Shack Attack 2 – and the web is where it’s at!

All of us bloggers already know that the web is where it’s at, of course: that’s why we’re here; but I confess that I found it rather satisfying to see that view independently confirmed in today’s Bookseller:

A recent study of 5,000 internet users by PR company Fleishman-Hillard suggests the internet has eight times the impact of traditional print media on the average consumer’s buying decisions. In the F-H Digital Influence Index, the web was rated as the most influential medium, with double the impact of second-placed television, while magazines and newspapers were at the bottom of the pile.

Hannah Davies, ‘Socially acceptable’, The Bookseller, No. 5350, 19 September 2008, p.26

I note in passing that the study involved “5,000 internet users” so it’s hardly surprising that the internet came out tops, but even so the rest of the article bears reading as an exploration of the ways in which publishers are responding to the online world with their marketing strategies. Earlier today Matt Wardman observed that “The main battle at the moment is to have bloggers taken seriously as commentators” — and here in the world of bookselling I’m happy to say that’s happening as more and more business leaders, big and small, begin to sit up, take notice and make strategic use of Web 2.0 opportunities such as facebook and the various blogging platforms.
The Shack
Back to The Shack, however: whatever its literary merits or theological uncertainties (and to my way of thinking uncertainty is a massive part of what theology — God talk — is about) one thing is clear: it’s taking our nation by storm. Today’s Top 50 chart and analysis (The Bookseller, pp.14-15) puts it at No. 49 (up from No. 80 last week, top of the Heatseekers chart) with last week’s sales logged by Nielsen BookScan at just over 5,000 copies, total sales just shy of 23,000.

The sad and frustrating thing, however, is that this is only part of the story: how many more copies have been — and are being — sold through the hundreds of Christian bookshops here in the UK that are not contributing data to Nielsen BookScan? The Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group (BA CBG) is the biggest of the BA’s specialist groups, representing some 10% of the BA’s overall membership — and the vast majority of that group are not contributing data. What is it with Christian booksellers that most of us, instead of leading the way, lag behind? Here we have a golden opportunity to help a Christian book climb to the top of the charts and instead of sharing our data we sit on it, keeping it to ourselves!

Yes, I’ve heard the excuses: if we share our data then the mainstream marketplace will have access to it and then Waterstones and W H Smith  and — horror of horrors — Asda and Tesco will begin to stock our lead titles. Well blow me down and knock me senseless, people: wake up, for God’s sake!! Stop being so pathetically precious about protecting our corner of the marketplace! Why did you go into this business in the first place? It wasn’t for the money and the profit margins, was it? It was out of a sense of mission: to get the good news about Jesus — yes, the Gospel, for heaven’s sake!! — out there on the high street.

That’s why we’re there: to share the good news. Part of that, surely, must be sharing our data to help get the good news out of our back street shops into the high street shops where people are going to find it. And if you happen to be one of the fortunate few whose Christian bookshop is in a prime location, you’ve got all the more reason to join in: because when Woollies across the road begin to sell your bestsellers you can ramp up your window displays and negotiate with your suppliers for better terms to keep yourself on a level playing field. Your message: we put it there!

Whatever your views of The Shack‘s theology and the answers it offers, this is something that all of us ought to be a part of, an opportunity to talk about that burning question of where God is in the midst of our nightmares and the atrocities of child abductions and murder: what kind of God is this we believe in?

Christian Marketplace, September 2008Finally, a challenge for Clem Jackson at Christian Marketplace: give us back the real charts, please, Clem. By all means run them alongside the Wesley Owen and St Andrew’s Bookshops charts — but please don’t pander to those who want to keep their data to themselves. Yes, Christian bookselling is a specialist marketplace; but let’s not pretend it’s happening in its own little world: let’s look at the big picture and rise to the challenge that Hodder and Windblown Media have set before us.