Damned by Danby: Harsh or Prophetic?

Keith Danby - a global chief, part 2

Keith Danby - a global chief, part 2

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.

57 thoughts on “Damned by Danby: Harsh or Prophetic?

  1. Phil all I read into your comments are ..mischief, mischief, mischief, you are not the spokesman for this trade. Why don’t you instead of taking Danby apart be positive, and put your views forward as to the viability etc of Christian retailing, I think a lot of retailers and suppliers for that matter would be interested infinding the answers so let’s have them!.

    • Hey John – I’m not taking Keith apart, I’m asking him to clarify what he’s saying. He’s the one who said, “by and large, Christian retailing is never going to be viable in the UK.”

      I’m challenging that: how on earth do you construe that as mischief?? Sorry, mate, but you’ve got the wrong end of the stick entirely!

  2. John,

    Phil does not claim to be the spokesman for the trade but he does provide a forum for the trade and he certainly echoes the sentiments and thoughts of some of the trade.

    As a member of the trade he is allowed to put forward his opposition to someone else publicly going on record and decrying the survivability of the trade.

    He is allowed to put forward and raise the genuine fears and concerns of both himself and others in regards to this statement and the potential negative effect this could have on existing bookshops, both within Mr Danby’s organisation and those outside of it etc.

    As to Phil putting forward his views as to the viability of christian retailling – have you actually read any of this site and things Phil has said and done??

    Because if so then I am sure you will honestly admit Phil has more than done his share of putting forward positive idea’s and highlighting good practice – as have lots of others who have contributed here – and that forum alone I would say more than proves his positive credentials in this respect.

    But Phil is not the one negatively decrying the trade – that would be Mr Danby so perhaps you should actaully address your statements directly to him instead, or alternatively offer forward a differing reading of Mr Danby’s stated positions??

    Add to that John, can you explain why Phil or indeed any of those of us who consider the trade to still be viable and are actively involved in it in a still postitve way, would – given the insecurity and unrest arrising from what Mr Danby has said etc, and given the vast overwhelming resources and advantages at Mr Danby’s disposal – be willing to put forward more than has already been done for the benefit of all when as yet there are no assurances as to intent?

    That after all was the point of Phil’s articles and questions to Mr Danby.
    We are still awaiting a response and John, Please be assured that Phil is not the only with these concerns – though some feel that they cannot speak out in public for some very good and obvious reasons, therefore it is left to the likes of Phil, in a small way myself and a few others to do so.

  3. Well said Melanie…..and so say all of us!

    Well done Phil, I don’t consider your comments to be mischieviou at all – you are clearly articulating what the majority of us in the trade are thinking. Please keep asking the questions and keep up the good work.

  4. No phil, I don’t think I have got the wrong end of the stick reading between the lines is not difficult!

    • So what are you reading between the lines, John? You accuse me of mischief: if you’re going to make such accusations, please have the decency to say what you mean rather than drop vague hints.

      This blog is an open forum and your input is very welcome. Would you like to contribute a guest post, outlining your own vision for the future of Christian retail in the UK? Do you think Keith is right, that this trade of ours will never be viable? If so, what do you see as the way forward? If he’s wrong, then why do you perceive my challenging that as mischief making?

      Let’s have an open, honest conversation about what’s going on here, please.

      Thank you.

    • I wouldn’t say that I’m questioning Keith’s motives, Ally — I’m sure his motives are entirely missional. It’s more the direction of travel, and his latest missive does address some of those concerns, particularly re. his and IBS-STL/Biblica’s ongoing commitment to Christian retail.

  5. I think it is interesting that some people never feel the need to respond to the genuine questions posed for them but just keep repeating something – is this because they actaully have no answer to give, no refutation.

    It has been shown here, Phil, that you are not alone in your concerns – and yet John seems unable to put forward a cohesive or reasoned response as to where your error lies in what you have said.

    Kingsway is a distributor and retailer, but as far as I know – though I concede I may be very well be wrong – they do not actaully run any shops other than the online one? though they do supply most of our shops.

    Therefore they must have been impacted by the loss of the SPCK/SSG chain as were I expect most publishers and distributors, factor in this with the closure of other independents and even some WO over the last few years and this must make it seem quite distressing – therefore the fear that Mr Danby feels and projects echoes through to John as well, mix this in with the fear that Mr Danby might start closing some of his own stores – ones I assume have a high percentage of Kingsway turnover based on the average WO stock holding (indeed I am quite sure WO have long been Kingsways best UK trade customer base), and then I can quite easily imagine the consternation and conversations that follow.

    However John, may I point out that your view and position is certainly not that of the average christian retail manager/owner working in our bricks and mortar stores.

    Do we have concerns – you better believe we do!
    We already have Internet competition and publishers/distributors going straight to customers, we already have chains with untold advantages because they are trading on the Charity benefits they get from being a charity, we already have word of new significant para-church internet outreach developments and direct into church developments – So you know what when Mr Danby says he is negative about the viability of our trade and yet business minded enough to understandably put his business first, yes we worry about what that means for us – we also worry about what that means for our collegues working for him, and our collegues that have their own small independent shops.

    Do we apologise for calling Mr Danby or even yourself out on this – no.
    Should Phil be accused by you of Mischief with no justification from you – No.

    We are by and large mission minded folk and as such are a people called to call people out, to question the accepted authorities and practice – in point of fact we can even say we are biblically mandated to do so because you are our brethren and we fail if we don’t.

    So John, I am sorry but the simple truth is there is not mischief here but honest and prevailing concern, a concern you perhaps at heart might share, albeit with a different angle that leads you to make the statements you make in this manner.

    You talk of building up – can I ask what are you offering to put on the table?
    What are you looking for, what are your fears, initiatives and idea’s – share with us.

    I do not speak for the trade but I do know that some of us are still convinced of our place, yes we have doubts, fears and concerns in this troubling financial time but we are still here and most of us intend to stay here – some of us have committed all or much at great cost and despite prevailing odds.
    I know you have too, I know you had, and I hope have a heart for this market – and be sure when I speak of this market I do not solely mean the end user you can reach through going direct but I mean the actaul trade retailers, the bookshops and independents that you as a publisher/distributor sell to – and are not as negatively versed about it as Mr Danby.

    All we are asking for is the word of one christian to another that what is not at stake is the livelihoods of small independents and committed retailers to the juggernaut of a larger as it pursues it’s mission at all and any costs without regards to those who work for the same master.

    That’s not mischief – it’s anything but.

    Oh and as to the lines your reading behind – try the words on the page instead – cause when I read through the lines sometimes I really dont like what I see… – but then I remember that sometimes all I am seeing is the shadow of my own fear and guilt, or of course just the bleed through from the other side of the page!

  6. “we already have chains with untold advantages because they are trading on the Charity benefits they get from being a charity”

    On the other side of the equation, the charities also get a huge amount of free advertising and publicity on the back of the bookshops. It’s win-win for them.

  7. I’m sure that Keith does not need to be defended, least of all by me! He and John Pac probably have made a few mistakes in their time – which of us hasn’t? But they have both contributed hugely to this trade regardless of what some might be saying.

    From my perspective, I would say that Keith’s views have NOT changed over the years. He has always recognised that the viability of this trade hangs on something of a knife-edge. The reality is that Christian bookshops have often been only marginally viable and are run at great cost to their owners and staff, usually by some form of subsidy. In the case of STL the subsidy came from the wider group activity and from some of the larger stores.

    I have run two independents in the past and was also involved in the start up of Wesley Owen. Again, that chain came into being because Scripture Union and the Church of Scotland bookshops were running at a loss and quite a number would have closed had it not been for Keith’s vision and drive in getting involved to ensure that there was a future for at least some of those shops at risk. I happen to know – whatever we might think about this – that STL took the view that it was worth subsidising those shops on the high street because of their ministry value.The recent highlighting by STL of their charity activity is in my view overdue and is to be welcomed. Many of us got involved in STL because it was a Christian charity with a clear aim and vision.

    None of us should doubt just how tough life is at present, even for the larger companies. Shops have always had to be subsidised from somewhere and now that is fact applicable even to the larger stores. Phil’s shop at LST has the benefit of being run by and housed in the college and I’m sure that is a good thing for him. It’s the high level of rents that especially hurt if you are trying to operate on the High Street and these rents are often the achilles heel. Many do still try and we should, in my view, support their efforts.

    The last thing we need right now is to fall out among ourselves but to try to support the other wherever possible. We hve already lost the SPCK chain – a great loss in my view – and to potentially lose even more chain shops would be a tragedy.

    Perhaps each one of us who reads this blog should commit to pray for each of the people mentioned in all of the various posts as well as to express our views here.

    • Thanks Eddie. As far as I’m aware no one is denying either Keith’s or John’s contribution to the trade; and both you and Geoff Wallace over on the STL Blog are right in your call to prayer. We’re all in this together, we stand or fall together.

