Christian Bookshops: Who needs them?
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.