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…
- Former SPCK shops must remain Christian bookshops
- Jesus loves you, too bad about the messenger…
- Why shop at Amazon?
- Women are Moabites (apparently)
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 Today, How to Save the Christian Bookstore