      As for my position at LST: LST, like very other organisation, has to pay its rates and electricity bills and all the rest of it. LST is fortunate in that it owns its own premises — as did SPCK in many places before they foolishly gave their freeholds away — so there is no rent to pay. Apart from that, however, my role as bookshop manager at LST is no more secure than anyone else’s; perhaps less secure in that my salary is taken out of the shop’s takings, and anything over salaries and operating expenses goes into LST’s general funds: there’s nothing left for me to invest in the shop’s future development, for advertising or anything else; and if the shop doesn’t generate enough sales to cover its running costs then there’s every possibility that I’ll be shown the door.

      You say that STL took the view that its shops were worth subsidising because of their ministry value: long may that continue; and I hope that LST will take the view that its shop is worth subsidising when push comes to shove; but as a specialist academic retailer my position is fragile because my range of stock does not generally appeal to the local churches.

      So let no one think that I speak from a secure position!

      Back to the main point however: there’s a world of difference between recognising “that the viability of this trade hangs on something of a knife-edge” and declaring that “it will never be viable” — and this I challenge.

  8. Phil,
    you ask what mischief I see:- here it is!
    1. I’m sure you knew full well that in taking the high ground on this issue and expecting Danby to engage you in debate this way on a blog simply wasn’t going to happen. I don’t believe for one minute that you expected Danby to respond, so why do this?
    2. Knowing that Keith would not respond simply turns this issue on your blog into a potential gossip column.
    3. If you really wanted answers Phil, if that was truly your goal, then you would have arranged a meeting with Danby and you could have taken him to task face to face.
    you suggest that we have some sort of ‘Gang Mentality’ that suggests a ‘you and an us’, I don’t believe in that I believe in partnership and that’s how I see the trade.

    You seem to be worried about STL or W/O taking the independents out.
    I know for a fact that on several occasions STL have restructured payments for Christian retailers, at times large retailers for that matter who simply could not meet their commitments, in order to save them from insolvency, that is not the action of a mercenary nor that of a giant wishing to own, control or otherwise the retail sector, seems to me in this type of situation STL has been a friend!
    Bricks and mortar Retail is under threat, and we’re all concerned about that, we cannot stop the rise of internet trading, we cannot stop the digital revolution, we try as best we can to create a level playing field but it’s not easy We do not want to see bookstores vanish THEY ARE OUR PARTNERS AND IMPORTANT PARTNERS AT THAT, I watch the bookstore in my own town struggle, I talk with its trustees trying to find answers and synergy. I also see many suppliers struggle, the difference between red and black ink for many is slim, and some suppliers are only able to ‘make it through’ with the help of their donor base.
    Yes we’re all of us here to serve the one Lord and the one Master, to resource serve and support the church I don’t doubt that. However what is happening within the retail sector affects Wesley Owen as it does the independent. What’s happened at supplier level has led to mergers, partnerships and strategic alliances as company’s pool resources and in order to share costs……….it’s not easy it really isn’t.
    You worry about what his analysis of his own situation means to the trade and for your colleagues who work for him, Melanie with great respect but I think they are more his colleagues than yours and he has a responsibility to a board. Seems to me Danby is an easy target, however he’s not responsible for the downturn in trade, he’s not responsible for lost footfall, the web, the digital revolution etc, are you suggesting that he should ignore what this means to the buying patterns of customers!…….I don’t think you are!
    Challenging him to an open debate on a blog site was never going to happen, as I said earlier, I suspect that Phil knew this from the moment he posed his questions…. and so why do it, as this blog becomes nothing better than a gossip column!
    If Phil genuinely wants answers then I suggest that Phil asks for a meeting with Danby at which he can face him eyeball to eyeball and ask the tough questions……..I’m sure Danby would willingly comply. However hiding behind the type is perhaps easier. As for reading between the lines well tell me how I should interpret the following..


    Is Danby also right in his denial of the trade’s ongoing viability? I think not. Yes, shops are struggling. Yes, shops have closed. Yes, people like the Brewer brothers have caused havoc and betrayed the trade.

    When, however, IBS-STL/Biblica’s Global Chief Executive not only questions the trade’s viability but publicly states that “by and large, Christian retailing is never going to be viable in the UK” then I personally begin to fear a much deeper betrayal in the making.

    I hope that I am wrong, but these words from an old Larry Norman song echo in my mind:

    I knew a girl, 
sweet as could be, 
but she fell for a man 
like a chain sawed tree.
 She listened to his lies, 
was fooled by his charms, 
now she’s sitting
with a baby in her arms’

    So Phil speaks about ‘the Brewer brothers’ and their betrayal, then suggest an even greater betrayal, who I wonder is the great betrayer………these are strong words, who I wonder is implicated as the liar through recalling the words of a song………………this is uncalled for stuff, Phil has created his own context from the article and added his own assumptions……if it’s not mischief then it’s very ill advised.

    I know only too well how tough this business is, I have been involved as an artist, a songwriter, a record producer a manager and a MD, there was a time when I lost everything I owned, property, savings, everything in the pursuit of what I believed I was called to do. More than most I understand the concerns and fears that are out their, I understand how livelihoods can be lost, I’ve been there and done it and lost it, yet as I look back it was my lack of business skill, my own stupidity, my own mistakes that were to blame, the ground shifts beneath us and we have to somehow figure out how to shift with it!
    This topic is not best served on a blog in an orchestrated attempt to what appears to be the haranguing of the CEO of STL, and I reiterate my suggestion to Phil…………………….You want answers then go eyeball him face to face!

    • Thanks John – appreciate your taking the time to respond at length. I’m disappointed that you’ve called me out in public but then said you’re not prepared to respond any further in public: that is, of course, your right, but the issues you’ve raised do, I think, require a response from me.

      First then: you are not the only person to suggest that expecting an online response from Keith Danby is unrealistic. That puzzles me: it’s evidently not, from your point of view, a question of time or of willingness to engage as you seem confident that he would be willing to meet me — although that seems far more surreal to me: I can’t afford the train fare to Carlisle let alone the time out from my shop, and I doubt that he’d be willing to visit me there (but if you are reading this, Keith, you’d be very welcome next time you’re in London).

      There’s a sad irony here: both you and Keith acknowledge that the way we do things is changing, must change; that the internet is where it’s at, that we must come to terms with the “digital revolution”. Blogs, facebook and twitter are all part of that, bringing the discussions that were once held behind closed doors and in private phone calls out into the public arena, enabling interaction between Bishops and laity, between CEOs and their customers and employees in ways that were unheard of a few years ago. Witness Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson with his blog, facebook and twitter. Yet you back away and suggest that I must know that Keith will never engage with me online!

      Sorry, John, but I don’t know that — and how could I possibly know that? Am I naive to imagine that someone in Keith’s position might engage with me, a mere bookseller? Why is that naive? I believe in a God who came down to earth and walked amongst us — now that is outrageous! Such a thing could never be! But that’s what we as Christians believe isn’t it?

      So no, John, I disagree. I neither know such a thing nor do I accept it as a de facto rule; and this blog is certainly not a gossip column and will not be used as one. If I wanted to run a gossip column I’d be working in the mainstream media, not here. Furthermore, the fact is that STL have entered the blogosphere and whilst Keith may not be up to speed with blogging himself, his latest missive posted by his blog team does respond quite specifically to my original question:

      What level of commitment, if any, do we now have from IBS-STL/Biblica to support and work with the UK Christian retail trade beyond their own interests?

      Keith states:

      I reaffirm my commitment to support the UK Christian trade both in the retail and supply sectors.

      Would he have included that sentence if I had not raised a challenge? We don’t know because he hasn’t directly acknowledged my questions — we’re back to reading between the lines.

      So back to the question of why I’ve chosen to raise my questions here rather than request a private meeting — please go back and read my original post above: read what I’ve written rather than attempt to find things hidden between the lines; and given what we now know of the frenetic schedule of meetings Keith has been involved with this week with auditors, bankers, senior colleagues and suppliers — do you still think he’d have found time for a personal meeting with me? As I said earlier: surreal.

      As for my Larry Norman quote and reference to the Brewers: these express genuine concerns and feelings. I’ve elaborated further in this second post — the original post you cite needs to be read in this context, where I’ve acknowledged and responded to the feedback on that post.

      You say that I’ve created my own context from Keith’s articles and added my own assumptions: isn’t that precisely what you’ve done, with your “reading between the lines” in my posts? Isn’t that what we all do whenever we read things? We each bring our own presuppositions to the text (that’s basic hermeneutics) and in this case I’ve laid mine out to say where I see what looks like a pattern emerging. Once again, I say that I hope I’m wrong.

