Christian Bookshops: Who needs them?

I wrote the following article for LST InSight magazine to help give LST friends and supporters an idea of what’s happening in the trade. The current issue (pdf, 1.8mb) has a UK General Election focus, including Robert Willoughby’s review of Votewise Now!, featured here last month, and an article by Theos think tank Director, Paul Woolley: Towards a Theology of Politics. If you think theology and politics should be kept apart, think again!

Christian Bookshops: Who needs them?

Christian Bookshops: Who needs them?

Christian Bookshops: Who needs them? (download this page, pdf, 102kb)

The past two years have seen massive changes in the Christian book trade which culminated in a major meltdown in November 2009 when Biblica (the new name for IBS- STL, International Bible Society – Send The Light) decided to pull the plug on its UK operations, a decision blamed largely on a failed IT systems upgrade. Biblica were the owners of Authentic Media (which includes Paternoster Press, a leading evangelical academic publisher), STL Distribution (which was Europe and the UK’s leading Christian wholesaler and distributor) and Wesley Owen, a chain of 40 Christian bookshops that had expanded across the UK. To many in the trade it felt like death by a thousand cuts, one that we had seen coming, but were powerless to do anything about as Biblica pressed on regardless with its disastrous IT systems changes for more than a year until the inevitable happened.

The fallout has been huge, leaving a multi-million pound trail of debt and a raft of redundancies impacting not only Biblica’s own subsidiaries and employees but many of its trading partners: witness as but two examples Scripture Union, owed more than £360,000, and Spring Harvest, owed £20,000.

Combining the impact of this debacle with the phenomenal growth of online bookselling, the Christian retail trade is in dire straits: ‘money for nothing’ it ain’t, if you’ll pardon the expression! For me personally, this year, 2010, is something of a milestone, my 10th year in Christian bookselling: I came to LST (LBC as it was then) in the autumn of 2000 at the suggestion of Conrad Gempf, who emailed me when my predecessor departed. As an LBC graduate (1994) who had found my way into bookselling, it proved an ideal opportunity to bring together my book trade experience and my theological education, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s paid off for both LST and myself.

But the traumas and changes I’ve outlined above have taken their toll and like most bookshops, we’re now struggling to make ends meet – which is where you come in. Not necessarily to LST, although that would be wonderful, but to your local Christian bookshop. I believe that Christian bookshops have a vital role to play in the Church’s mission: done right, they can be places where people who wouldn’t normally darken a church doorway can begin to explore the Christian faith without feeling threatened or as though they’ve stepped foot on another planet. Done wrong, of course and, like many churches, they can be appalling places that make you feel ashamed of the Gospel. But let’s focus on getting them right, on keeping the light of Christ shining on our high streets and back streets: please support your local Christian bookshop. Finally, please remember that your local shop isn’t a showroom for Amazon: treat it like that and it won’t be there for much longer – it is, quite literally, a case of use it or lose it. Visit www.christianbookshops.org.uk to discover your local Christian bookshop; and www.christianbookshopsblog.org.uk to join in the conversations.

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4 thoughts on “Christian Bookshops: Who needs them?

  1. Excellent article! Weird seeing a picture of you selling stuff in your shop – I forget that you do that!

  2. These days it’s wonderful to see something being sold in a Christian bookshop – a real person serving a real person instead of clicks via cyberspace. Preserve an endangered species, the Christian Bookseller.

  3. God is doing a new thing. The mighty oak of STL has fallen but God is doing a new thing within Christian resourcing. It is time to move on. It is time for healing, forgiveness and putting right what was wrong. God is raising up new tender shoots that will display His splendour on the high street. God is raising up new fruitful trees that will feed the church and gather under its branches the broken and lost.
    Sorry we didn’t see you at High Leigh Christian Resource Together it was a great time of refreshing and encouragement together!!
    mark

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