real hardship (as many bookshops are around the country). The process of prayer, repentance and re-commissioning in vision/mission is vital for the not only survival but the thriving of Christian run centres.

    I love to watch the TV show Grand designs. You have an old dilapidated building (sometimes a ruin) and over time with a clear vision and a lot of hard work it is transformed into a property that dreams are made of. I believe God has still got grand designs for Christian bookshops in the UK. What is needed is clear God given vision and a lot of hard work to see that vision become a reality.

    It is a privilege to see God breathing new life into the old Victoria building in Shrewsbury. We have seen adding to the existing bookshop, a headquarters for Youth for Christ, the head office of CMA community money advice and we are in the process of developing a café and gardens. It is hoped that it will become a centre of Christian outreach and activity.

    These are truly challenging times for retail but we have a God who can deliver out of Egypt and with miracles and anointed leadership can lead us into the promise lands.


  29. Have spent an interesting half hour reading through this correspondence!.
    I purchased a small (I mean small 11’x15′) on the High Street of our small rural town.
    With little knowlege of the christian book trade – but a love of books and the potential to share the gospel seemed an
    irrestibly attractive proposition.
    Through the guidance and kindness of Faith Mission in Scotland who selected my initial stock, and help from christian friends – “Number 62” was opened in July 2003.
    It was opened on a “trial” basis – with the simple objective of having a witness on the High Street (Blairgowrie) and the proviso that there must be no debt burden.
    Other ladies,who share the same objectives have kindly come “on board” to ensure “Number 62” is open daily.
    I believe, through God’s grace and guidance
    the objectives are being fulfilled and give
    thanks for the privilege of being there.
    I would love to see more little shops of this character opened across our country, it is not a huge outlay financially, but just “another way” of being “salt and light”
    in our communities.

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