Let’s Talk: Call for Christian Booksellers and Suppliers to drop private agendas at High Leigh

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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.

Let's Work Together: Ian Metcalfe introduces June's CSG column with reference to the "Christian Publishers and Suppliers Retreat"

Let's Work Together: Ian Metcalfe introduces June's CSG column with reference to the "Christian Publishers and Suppliers Retreat"

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?

27 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Call for Christian Booksellers and Suppliers to drop private agendas at High Leigh

  1. I’m sorry, Phil, that you regard the High Leigh Conference as some sort of whoopy mountaintop high – for those of us who were there last year, it was an uplifting and challenging time in the midst of very difficult circumstances for most of us.

    • And isn’t that precisely what a mountaintop experience is, Mark? But the danger is that that’s all the event proves to be: uplifting and challenging — and then what? A wonderful time of encouragement for all — and then what?

      What happened to “Stronger together, weaker apart”, Mark, beyond the catchphrase? Everyone went home and, as far as I can see, pretty well carried on doing their own thing, each one competing for their corner of the market rather than co-operating and supporting one another.

      Show me the evidence to the contrary and I will rejoice with you; but please don’t throw away the opportunity that an event like this presents to get to grips with deep trade issues — because if not now, when?

      Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not dismissing the value of mountaintop experiences; they can be wonderful, exhilarating times and my prayer for everyone who attends is that CRT2011 will prove to be just such a time, and I’m sorry that I can’t be there to join in.

      • Who is seeking to ‘throw away the opportunity’ to get to grips with deep trade issues, then, Phil? As far as I’m concerned, that is what High Leigh is all about – meeting round meal tables and over coffee to see how we can better work together. Do you think some of us are just sitting in our own little ivory towers from year to year doing nothing, then? The fact is that I, and many others like me, are faced with the harsh realities of bookselling in this country from day-to-day, when we can’t pay the bills or draw an income. One of the reasons for setting up High Leigh was to offer a forum where some of the realities we face can be addressed. You know very well that this is a long-term process, but we have to start somewhere.

        • Mark, I sincerely hope that no one is seeking to throw the opportunity away; and you know that I know full well what it’s like to be at the sharp end in a bookshop that isn’t breaking even, having faced those harsh realities in the form of redundancy proceedings myself only last year.

          As you say, the deep trade issues (whatever we perceive them to be: it’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it?) need to be tackled. All I’m suggesting is that the trade makes the most of the opportunity presented by CRT2011 to do so, a time when scores of booksellers, publishers and suppliers will already be gathered under one roof. If the event is about providing a forum to address the realities the trade faces, why declare formal discussion of the “deep trade issues” to be inappropriate? Carpe diem!

  2. I can’t comment on last year as I wasn’t there but I did hear good things about it, so this year I did um and er over whether to go, given things like cost, time, staffing etc but in the end decided to.

    I am disappointed a little to hear Steve say ‘I don’t feel on this occasion a discussion on deep trade issues would be edifying and helpful.’ because the reason I chose to go, other than meeting in flesh with people I know through screen and a desire to fellowship with others in a similar position to myself, was actually because I thought this would be a time we would get to have discussion on deep trade issues face to face and in a way that would be open, considered, edifying and helpful – especially given how often we are told not doing it face to face but discussing it on forums like this is not helpful and edifying.

    The truth is that there is a need for honest open and frank discussions to be held. Yes sometimes these are incredibly painful and uncomfortable things to undertake but healing rarely comes without pain!
    That’s why I’m so glad that Eddie O is doing such a considered and potentially thought provoking and challenging seminar.

    Indeed if anything I’m only sorry that Eddie’s seminar has been timed to clash with the one on facebook and why christians are no longer reading – because my question is on that one is – is that true or is it that they are just going direct through the routes provided by publishers, suppliers cheaper websites and cheap kindle/e-books, all of which have a knock on cost to not only booksellers but to the publishers at the end line point as well anyway.

    So yes, I can honestly say as one attending the retreat that I am disappointed that this is not considered a place for deep discussion – most good retreats in my opinion are generally considered to be places where one asks the difficult questions and confronts the dark demons and come away perhaps comforted and consoled, maybe challenged and changing, but yet better for it – let’s face it when Jesus went on retreat it was never without the most serious questions being raised and addressed, even when he only withdrew for a little while!

    So yes, I’m disappointed by this seeming idea that passion can be renewed with challenge and encouragment gained without resolution, but to be fair I can accept the argument that the timing was off to consider such a change so late in the arrangement of things – the agenda had been on the website for some considerable time so perhaps this question would have been better asked much sooner than mid may.

    I hope though that now it has been raised this is something that will be considered for next years retreat at the very least.

    I also hope that despite all said there will be time for frank, honest and open discussion where listening hearts meet prayerful minds, or perhaps prayerful hearts meet listening minds, because only then can we really be fired up, can we really be reworked into something perhaps new and better, or at the least something a little more practical and functional with an innate honesty at it’s heart rather than the cracked, chipped, leaky and somewhat mishaped vessel we sometimes seem to be at the minute.

    Still I must say I still look forward to next weeks event as it will be nice to meet up with others and share in faith time together for a while.
    Well that and it’s the only holiday time away from the shop I have been able to arrange off so far this year 😉

  3. Paul Slennett Southend Christian Bookshop
    Hi Melanie,
    Look forward to meeting you at High Leigh.You said : “to be fair I can accept the argument that the timing was off to consider such a change so late in the arrangement of things – the agenda had been on the website for some considerable time so perhaps this question would have been better asked much sooner than mid may.”
    I first suggested that Christan Booksellers and Publishers should meet together in August 2008.Email me at scbookshop@aol.com for the said document.I have been asking ever since.I spoke to both Steve Briars and Ian Metcalfe at the Christian Resources Exhibtion and they both seemed supportive of such a meeting.Hoewever our Chairman Mark Clifford has opposed it from the very beginning. It’s about time he should consider his position.