      Finally: I’ve also sent my list of questions in to Christian Marketplace in the form of an open letter to Keith because yes, I do realise that Keith may feel more at home in dealing in print media. Clem has told me that he doesn’t have space for that letter in the forthcoming issue, but I remain hopeful that Keith and you and others in this trade of ours will begin to take on board the implications of your own words about the challenge of the internet and the need for change — and that includes the way we communicate with one another.

      Thank you.

    • Figured I should follow up on some of your other points, John.

      1. You refer to “hiding behind the type”. Sorry, but that’s not how I see it: far from being a hiding place, this a very public venue. If I wanted to hide, I’d post anonymously.

      2. Not sure what you mean by describing Danby as “an easy target” — I’m not target hunting, and my posts here are not “an orchestrated attempt” to harangue Keith. As I said at the beginning of my first post, I’ve been reading the reports about and interviews with Keith in Christian Marketplace with a growing sense of disquiet. My observations here emerge from that sense of disquiet.

      3. Whether or not Keith chooses to respond here is largely immaterial: the important point is that he’s aware of the questions; and he is, and he is responding, albeit obliquely, via his latest trade missive.

      4. Perhaps my citation of the Larry Norman song was OTT. If so, then I plead guilty to writing provocatively. My point is that most of us at the sharp end — the customer facing end — of Christian retail have become dependent upon STL as a major trading partner. We were badly let down in the run up to Christmas last year: the repercussions from a badly thought out and poorly implemented IT systems change are still being felt; and the best Keith has offered us is profuse apologies alongside the observation that in the current economic climate some shops may close. Do I really need to spell out that the damage done by STL’s failure may be just as significant a factor in those closures as the economic climate — the straw that broke the camel’s back? So for Keith to follow that up with a statement that the trade over which he personally has so much influence will never be viable feels like rubbing salt into the wound, and given the backdrop I’ve described above, can you really not see why it feels like a betrayal in the making?

      That is how you should interpret the section you quote; that is the context within which you should read it; and I reiterate: I hope that I am wrong.

  9. I will make no further responses I suggest if you wish to continue this dialogue Phil you call me!

  10. John,

    One thing – can I just clarify?
    Given your response (no. 11) is that no further response apply to anything I may have to say as well or is that just to Phil?
    Because to be honest I would have liked the right of reply to your response and would have been interested to hear your response to those replies.

  11. Melanie, I really do not think this is an appropriate venue. to discuss issues that generate so much dissent and division.I am really not happy with the way this blog is being manipulated.
    Please call me at my office anytime, I would be delighted to speak with you, send me your email address to my hotmail account and I will forward you my private number.
    pac55 AT hotmail.com

    • John, I’ve split your email address to help keep the spammers at bay. It won’t stop all of them but should help.

      No idea what you mean about this blog being “manipulated” – it is and remains an open forum. There is no manipulation and no hidden agenda – to understand what it’s all about please see the About page.

      My invitation to you to contribute a guest post remains open. To see how previous guest posts have been presented and responded to, please see the Guest Posts index and click through to any that interest you. I usually add a few words by way of introduction but that’s all.

  12. @john

    STL cannot expect to blog & print interviews like the one discussed with no reaction online. If they do, they sadly have failed to understand how people react to news in 2009.

    I appreciate that how you see the trade will be vastly different from how i see it.

    My view of it stretches right across retail, music, the artists, promotors and much more. I do not suggest a ‘them & us’ mentality lightly but sadly as a result of experience

  13. Eddie O,

    As to whether Mr Danby’s position has changed over the years I cannot say – I haven’t met him, so I only have his works and words to go on. These do raise concerns for some of us, and they do seem to have altered over time – though given his recent trade announcement the reason for this negative change in response may be more understandable, though personally I was unaware of any rumour of liquidation though the cash flow issue was known as he had referenced it himself in one of CM’s articles I think, or perhaps on the STL Blog at some point.

    Can I point out that we are all doing this because we are committed to our mission, and sorry but STL does not have a monopoly on that just because they are a charity and have a clearly defined mission statement.

    Can I also say that though the badging of ‘100% Charity’ is a new bold and brash initiative, WO & STL have never exactly hidden the charity bit under a bushel – in shop, online and in print it has always promoted it’s ties to OM mission endeavours & it’s charity based status, and since it’s merging with IBS this charity certainly had been advertised. I am not negating the value of charities and their work – but I think we need to be clear as to the reality of any situation and not be naive or disingenuous in our thinking and representation of these things. Especially in light of the recent Oxfam Bookshops issue. My concern is not just for me and other independents etc but is also for those that work in current WO stores, See my blog and sections of this blog for my issues with ‘100% Charity’ and potentially releasing paid staff for volunteers. The workman is worthy of his hire and should be recompensed accordingly.
    The advantages of this type of action, a charity that acts as a major retail business but using the full advantages of Charity reliefs, volunteers and customer/ public goodwill and perception engendered by the word ‘charity’ cannot necessarily be overlooked, especially when factored in against other potential issues raised previously in trade announcements, CM articles and just given the potential monopoly and advantage Biblica and its subsidiaries already have.

    You state ‘Shops have always had to be subsidised from somewhere’ – This is in fact wrong. Let me state clearly that as an independent I am exactly that – totally independent in as much as I am a Sole Trader – yes possibly a rarer breed these days with absolutely no back-up whatsoever from any trustee’s, group or charity.
    It stands and falls with me, the funds to find and debts to pay utterly mine alone – so believe me when I say that the idea that I have a support platform is unfortunately just not there, I rely solely on my customers to purchase things from me, I rely solely on me to market and publicise my services to them through the local community, through the internet and other mediums available to me – so yes sorry, but unapologetically I am concerned.

    Chain and independent can work side by side – I have ample proof of this having lived it for a number of years – but trust, negotiation and implicit agreement and understanding is needed.

    I come to this as an independent wanting to work with others, but I would like an assurance that is what we are talking about – working with each other and not against each other! I want us to be christian about this, building up yes, not knocking down – I think I have made this quite clear, And Eddie yes, you are right to say support the shops and it would be a shame to lose another chain – it would be just as much a shame to lose the independents and non-chain shops too and all I think anyone is looking for is a definite statement that when the trade is talked about and UK retail is talked about it necessarily includes all of us and that this saving of the chain is not at the expense of the non-chain or other chain businesses. Thats all I want.

    Please be assured Eddie that my prayers are with all in this trade and all in these blog posts and all facing uncertain and worrying times.

  14. I normally don’t bother posting comments very often, because I am a lazy surfer, and often forget to check if anyone has responded to me but occasionally I will be moved enough to make a comment. If you do respond my comment, I will apologise in advance if I don’t respond back in a timely manner…you may need to wait till a) I remember to check for replies or b) for Melanie to shout at me!

    I am coming at this post from an outside perspective, yes to a degree I work in the Christian book trade (I am the sister of Melanie and work side by side with her in her shop, but I work on the non-Christian fiction side of the store, but I still have a day to day dealing with the growing Yes I did say GROWING Christian trade in our store).

    What I see here is a genuine concern for a large organisation that has the potential to become a monopoly. Whether it is Christian or charity matters not one whit to the practicalities of business, except in the edge you can gain from it with marketing or financial breaks…and lets face the facts here it is a business…we are all in it to make a profit, where that end profit goes and what its end uses are immaterial from a business standpoint.

    It is clear to me as a semi outsider that there is rightly a genuine concern that someone with such a huge impact on EVERYONE in the Christian book trade is stating that it is not viable. If he feels its not viable then the question does beg to be asked why then as a business will it continue to trade and offer support to a non viable element? It wont, it will look at its bottom line and cut its losses…just as SPCK did. Just as John may have done when his business failed to be viable. (yep reading between the lines there).

    As to this not being the appropriate venue, why? Because it calls for public accountability? Because it opens up a public debate? Or because it fails to allow behind door deals and discussions, that exclude the few who are too small to be counted? Lets not forget David, the small do matter and they do have a voice…and I thank God for his invention of the internet and the redistribution of power it has allowed. Lets move forward with it…be that blog’s, twitter, or face book ,

    I will end on one final comment on a big pet peeve I have with commentators, and why I often don’t post…don’t post and run, don’t comment then hide behind I don’t think this is an appropriate venue…if you felt that way why did you post in the first place?

  15. John,

    let me start by stating that I have made it quite clear that I understand the business case and mission at the heart of each person involved here – I have also made quite clear my concerns are based upon what has been said and have simply asked for clarification in an open forum – I see no difference between asking for that here or on Christian Marketplace’s letters page – the only difference is that here I am assured of an airing of my letter which I am not with Christian Marketplace and thats fair enough and as to be expected with any print medium. A simple press release and/or statement is not a dialogue and is perfectly possible just as it would be with CM etc.

