Responses to Damned by Danby: 2009 and the Death of Christian Retail UK — on the original post, privately and in the parallel discussion on facebook (where there are far more comments than here) — have been challenging and thought provoking: my thanks to all concerned and in particular to Michael Gibson who started the ball rolling on facebook with this observation:
1. On first reading I’m still not sure whether this is harsh or prophetic. I do think you’ve looked at Keith’s statements in a lot more depth than me!
2. IF… you are right then please don’t taint the entire STL organisation the same way. There are those within Carlisle particularly with a real heart for the UK retailers. We’ve discussed people like Michael Swan before and he isn’t the only one.
Today, I’d like to make it clear that I have no personal vendetta against Keith: Keith, I appreciate the complex nature of your role as Global Chief of such a massive organisation as IBS-STL/Biblica — I do not envy you the job!
Nor do I have an axe to grind with IBS-STL/Biblica or any of its staff. Everyone I’ve encountered in all the various divisions from Authentic Media and Paternoster through STL Distribution to Wesley Owen has always been unfailingly polite and helpful (I shall refrain, however, from commenting on the competence of the consultants who have been brought in during the last year or so to help with IT projects and branding, although I do wonder about the costs and what those who brought them in were thinking of).
Nonetheless I believe that questions need to be asked. Perhaps I am going about it in the wrong way: perhaps a public forum such as this is not the best place for these concerns to be aired; perhaps I should have approached someone at IBS-STL/Biblica privately. That I took this path, however, is one of the reasons why I’m a bookseller with a blog rather than a politician with a duck house and a parliamentary expenses account.
But let’s duck the duck houses and cut to the chase: when the Global Chief of an organisation the size of and with the influence of IBS-STL/Biblica (offices in 45 countries and 1650 staff, billing itself as “Europe’s leading supplier of English language Christian books, gifts, music, software and video products”) states publicly that he believes that the Christian retail trade in the UK will “never be viable”; when that statement comes on the back of a campaign promoting that organisation’s retail division, Wesley Owen, as “100% Charity” with its implicit suggestion that the rest of us are operating with some other less worthy motives; when that division is actively recruiting volunteers to run its stores; when we’ve already seen the disastrous results of SPCK deciding that its stores were no longer viable; when massive questions are being asked about Oxfam’s involvement in and impact upon the wider book trade; then alarm bells start to ring and it becomes difficult not to see a pattern emerging.
So on reflection, I think my questions for you, Keith, are best raised in public rather than behind closed doors:
- What are your intentions towards Wesley Owen, your own retail division here in the UK, and its staff, if you believe it will never be viable? Do you intend to capitalise on the company’s charitable status in a bid to operate on a par with Oxfam, running the enterprise entirely or principally with volunteers?
- If that is the future direction of Wesley Owen, what do you imagine the impact of this will be upon the wider Christian book trade?
- You’ve already expressed your view that the current economic downturn “may result in some Christian retail stores closing”. Does your unapologetic stance as a commercially savvy businessman (and I see no reason why any apology for that should be necessary, by the way) with a keen desire to run your “‘not for profit’ Christian charity in a businesslike way” leave room for concern at that outcome, for compassion for those whose livelihoods may well be wrecked as a result?
- If so, what action will IBS-STL/Biblica be taking to continue working in partnership with the rest of us — who have worked in partnership with you for so many years — to keep things, as you put it, equitable? Or do you simply see those closures as collateral damage, as “natural wastage”, to use the trendy, dehumanising parlance of today’s human resources managers?
Of course, I could be wrong. I could be misreading the signs. I could be misunderstanding you — and I very much hope that I am. I hope that I am reading you harshly rather than prophetically: if so, you have my sincerest apologies; but I hope that this clarifies my concerns and that you can see why I do not regard silence as an option.