PAUL SLENNETT, of Southend Christian Bookshop (which celebrated its 40th anniversary last month), has issued a call for the BA Christian Booksellers Group (CBG) and the PA Christian Suppliers Group (CSG) to drop their private agendas at next week’s Christian Resources Together Retailers and Suppliers Retreat at High Leigh and instead hold a joint meeting to discuss the current state of the trade together.
Under the programmed schedule, on the Tuesday morning the CBG and the CSG will be holding meetings simultaneously but separately during the retreat, a situation that Paul sees as a wasted opportunity given the challenges facing the trade. In an email to Steve Briars, Event Organiser, dated 21 May 2011, Paul wrote:
In June, the industry is coming together at High Leigh. Booksellers will sit at the same table as publishers and eat together. That is the way it should be, for we are family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, on the Tuesday, wouldn’t it be good for booksellers and publishers to come together in the same room to share what is on their heart and for that time to be ended with us all praying to Almighty God. At the moment the way the day is scheduled that’s not going to happen. Booksellers will meet in one room, whilst at the same time publishers/suppliers will meet in another room. Why don’t we abandon our own agenda and come together? Next year may be too late! I know for the Christian Booksellers’ Group that may mean delaying our AGM to another day, but wouldn’t that be a price worth paying? Perhaps we could even have our AGM after the conference ends at High Leigh?
Paul’s request, however, has been dismissed by both groups and Steve Briars has replied (email dated 23 May 2011) to say that making use of the High Leigh event as a forum for discussing “deep trade issues” would be neither helpful nor edifying:
I have spoken to Ian Metcalfe of the Christian Suppliers Group and Mark Clifford of the BA-CBG today regarding your email and High Leigh. Like you we all share a deep concern for the challenges that are facing retail shops, publishers and suppliers but feel we would be wrong to change any of the High Leigh programme at this late stage. The event at High Leigh has come about as a need for encouragement for the trade which is reflected in the theme for this year, Renewing Your Passion. Our aim is to equip and empower all those who serve the mission God has called them for and it is therefore important that the High Leigh event fulfils this purpose. I don’t feel on this occasion a discussion on deep trade issues would be edifying and helpful.
But if not now, when? Surely an event such as this is precisely when and where “deep trade” discussions should be held? Last year’s theme for Christian Resources Together was “Stronger Together, Weaker Apart” and over the past year we’ve witnessed the truth of that as the CBG and CSG seem to have simply carried on talking past one another as dozens of bookshops have ceased trading whilst publishers, suppliers and booksellers alike have continued struggling to make ends meet.
The danger of a deep disconnect between publishers/suppliers and booksellers is well illustrated in the current debacle over the new Roman Missal. But perhaps even more telling is Ian Metcalfe’s opening paragraph in his latest CSG column in Christian Marketplace: entitled “Let’s Work Together”, Ian introduces the column with reference to the High Leigh event as “the Christian Resources Together Publishers and Suppliers Retreat” — can he really have forgotten that this is a trade-wide event, for publishers, suppliers and retailers? Or that Christian Marketplace is also read by booksellers?
No doubt this was a faux pas rather than a deliberate disregard of booksellers; or was it a Freudian slip, symptomatic of the way some publishers and suppliers now tend to view the outlets they once depended on to take their product to market? Only Ian can say, but if you’re a retailer attending the event, why not take this opportunity to give Ian a big friendly wave and remind him that you’re still there, despite the casualties elsewhere?
There will, of course, be plenty of time for retailers and suppliers to meet during the event; and Eddie Olliffe’s workshop on the Monday — “Albatross, Dodo or Jewel: Is there still a place for Christian bookshops to sparkle on the High Street?” — will offer an important opportunity for in-depth discussion of the viability of bricks and mortar retailers; but unless the trade is prepared to seize the day and make this year’s event count rather than allow it to be nothing more than yet another whoop-de-do mountaintop experience after which everyone descends back into their own separate valleys, then a few years down the line Ian’s slip may well be precisely what future retreats will become: CBC RIP?