    You reference to STL making repayment structuring to Christian Retailers – well isn’t that only right and fair given that’s what they are asking their own suppliers to do in a similiar type scenario? – isn’t that only what they are called to do as a Christian organisation? and actaully its what I have had to do with my own account customers as well – Why? it’s partly due to caritas but also because it’s just sensible and sound business to do so as it means they may remain my customer for a longer time, I stand a better chance of getting my money from them, and it’s a lot less costly than taking them to court or getting in debt collectors! – and certainly with regards to STL this holds true too, perhaps even more so, especially with larger retailers and a considerably larger debt. So were they being the friend or just sound business people? – and I have never doubted the business acumen of Biblica and its subsidiary holdings, you don’t get to be that big without being savvy indeed and I can respect that as a business person. Let me be clear here – I do not negate this act, nor do I mock them for it – I do commend them for it – I’m just realistic about it.

    John this is the good thing with airing something like this in a public forum – the good can be highlighted because otherwise how do we know these things are done if we are not witness or participants to it??

    ‘Bricks and mortar Retail is under threat, and we’re all concerned about that, we cannot stop the rise of internet trading, we cannot stop the digital revolution’ Let me point out to you – I don’t want to stop the internet and digital revolution – I was SPCK Bookshops Internet Manager! I am an ebook reader! (yes blasphemy I know – but to be fair ebooks I read – books I keep!) I love the internet, I use the internet as a tool, I work for Internet based not-for-profits doing internet based things in my much limited free time!

    Yes I bemoan the unfairness sometimes and do call for honesty and integrity in trading! I beleive in fair trade on all levels! I will never stop doing that!
    Please go read some of the posts I have done on this blog to see my position and you will find I don’t blame the internet for the problems. I use the internet a lot to help, sustain and promote my business.
    Sure I get annoyed by customers that come in, look at my books etc and then tell me they are getting it off the internet where they can get it cheaper, I’m human. If there really is a level playing field then I am fine – if there are inbalances then of course I am going to point this out.

    Can I say thank you for appreciating bookshops are your partners and your statement you do not want them to close – that is appreciated as we don’t want to close – any of us. Thats kind of the issue and concern that has led us here.

    As to the red and black ink – suppliers and bookshops both. In relation to Donors – see my point to Eddie about being a sole trader. I can and do appreciate the problems, fears and concerns in a very real way, some of my best friends are in christian publishing.

    As to ‘mergers, alliances and stategic partnerships’, thats great – unless what you are doing is building a monopoly or working to the deliberate disadvantage of some in the trade for others, or are doing it behind closed doors without transparency then its questionable at best and at worst just wrong in a whole set of ways that you don’t need me to point out.

    As to it effecting WO – I have ackowledged this previously and I have made it more than clear that my concern is not just for independents etc but is also for those employed by WO stores, And yes John many of these are my colleagues and have been my colleagues for a long time now- a colleague is a fellow member of a profession or an associate and not being their employer or currently working for the same employer does not negate or improve that fact

    I appreciate Mr Danby’s position and his having a board to answer to – I asked for an undertaking from Mr Danby’s Board – I am quite aware of the ramifications of having a board to answer to – I am a Director on a Board myself currently, and have been involved with a number of not for profit and charitable groups as well. That in part helps formulate my grounds for concern.

    You said: ‘Seems to me Danby is an easy target, however he’s not responsible for the downturn in trade, he’s not responsible for lost footfall, the web, the digital revolution etc, are you suggesting that he should ignore what this means to the buying patterns of customers!…….I don’t think you are!’

    Have I blamed Mr Danby for the customer footfall, the web or digital revolution because I am sure I haven’t – my christian business is holding thanks, and I know of others in this trade who are reporting an increase.
    Do I hold him and Biblica’s Board to account if his/their business, be it charity or not, is potentially using or going to use its monopoly and advantage to make such an impact on the trade of mine, other independents, other chains or other internet shops in such a way as to knowingly and willfully cause them detriment and downfall – then yes John,Sorry I do.

    I have an issue with us using the word Christian to represent ourselves if we do not act in accord with the ethos, and that comes with a heavy cost to myself and to others. we cannot use the excuse of mission if we are undermining others involved in that mission, even if they are not working that mission from the same angle as we are. If we act knowingly to the damage and detriment of others we cannot justify that we are Christian- large business based charity organisations included if they want to call themselves Christian. Otherwise just admit to being of the world and drop the pretense. Just say you are a business and leave it at that.

    Let me say that I have not challenged Mr Danby for a debate at any point but I have asked for a statement, clear, simple, cut and dried.

    Theres no gossip – there’s no ‘idle talk’ going on here, no discussion of private or personal affairs. Truth is John whether you like Phil’s take on the situation or not this was already public domain – the words are public record and the fears are not just those of the one asking the question as has been demonstrated by the ones that feel able to speak out.

    Reading between the lines – I refer you back to my previous statements on reading between the lines in the last post – they hold true here for you, for me and yes for Phil too. .

    I appreciate you have done much and lost much and that you feel it was due to your lack of acumen and failure to adapt to changing situations. I too have done much and lost much though admittedly in ways different to yourself, but like you I have gained more and I am able to look with foresight to the issues and problems both at hand and ahead and deal with them, thats what this is about – not allowing myself to ignore the shifting ground but to react to it and try to figure it out in advance of the yawing chasm opening up under me and swallowing me whole. To ignore these warning signs would be a mistake – one I am not willing to make and so yes I do ask the questions and ask for the answers and no I do not apologise for doing it here.

  16. In response to Melanie I would say that if you want to send a Letter to the Editor then I will publish it – as long as it is not salacious or libelous. I have persistently asked for letters from retailers and others in the trade but there does seem to be a level of apathy with regard to providing feedback or comment. Oh and by the way I will accept compliments where they are offered.
    As to this stream – isn’t it about time we all stopped having a go at each other? After all there are enough ‘enemies’ out there without us giving them even more ammunition.

    If your business is gromwing that is fantastic but many aren’t and do need additional funding to keep their ministry going.

    • Clem,

      Thanks for saying you would print a letter, I guess the big problem is, as we ourselves have previously talked about, the speed things move at these days.
      Once the issue is raised people generally want to discuss it then and there because as with everything other things come along that move what was todays big news down the line.
      Life has a habit of getting in the way and time passes quickly :0)

      Christian Marketplace (CM) does a grand job keeping us informed on a larger scale and reaching a wider audience than blogs, facebooks etc generally can or do. It also covers a wider sphere than most blogs do, keeping us up to date with the Bookshop & Trade equivalents of hatches, matches and despatches, and generally sharing important group news.

      After all, Clem, this discussion wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for CM doing it’s job in the first place – So yep praise is given for CM and the job you do.
      I don’t think I actaully inferred anything else – you well know the respect I hold for you and CM.

      If you’re ever short of comment then feel free to give me a knock, I can usually find something to make mention of – and sometimes it’s even positive ;0)

      As to retailers being apathetic – I don’t think it’s that so much as generally there’s not much we are heated about and most letters are traditionally written when someone disagree’s with something as a rule of thumb.
      I think also that most often we do generally tend to go direct to reps/publishers/suppliers ourselves and then don’t tend to see the point of reiterating it unless we don’t get a response etc.
      Though again I could be wrong and it might be apathy, but I don’t think it is.

      Clem I didn’t knock any shop that needed funding – I merely pointed out that it is wrong to say that they all need subsidising, and the truth is should those that need subsidising warrant more support than those that don’t, or alternatively haven’t got recourse to those subsidies?

      Aren’t they all doing the same mission, albeit in slightly different ways, and therefore are as important as each other and worthy of the same support and safeguards.

      As to Brewers and SPCK shops – no one denies that SPCK was losing money. STL pulled out at the 11th hour of negotions which I guess was due to financial issues, this in turn led to the Brewer’s and the demise of that chain.

      Sometimes running a large chain is not the most cost effective way to do things, that’s not an insult its just a basic economic fact.

      However a lot of those shops would have been viable once the HO and Central Costs were removed from the scenario.
      If christian retailing wasn’t viable then the few of us that have stepped in wouldn’t have – Norwich, Leicester, Lincoln, Cardiff, Truro etc. Some of these work with subsidies and a few don’t.
      If this trade wasn’t viable then why did St Pauls move into York with the demise of SPCK etc?
      This was quite a large shop to open in a non-viable trade and they opened other smaller satellites as well if I remember correctly.
      Yes, they probably work with a subsidy, I don’t know I haven’t asked, but one thing to be said about Stephen and St Paul’s is they are nothing if not keen business people.

      By the way I’m not ‘having a go’ at anyone – I am putting forward a case and clarifying some points.

      • Melanie, I understand more than most the frustrations of immediacy especially when trying to run ‘news’ stories in a monthly magazine. But it does give me the time to reflect rather firing missiles off – which can happen on blogs and the like.
        However, not everyone in the Christian retailing industry actually reads this blog and, whilst we don’t reach everyone in the UK, Christian Marketplace does reach most independent retailers and try to keep them informed. I have been known on more than one occasion to direct people from the magazine to this blog for updates too.
        So that’s why Letters to the Editor are important – for those who don’t ‘do’ blogs. Next time anyone reading this blog thinks they have an important contribution to make then as well as posting a blog why not email me too at clem.jackson@premier.org.uk Apart from that it would be nice to know occasionally what readers think – so thank you for your encouragment above, it is appreciated.

        • Ermm Clem,
          Thats exactly what I said , – well except for the email bit and invite to post to you as well as blogging it. You could well regret that one! ;0)

      • Melanie – just to clarify (as you mentioned Cardiff) – we have (I believe) 4 shops and nearby Newport 1. As one of the Cardiff shops, we remain independent and have smaller subsidiaries in Gloucester and Norwich.

  17. One further comment on the viability issue … Let’s not forget that the whole sorry episode of the Brewer’s was brought about because the second largest chain of Christian bookshops in the UK was losing SPCK £6,000,000 in it’s final year. I can’t see that as a viasble proposition – can you!

    • From


      ….stock-turn to help you keep within your cash-flow projections. … STL Distribution is pleased to offer Synergi – a software package to enable you to run improved stock management. … Instead of running a separate cash-register and a computer you only need … Copyright© IBS-STL U.K. | Comments to info@stl.org.

      Maybe Mr Danby could have a look at this and see if it helps!!

  18. I have been following this thread over the last few days with interest.

    Phil – thanks for your comments on the Christian book trade. It helps us newbies to understand a little of whats going on and how it will impact the trade. It is good to keep those in authority on their toes!

    John – thank you for challenging Phil. Those who comment also need to be kept accountable.

    There is only 1 who enjoys division in the Kingdom, so its good to discuss but stay loving and gracious.

    I am feeling a huge call to pray for the Christian trade in this country. What do people think of an organised day where we encourage all in the trade to take an hour out to pray – maybe even gather with others to do it?

    • Joy,

      I would certainly be up for a trade day of prayer, or group prayer meet.

      I think BRF or one of the others used to arrange a booksellers day/weekend at one point.

      Great idea.

  19. Joy

    this is a great idea
    We tend to get so caught up in the things we think we should do or could to to help & prayer often gets relegated out of sight

    thanks for reminding us & suggesting this

  20. I tremble to enter into these seething waters, but can I begin by saying that I totally agree with everything that everyone has said, and think you are all very nice people…..now, are you all sitting comfortably?!

    Maybe I am missing something, but it does seem to me that the purpose of a ‘blog’ is to have that immediate sense of debate and interchange of ideas. I appreciate Clem’s frustration that no-one writes letters to CM, but the point was made earlier about the immediacy of the ‘blog’ has now all but superceded letters. Interesting to see how many papers now include a ‘blogosphere excerpts’ as a NEWS item- maybe those of us who contribute here should expect our comments to be filtered (nicely) by Clem and appear in CM- maybe that would encourage more debate!

    Again, maybe I am missing something, but just because Christians happen to disagree on issues or actions (in church or business) does not mean the end of the world (otherwise it would have ended in about AD 34!). Christ does not call us to mushy homogenity, like some awful lukewarm plate of mashed potato. We should rejoice in our our diversity and be able to engage in robust debate. What does cause serious issues is where people aim to give offence, or then take needless offence (read John Bevere’s ‘The Bait of Satan’). And it can be picked up by body language, spoken words- and, yes, by the written word as well. So if no offence was intended by the writer, then the responder should not take offence either!!

    Is it permissable to be provocative in our writings? Absolutely! Ever read the prophets? Have you ever pictured our Lord in the Temple? Now, the point I am making is not to equate our Webmaster with either Prophet or Messiah (sorry to disappoint you, Phil!)- but simply to say writing is a (unique?) art that still has the power to ask sustained pointed questions and provoke needed thought and reflection in the hearer. That reflection may not result in agreement with all that is said- but the process of consideration is crucial, particularly as we face such serious situations as we currently do.

    On whether Keith Danby could or should respond to these comments, I think this is probably a red herring. I thoroughly respect his efforts to be ‘inclusive’ of the whole trade, in the midst of what are obviously significant difficulties for the IBS-STL Group. Of course Keith is the figurehead, and the focus for this current whirlpool. That comes with the territory- and that is said with great sympathy. But, when something goes wrong in my little shop, I take the rap and am publicly accountable. And my actions would be subject to public scrutiny. Just because I am unable to personally respond does not mean that questions cannot be asked. And I think all the contributors on this blog can make the distinction between asking hard questions about the way forward- and cruelly making a scapegoat to blame for a ‘Perfect Storm’ that has borne down on our trade over the past few years. (By the way, I have had personal experience of Keith phoning me to discuss concerns I had raised, so maybe Phil wasn’t just ‘flying a kite’ when he asked those questions!)

    I have never had any sense that I have been ‘manipulated’ in this blog, and have always felt it to be a safe place to engage in discussions- and disagreements at times. Perhaps it does tends to be the vocal (or people who don’t have enough to do late at night….) that contribute- but doesn’t mean their concerns or comments are any less valid.

    I certainly have serious concerns about the ‘100% Charity’ that recently appeared on the WO/STL websites. If I had been advising our friends, I would have told to steer clear by a mile! It is so obviously untrue and unjustifiable that it is laughable. What does it mean? 100% of the money you spend here will go to charity? Not likely! 100% of our money comes from charity? Don’t make me laugh! 100% of the staff here work free? Then they shouldn’t be! When I arrived at GLO, we went through a process of ‘lifting the charity’ profile- but what we added to POS & websites etc was far more believable & credible. Note to Marketing Dept at IBS-STL (don’t get me started on the subject of Biblica!)- make the change now and get rid of the ‘100% Charity’ tag line- it’s looking like a very bad joke now…..

    On the knife edge of STL cash flow, I have to say I am saddened, but not surprised. Our own experience of the SAP debacle indicated that financial management was becoming an issue in the struggle to get customer service back on stream again. Queried invoices lying for months unchased, requested credits given with very little checking. Stock arriving at the Warehouse that clearly wasn’t being turned into either our cash or their cash quickly enough. And this is where I certainly agree that STL protected their (independent) customers at times to the detriment of their own profitability- so I’m grateful for this, and hope that this generosity is returned by the various suppliers & creditors that they are currently meeting with. But I also accept that large organisations need to protect their own interests, and so I do (like Phil) look on the situation with some trepidation, knowing that, WITH THE BEST OF INTENTIONS, STL may be forced to cut some of ‘us independents’ adrift. And those discussions may be going on just now. I don’t feel betrayed- but I am feeling very uncomfortable, and, yes, I am thinking of sending a nice bunch of flowers to those lovely friendly people at CLC, just in case…..

    On our personal knife edge between the black and red, we express thanks to God that we continue to meet all our costs and make a significant contribution to the overall ministry- at this point, significantly UP on last year. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We are expecting our staff to do more functions with fewer hours and deal with a far more diverse and fragmented market. So full marks to them for their persistence and cheerful hard work. But it is far more difficult to make a ‘High Street’ store work, and this is where I do agree that the ‘High Street’ Christian trade will probably never be commercially viable. But there is no shame in that. Most chains have ‘flagship’ stores that don’t make money, but are sustained for ‘prestige’ purposes. As a trade, we maybe need to accept that there will be shops that we need to maintain for missional purposes- and(perhaps)the only organisation with the financial clout to do that is our friends at IBS-STL. So I do hope that WO is not forced by financial issues to retreat into a few leafy cathedral towns (as has been starting to happen recently) but rather continues to keep the missional focus of a window on the secular High Street. And I, for one, will do whatever I reasonably can, to help them continue in this work.

    And, yes, I would certainly agree with that ‘Call for Prayer’. To my shame, I have to admit that I have allowed our ‘Shop Prayer Time’ on a Thursday morning to vanish in a welter of reduced hours, erratic days off and general ‘busyness’. So let’s get back to praying for our profitability, our communities and our mission- and our major suppliers. Anyone got a diary handy to suggest a date?

    • Thanks Andrew
      We have just taken over a Christian Bookshop in a market town as a witness to our community and to extend the outreach of the church. As someone new to the Christian market place we are saddened by the events over the past 12 months and how Christian Book shops have closed (SPCK and others. The recent news from STL is a real concern and obviously means there is a deeper problem with the current viability of their operation.
      A day of prayer would be great to focus our attention back onto the LORD

      • John, hi there, and congratulations on taking this step of faith! Which town are you in?

        I think it’s important to say that I do think it is possible for Christian Bookshops to be viable, but that has to be looked at within a ‘missional’ framework- ie. none of us are going to retiring to the Bahamas on index-linked pensions any time soon! But we can work together to ‘make ends meet’, to be salt & light in our communities and resource the witness of local churches. So be encouraged. And as we pray for those working through the issues at STL, we should also give thanks for all that they have done in the past for the wider trade!

    • Hi Phil, Andrew

      Just got round to reading this via a post you (Phil) made on the @wowalsall Twitter feed.

      First and formost, thanks for pointing me in this directon, interesting reading.

      With regards to the “silly “100% Charity” branding”, I have decided to weigh in with my two cents.

      Let me start by saying this is my own opinion, not necersarrily thay of Wesley Owen or Biblica, hense the reason I am replying as me, not @wowalsall (who I tweet for)

      There are probably a few things which need addressing here. The first is the effectiveness of the 100% charity brand, and the second of whether it is fair or misleading.

      As to the first, when not at WO, I am in fact a budding, if not successful, graphic designer. I actially think both the 100% charity brand, and the Biblica brand coming online soon, are both strong.

      For most, Wesley Owen means very little, and IBS-STL even less. The 100% charity thing has, in my experience, caught the attention of our shoppers, many of whom were unaware that we were not merely another “for profit” book shop, and so is, in that regard, successful. As far as Biblica goes, well, whatever you think of it, it says far more as a brand, about what we do than IBS-STL could ever hope to.

      Biblica, evokes images of BIBLes and books in general (BIBLeography, etc) which is pretty strong I think. Perfect? No, But better than IBS-STL (which was starting to stick, and would have been even tougher to change if they had waited for a “Perfect” brand) Undoubtedly.

      As far as the concerns about how accurate or unfair it is to say we are 100% charity, I feel the need to address some of Andrew Lacey’s concerns directly.

      It is so obviously untrue and unjustifiable that it is laughable. What does it mean? 100% of the money you spend here will go to charity? Not likely! 100% of our money comes from charity? Don’t make me laugh! 100% of the staff here work free? Then they shouldn’t be!

      So what does 100% charity mean. Does it mean that 100% of the money you spend goes to charity? No, and it shouldn’t have to mean that. Even “Charity Shops” wouldn’t make such a claim. They all have overhead costs (Buildings, lighting, maintenance, promotion, staff) yet no-one would question someone like Oxfam or British Heart foundation claiming to be 100% charity. Infact, no one i have spoken to took it to mean anything like that.

      Does it then mean that 100% of the money comes from charity? Again, no. When i asked customers and non-customers alike what they thought 100% charity would mean, not a single one of them suggested such a thing. Although IBS has a history of being funded by charitable donations (One STL doesn’t share) and certainly since the merger some of our money does come from these sources, I don’t think anyone expects it to mean that either.

      Could it, perhaps mean that our staff work for free? No, and no charity is expected to work under such circumstances. British charity law allows, and in some cases, requires, its staff to be paid. For example, even a charity staffed 100% by volunteers, if defending itself in a legal case, for example, would be expected to “employ” a legal team, who are paid, or that they would not pay an accountant for example.

      Therefor, what does it mean when someone like Wesley Owen Claims to be 100% Charity?

      As I understand it, it is something like this.

      1. Wesley Owen Is registered as a charity. They do not have shareholders and do not exist to turn a profit for these shareholders. If they ever were to turn a profit, that money would be invested into the work of the charity, or other external charities.

      2. They are part of a larger charity (IBS-STL/Biblica) who also exist and opporate under the same parameters.

      3. 100% of the GROSS profit, goes into supporting the mission of these charities. This includes maintaining a presence on the high street. To do this, the charity chooses to spend some of its money paying staff (as many charities do) renting/buying buildings (as most charities do) and buying stock. These do not contradict the mission of this, or any, charity.

      4. 100% of the NET Profit (after expenses) should one ever be made, would be invested into the other charitable activities of IBS-STL including translating the bible into indigenous languages, or distributing christian literature to all corners of the globe, NOT Lining the pockets of shareholders/investors.

      5. Wesley Owen, through both donations from its customers, and the company itself, choose to use some of the money we make to also support external charities (in recent years, these have included Dalit freedom Network and Compassion), over and above it’s own mission and charitable work.

      We have chosen to brand ourselves as 100% Charity, to distinguish ourselves from a slew of multi-billion dollar corporations who are owned by “Charitable Foundations” or “Not-For-Profit” corporations to bolster their image, hide the fact that they are making impossible amounts of money for their shareholders, and to simply avoid corporate taxes in some countries.

      Did you know, for example, IKEA (my previous employer, who on their 21st birthday made over £10 Million in a single day) is actually a charity???

      Not in the way you or I understand it, they make huge amounts of cash for Ingvar Kamprad, his family and it’s investors. However, to avoid certain taxes, they are “owned” by a Dutch Charitable Foundation.

      Is 100% Charity Perfect? Probably not, is any brand? No!

      Would it maybe have been better to say something like “Charity through and through” or “Charity owned and operated”? Maybe.

      However, Is it misleading or inaccurate? Not really, at least, not in the eyes of anyone i have spoken to about it.

      Many of our customers viewed us as “Big Business” christian retailers. They thought we made tons of profit for outside interests, and we needed to make sure they knew that this wasn’t the case. And Really, i think this has been pretty successful in doing that.

      • Luke, thank you for your full reply. I do appreciate that. And I also appreciate that it is not often possible to arrive at a ‘perfect’ name that covers everything that ‘you’ want to say. There is always a balance, and it’s very difficult to get right. We have looked at our own ‘GLO Bookshop’ several times, and always come to the view that, on balance, the name the customers know is better than the name they don’t. So I don’t personally like Biblica, but understand that a decision needed to be made.

        The more serious issue (in my view) is the ‘100% Charity’ tag-line. As noted, I fully understand the desire to ‘lift the profile’ of the charitable status- we felt the same need at GLO. And I understand some of the reasoning you outline. But I think you ‘hit the nail on the head’ when you mention at the end of your piece-

        ‘Would it maybe have been better to say something like “Charity through and through” or “Charity owned and operated”? Maybe.’

        Because, if so, why wasn’t that done? In one of BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’ episodes, Sir Alan Sugar promptly demolished one of the ‘teams’ for precisely this reason- making a quantitative ‘Charity’ promise on a product that could not possibly be kept. And Sir Alan pointed out (in his own inimitable fashion) that people understand ‘general’ statements- but that adding specific figures only creates a potentially dangerous commitment to whatever figure has been plucked from the air.

        So I do think ‘100% Charity’ is a mistaken marketing strategy. But here is the more serious point.

        We indicate on our website that ‘GLO is a registered Scottish charity (Charity No SC007355) and all puchases in the Bookshop & Coffee Shop make a contribution to continuing our work. Surplus income from the Bookshop (currently around 8p in every pound spent) provides funds for world mission, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to many people of the world.’

        And I suspect that is probably how most people would (in reality) view the way a charity works. As you say, Luke, people expect expenses, cost of sales, wages etc to be paid. I certainly look fairly carefully at the ‘Central Admin Costs’ of the charities I get information from (which is one reason why I am such a big fan of TEAR Fund!). And I think Christians (perhaps more than most) are pretty clued-up on these areas, and can separate out the COSTS of running the charity from the CONTRIBUTION that the charity makes to it’s wider work.

        So, on the basis outlined above, that makes us about EIGHT per cent Charity! So which would you rather support- the GLO Bookshop at 8% Charity, or Wesley Owen at 100% Charity?

        I realise this is a fairly facetious argument- I don’t think for a minute that customers trawl websites & make decisions in this way. But I think the principle for the trade is important. I don’t think it’s been done consciously, but the fact remains that the ‘marketeers’ at WO appear to have sought to ‘gain a commercial advantage’ on the other bookshops in the UK who, in all honesty, would never think of claiming this moral high ground. And I think this concern has already been reflected in this ‘blog’ over recent months.

        So I would have avoided ‘100% Charity’ like the plague. I do think it sends out a strong message to consumers, but it is one that cannot reasonably be justified. And that is a dangerous road to go down. It also seems as if other ‘Charity Bookshops’ (who would never think of making such a claim) are being put down.

        Forgive me for being direct on this. In reality, it is none of my business. But I am far more comfortable with the way we approached the same issue. The outcome sounds much less dramatic- but, in the long run, I think it is a more appropriate way of expressing the way we seek to do business.

      • Hi Luke,
        Interesting post and though I understand and appreciate the points you are making I would like to pick up on a few of the points you have made.

        Are you 100% more charity than GlO? No,
        Are you 100% more charity than Oxfam? No
        – therefore the 100% Charity label is in effect misguided at best.

        You yourself pick up and promote the inference that WO are ‘more’ charitable than other ‘types’ of charities – this is the problem with such a branding.
        Indeed it will be perfectly acceptable for all registered UK Charities to go around making use of the 100% Charity branding that WO are using based on the hypothesis that they are just as much 100% Charity as WO – and yet they don’t do that for the very good reasons Andrew pointed out.
        Indeed in truth any UK Charity can make such a claim because in the UK to be registered as a Charity there are a strict set of guidelines that should be adhered to and so holding up foreign groups like IKEA or others is rather a moot point when we are talking about UK Charities only.
        This is partly where the problem of misleading comes in.

        I now move onto the issue on unfair.
        You believe your customers to understand the concept of 100% Charity and yet one wonders how many really do on all the levels necessary to not make it unfair?

        Yes I agree the branding highlights that the shop is a charitable endeavour, but that is where the problem comes in and you yourself have indeed highlighted it – you are using this branding to promote WO as ‘better’ than a shop that is not a charity or not for profit.
        I ask you to consider how just this is – is WO more deserving or serving a more important mission than any of the Independent Christian Bookshops or indeed other christian chains out there?
        Surely not – are the independents really ‘lining their pockets’ and therefore not as worthy in their mission?

        Indeed Luke – if this is the way we measure mission why are you, or those higher than yourself, taking a wage?
        You take a wage to provide for yourself and your families and communities – this is not wrong so why would you assume it is wrong for an independent or ‘for profit’ to take a fair wage??
        Indeed why do you assume that all ‘for profit’ businesses line their pockets – some of us (I go so far as to say pretty much all of us in the Christian trade!)give of ourselves to charities and tithe our income and businesses profits, if indeed there are any left after all overheads and costs are paid out.

        This is the unfairness of this argument that charities like to use over the independents.
        I ask you to consider the ethics of fair trade and apply them equally here in this country and scenario as well.

        In effect this ‘100% Charity’ branding is being used as little more than a marketing ploy to promote WO stores over the competition- and for me charity should be more than that and to use the 100% Charity banner in this way is indeed unfair to say the least.

        WO are in effect doing just what has caused Oxfam recent undue attention and launched the issue out there that Charitable businesses that trade in a competitive high street retail market are getting unfair advantages against the small businesses and retailers – this then puts the small trader at serious disadvantage. Does this scenario sound familiar, does the fact it is a charity doing it alter the ethics of the issue?

        As to your question would anyone quibble with Oxfam or BHF saying 100% Charity – there are two responses to this:
        1 – They don’t say it in quite this way, they have a little more sense than to say it in such a brash and unconvincing fashion, as you ackowledge yourself in regards to charity shops.
        2 – The answer, as you will note from recent Oxfam Bookshop problems and media last month, is Yes, people do indeed dispute it when it is set in the context of an unfair competitive advantage such as with their bookshops and the secondhand trade, and I propose as would also fit the WO scenario in context of Christian Bookshops.

        A mention as to the Biblica rebranding – again I would have no issue if they had not utilised a name belonging already to a well respected and incredibly long running Journal of the same name!

        Luke, I appreciate you, WO and all involved are doing this work for the same reasons as the rest of us here – because we wholeheartedly believe it is the right thing to do – to outreach and serve the mission field here at home on the high streets.
        But though we may be doing these things for the right reasons we always need to make sure we are doing them in the right way, I think thats what has been at the heart of these questions and posts recently.
        I appreciate your coming forth on this issue as well. The more we talk together and share the better it can be.

        • Melanie,

          Thank you so much for your comments in particular. I kind of delibarately avoided answering some of the issues you raised my last general post because i do think they are legitimate issues which might need addressing directly.

          So here goes.

          First let me be clear that I am not a corporate shill or yes man who sings praises of the company, while ignoring it’s problems. As mentioned in my general post, I am often the first to call out the company when they make mistakes. SAP for example caused no end of heated rants in my household.

          However, on this one, I have to fall on the side of STL.

          First off, I really think it is important to remember that this piece of branding has very little to do with slamming the competition, and everything to do with raising the profile of a particular aspect of the work of Biblica/Wesley Owen, and changing the perception some of our customers have about us.

          To MANY of our customers Wesley Owen falls somewhere between Anton Levay’s Church of Satan and Amazon in peoples rank of suppliers.

          Put simply, many customers think of us as the Microsoft of the Christian book world. That we look out only for ourselves, at the expense of all others and that we will not be happy until every book shop carries a Maroon and Burgendy WO logo.

          Perhaps part of this may have to do with some of Kieth’s previous comments about a “christian waterstones”, perhaps because so many of our shops USED TO BE independent or SU book shops, or perhaps simply that we are the biggest name on the highstreet.

          Whatever the reason, it is clear that, at least in the minds of many, we make millions, if not billions of pounds a year profit for the owners/shareholders of the company, and many of our customers were very disappointed with recent cost cutting measures, many of which have had a direct impact on them, and many of you, because they perceived it as putting profits above people.

          When this was STL/Wesley Owen, it was problematic, but following our merger with IBS, this could be disastrous. The work done by IBS is so heavily reliant upon it’s charitable status, that being linked to a company who puts “profits before people” (even if it is not a realistic, or true perception) could literally ruin their work and name.

          For these reasons, i believe Biblica NEEDED to raise their charitable profile. They NEEDED to squash any perception that any part of the business was anything more than charitable, before the IBS donations, which keep enabling readable modern bible translations to be made, dried up completely.

          In addition, in a world where we are ALL loosing sales to Amazon, iTunes and supermarkets, our charitable status is a value added bonus for customers who are increasingly price conscious.

          It is not about squashing the “competition” (as in our independents and other Christian chains) but about trying to compete with our COMPETITON (Amazon, Digital Downloads etc).

          We certainly do not consider ourselves better than you because of our charitable status, you guys are our allies, not enemies. In the eyes of most, you already have a better name than Wesley Owen, and believe me, none of the staff i have ever worked with have ever done anything to hurt your reputations. I regularly suggest CLC or the Catholic book shops in Birmingham before suggesting customers “try online”. I always make a point of suggesting Eden.co.uk before Amazon, and when I do suggest Amazon, i make sure customers look out for our independent christian suppliers trading on amazon, before going to amazon direct.

          We do take a wage, we have never hidden the fact. We know that those independents out there who are not directly affiliated with, or registered as charities often plow back as much, or more into Christian Ministry than we do.

          I think maybe the biggest issue here is not one of whether the branding is fair or not, but a misunderstanding about who it is aimed at.

          Biblica, as far as i am aware, have not done this to hurt you guys. In the middle of the SAP issues, I have heard countless stories of STL Distribution putting you guys ahead of “profits” because we believe Christian retailers, not just Wesley Owen, belongs on the high street. And our charity status helps you. Many of you use STL distribution as a main, if not your primary, source of distribution, so you all benefit from this. STL is a charity, and by using them, you support their work.

          I am just speculating here, but the fact that the 100percentcharity.co.uk thing is not a sub-page on wesleyowen.com, and that the branding could easily stand alone without needing the top wesley owen banner means that, it may even be shopped around as a generic mark for all charitable christian book shops. (This is purely speculation, by the way).

          Again, just my two cents, i have no particular back up for this, but it certainly makes sense to me.

          And i know for certain, both from quotes by Kieth and others within Biblica that you are not the enemy.

          To steal a line from High School Musical…

          We’re all in this together,
          And it shows, When we stand, Hand in hand…

          We need you, and i honestly believe you are much better off with Biblica than you would be without it.

          To close, we pray together, as often as we can, every day before we open.

          We pray for wesley owen, yes, and for biblica. But we also pray for CLC and St Chads book shop too. We pray for “all the christian bookshops around the country” who are in the same position we are, and for those names which are disappearing from the high street, for their staff, and the ministry that they do.

          We pray for you, because without you, God’s whitness, not that of Biblica, or anyone else, is hurt.

          Together, we are stronger, and more united. And i refuse to believe that this is an attack on you all.

      • Maybe we ought to thanks Luke again for taking the time to ‘post’ on this subject- much appreciated! Luke makes clear he is giving his response on a ‘personal’ basis, and has done a great job in explaining the issue here.

        But it would be interesting to get a ‘formal’ response from someone in marketing at Biblica (there we go- I’m getting used to it already!) as to their reasoning behind the strategy?

      • In response to both of your comments, firstly, thank you for once again taking the time to do so.

        If you would allow me, please let me explain what my basis for making this defence, and hopefully, in doing so, help you to begin to understand why this has been done.

        Firstly, I have worked, on and off, for Wesley Owen since 2001, in many capacities, including part time, full time, paid and volunteer sales assistant. When not working for Wesley Owen, i have worked for other companies (including both Selfridges, and Ikea) and as a missionary around Canada, USA, UK and Malta. While working as a missionary, with a group called LifeFORCE, part of my job was working in the media department, and included branding and logo design. Since leaving lifeFORCE, I have run my own design and media company, which although not successful enough to be my main source of income has, in my opinion, turned out some pretty solid work. I now work at Wesley Owen Birmingham and Walsall, where my mum is the manager, and my sister is also a senior sales assistant, so I have remained pretty involved in the company, even when not employed by them directly.

        Like many of you, I had kind of an issue with the “100% Charity” branding. To my mind, I was not sure it was clear, or for that matter, even true… however having spent the best part of five years defending STL to the general populous who didn’t know that we were a charity at all, and enough heated debates over whether it was right to charge the prices we did, i was glad to see that Biblica was doing something to highlight the charity side of the company.

        However, as most within STL will tell you, I can also be a huge pain. At times i have felt the need to pull, or argue with head office about a product, promotion or piece of branding i didn’t think was fair or right. For example, recently I refused to collect email addresses for the new loyalty cards we offer because we didn’t have any kind of data protection statement on it.

        As i was unsure about whether it was fair, i wanted to be sure it was kosher in the eyes of my (apparently Jewish) customers. Therefor, i took it upon myself to quiz my customers, and other friends, family and passers by about what they thought of it.

        I asked them a few questions. Three actually.

        The first was “what do you think 100% charity means?”

        The second was ” Excluding charity shops, Is it fair for a company which gives all its profits, but not income to charity to call itself 100% charity?”

        Thirdly, after explaining what STL/Wesley Owen do, I asked “Should Wesley Owen call itself 100% charity?”

        Though hardly scientific, the results were pretty conclusive.

        To the first question, the result was pretty conclusively “Charity shops”

        To the second, although it took them a few seconds to respond, most too agreed that, yes, all charities have costs, and it doesn’t mean they are not charities.

        Finally, out of more than 50 people asked, only 2 though that it was unfair for Wesley Owen to claim it was 100% charity.

        The first, a non-Christian friend of mine did not think it was fair for ANYONE who makes either religious or Political donations to be a charity, because “regardless of what good they do, they are all businesses… they’re selling you ideas, which shouldn’t be for sale”

        The second, an elderly customer, did not think it was fair for any charity to pay its staff… but conceded that his church, who paid a pastor, probably shouldn’t be a charity either.

        I think the difference is, that non of the people i asked confused “charity” with “charitable giving”.

        For example, Through the Ronald McDonnald childrens house charity, or the Bill and Melinda gates foundation, McDonalds and Microsoft donate literally billions of dollars to charity, but this does not make them charities. They are for profit businesses, who choose to donate some money to charity. In contrast, Biblica, GLO or most churches give very little to charity, however, they ARE charities. Every part of the “business” is a charity in that it does not exist to make a profit for outside interests (investors or shareholders) Our staff are salaried, or paid hourly, rather than taking a percentage of the profits, and are paid the same regardless of what the charity makes, and everything goes either back into the work of the charity, or to external donations.

        In that way we are all (or 100%) charity, rather than a business, which makes profit, and donates some of that to charity.

        Like i said, this is how our customers, and people on the street seemed to understand it.

        And for the record, i think claiming to be 8% charity is seriously selling yourself short. You are a charity period. You are not a business who makes charitable donations, you are all charity. You do not make profit for yourself, and shareholders first, then hand over a percentage to charity, you are a charity. All of your company is so.

        And while 8% of every pound spent goes into other charities, yes, and i commend you for highlighting that, i don’t think that makes you 92% “business”.

        To put it in perspective, when you register with the charities commission, I don’t think that you only register 8% of your business with them. I don’t think, as a legal entity, the government treats you as 8% charity, 92% business. I imagine that they treat you merely as a charity.

        We just want to highlight the fact that we too, are a charity, NOT a for profit business, and we never wish to exist to support outside investors or shareholders, but for the purpose of the charity.

        As far as why we didn’t settle on “charity through and through”… Well, simply, I work on the shop floor, not in the offices. If they asked my opinion, I would have suggested it, but they didn’t. And believe me, if i had, there would have been as many problems with that too.

        To be fair to the marketing department, there is POS material about our charity status, a full website (100percentcharity.co.uk) and countless other statements on our websites and instore to help clarify exactly what we mean by it.

        Hope that helps, at least somewhat.

        • Luke, thank you for your thoughful & interesting thoughts- I, for one, really appreciate that, and the fact you have been willing to give your view on this situation, expressed so succinctly. Let me add a couple of comments.

          1. You’re right (and I said so myself) that the 8%/100% comparison is a bit facetious. We are a registered Scottish charity at GLO- there are no halfway houses. We have just taken a different decision to express the ‘outcome’ of that relating it in a more specific way.

          2. I don’t think the customers are the ones who are/might be upset. I think (and these pages bear it out) that it is the BOOKSHOPS who are a bit peeved. I include myself! Biblica have, of course, treated as their partners. And I’m on record in a number of places here in acknowledging the debt that we (and many others) owe to the benevolent Auntie Biblica in Carlisle! But I think this is part of the issue- when Auntie Biblica suddenly declares that she is (seemingly) better than us, then it is a bit of a shock. When I worked in supermarkets, if Mr Tesco produced an advert telling everyone that he was better than Mr Asda, everyone just shrugged and got on with life! We are, I trust, a bit more family that that- hence the slightly aggrieved sense that has come through. But I don’t take it personally. When I was presented with a WO 100% Charity Loyalty Card in the shop the other day, rather than doing a John Cleese-type explosion of rage, you’ll be pleased to hear that I was able to direct the customer rationally & politely to the nearest branch- but only after we had taken her money for the goods she had!!!

          Maybe some fruits of the Spirit starting to grow at last…..

        • Hi Luke,

          Posting here as the section in reply to your reply to my reply doesnt have a reply button ;0)- as if that made sense!Lol.

          anyway this is just a very quick reply (there is some more specific stuff I’d might want to address but am a bit rushed for time and it’s very late so little would make sense anyway {grin}).

          I do want to make very clear that you understand (and others) that I in no way see you or anyone who works for or in a WO/Biblica etc as an enemy in any way shape or form, nor do I wish you, them etc any ill will – like you I pray for this trade and mission and all involved in it regularly and with heart – I only really say things and call attention to things to alert my brethren in christ of potential problems because that is what I am called to do (1 Tim 5, 1 Cor 5:12). We are called to be keepers of each other – to be family!
          and like family sometimes we don’t see eye to eye and sometimes we may have to point out where we think each other is going wrong, but hopefully we do this with caritas in it’s deepest sense and at the end of it we come out better for it.

          I know full well you and all the others serving this mission field are committed to the job and are my collegues – you will find in a prior post somewhere on here my statement of such – and I truly hold this to be a true fact.

          I know that chain and indie can work together and help each other. I have experience of it – but it takes trust, openess, communication and hard work to ensure it happens well.

          As I have said previously somewhere around this site, I genuinely feel that at the moment we need to truly take in 1 Corinthians 12 – one body, many parts, needing each other to be whole, and I know Luke from what you have said that you hold to this too.

          Therefore it is my pleasure and privilege to have dialogued with you and come together here in this small way, and whatever else may be said, however we may agree or disagree it is a good thing indeed. Thanks.

  21. Thanks Andrew.

    Simply for the record, John Pac and I have exchanged emails and hope to meet up sometime in the none too distant over coffee — fear not, good people: I think it’s safe to say that we both know we’re on the same side!

    As for me, maybe I’ve spent too much time interacting with the Brewers and tend to read everything through a distorted lens, so please pray for me, gentle folk, as I am most assuredly praying for you.

    Right. Time for bed, said Zebedee, and say your prayers before you get your head down!!

  22. Pingback: Day of Prayer for the UK Christian Book Trade? « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  23. Joy – best idea i’ve heard in ages – name the day and lets see if we can call the Trade to prayer and maybe even call the Christian community as a whole to uplift the trade as well.

    Ashburnham as a local venue would be great

    Look fwd to hearing more


    • A good and helpful meeting in which Keith reaffirmed his commitment to both the wider trade and IBS-STL/Biblica. My thanks to Keith for taking the time to meet with me and my apologies to him for my misreading/misunderstanding.

  24. I’m just back from a few days off and so this is the first opportunity I have had to post, but I would say that following the meeting which Phil refers to above, my view is once again reinforced that meeting and talking together is much more productive than dialoguing in the public domain over a blog. And on that point I’ll defer from commenting on this blog again.

    • That’s your choice, Clem, and I respect that, but I hope you’ll reconsider. For me that meeting reinforced the importance of these discussions and of keeping them open and public.

      There’s certainly a place for face-to-face dialogue, telephone conversations and private exchanges; but not to the exclusion of public debate…

    • Clem,

      I appreciate what you are saying and I too think it would be good to have a meeting to really talk these things out together and it may well be more productive than dialoguing in general here amongst ourselves – though as you know I do hold there is a place for this type of interaction too.

      So perhaps you could ask Mr Danby et al to arrange a meeting or series of meetings to which we can attend and therefore meet and talk together?

      I ask you to do it as you may have more sway than some of the rest of us perhaps due to your independent stance and being editor of CM etc.

      A good idea do you think?

  25. It may seem obvious to point out that in this case, were it not for the public debate, there would have been no private meeting.

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