    • Hi Paul,

      Fair enough, I was only responding based on the dates given in the article and trying to be even handed as to the response given by Steve.

      I too look forward to meeting you in person, at the event.

      As for Mark, I can’t actually comment in detail on that one as he isn’t actually my chairman as I’m not currently in the BA, so not a member of BA-CBG.

      I don’t consider membership of the BA to currently be a good investment of my limited funds as an indie.
      The FSB give me better bang for my buck as an independent business and though I do concede that the CBG has always been an informative group and I used to love reading the briefings and do miss keeping up with goings on this way I just can’t quite justify the membership cost for that alone currently, though with the indiebound program it could be said that the BA is possibly getting better at supporting indies (though not so much for Christian ones) it’s nothing I don’t also get through supportive wholesalers and publishers really so it’s still just not quite enough i’m afraid to warrant a membership.

      I am sure that Mark is doing what he believes to be right – perhaps he would be willing to offer forward his reasoning on why he is, if he is!, opposed to such a meeting – it could well be there are very real reasons we are unaware of – perhaps something in the BA group rules or some such we are unaware of or perhaps some past bad experiences.

      However I do very much look forward to meeting you in person, Paul, and also to meeting with Mark at CRT and with Steve, Ian and the many other booksellers/publishersand suppliers tht will be there.

    • Hi Paul – please don’t knock Mark: he’s doing a difficult job in trying times, and he’s doing it all 100% voluntarily, as are the rest of the CBG committee.

      If you’re prepared to stand for the post and take on all the responsibilities the role calls for — which will inevitably require you to set aside your personal agendas and be ready to work across the board under the BA’s ethos of equality and diversity — then fair enough, offer your services at the AGM and take it to the vote.

      Mark deserves our applause, not denigration, whether or not we see eye-to-eye with him on trade matters.

  4. This is probably not the best place for this but I wanted to say how valuable I thought that the High Leigh Retreat has been.
    I don’t know the numbers but there were a lot of booksellers, publishers and authors there. This alone made the 2 days worthwhile because there were lots of opportunities to talk informally to people, especially in the meal and break times. The worship, fellowship and prayer was excellent and it was great to have Ben Cantelon leading us before the throne.
    We were blessed with some great speakers who really have a passion for the ministry that they are in and that certainly rubbed off with the likes of Nick Page, Chick Yuill and Tony Anthony sharing that passion. The workshops really seemed to meet the mark. I attended Eddie Olliffe’s on • ALBATROSS, DODO OR JEWEL? and this really put our trade into context and then provided us with 3 perspectives from booksellers that really showed the opportunities that we all have. The second workshop by Russ Hughes on Social Marketing was amazing and really opened my eyes to the potential of Social media.
    One of the highlights for me was a last minute appearance by Graham Kendrick, who stepped in for Jocelyn Brown who couldn’t make it. He sang one of my favourite songs that I first heard back in the 70s called Paid on the Nail (How much do you think you are worth). This is an amazing song and should be on a Best of Graham Kendrick Vol 2 if there ever is one. Thanks Graham, it was very special.
    If you didn’t go then make sure you do next year.

  5. Out of interest has anyone been selling the book Meeting Jesus by Howard Webber that was voted Book of the Year in Christianity Magazine by 62% of its readers? I hadn’t heard of it and there seemed to be several puzzled looks from booksellers. Have I missed something?

    • Nor me either- I assumed it was becase Salvationist Publishing don’t have any representation up in the Frozen North…….. obviously not! Maybe it would have been interesting to see the number of responses, rather than the percentage?!

    • So… no-one then!

      I don’t mind obscure titles winning awards like this, it’s how we are exposed to new things, but a little heads up might have been nice.

      Also, it’s very telling just how few of Christianity readers actually get their magazine, and, it appears, do their shopping in retail stores. Seems to be a lot of direct subscriptions and mail-order or online purchasing going on.

      If 61% of readers can rate, as book of the year, a book which a good few bookshops have never even heard of, from a publisher we don’t really deal with… that’s quite telling.

      It shouldn’t surprise us, but it is still quite disheartening.

      • … or is the really scary thing how out of touch we sometimes are with potential customers?
        I’m hoping thats not it, but it is still something we need to consider more and more – especially given the viral power of facebook and other social network selling and rallying tactics.
        I have to say that will be why getting the proper neilsen bookscan figures in Christian Marketplace will come in very handy and be a truly useful tool – I’m very much looking forward to having this information on hand more often, however it would be good if smaller publishers etc would make more contact with us in the physical shops – even if only an email to say this is doing well here do you want to consider some copies.

        • Lol – of course you dare say it Phil, you dare say most things thats why we love you 😉
          I shall take solace then in the fact that we don’t stock magazines at UTB, I’m thinking these days there are probably a fair few shops that don’t stock them any longer as well.

        • That does seem to confirm my suspicion that the book was given the award based on active promotion, rather than the overall merit of the book.

          Not that that’s a bad thing. Shows the power of social media really, so congratulations to them. However makes me feel a little better about having never heard of it.

          It appears that the Salvation Army began a worldwide call to arms to get Major Webber’s book voted for, with it being promoted as far afield as Australia (http://salvos.org.au/about-us/news-and-resources/documents/pipeline_05may2011.pdf page 40) and the United States (http://www.salvationarmytexas.org/news/salvation-army-book-shortlisted-for-award/ and http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150162065512258)

          Given that the Salvation Army is amongst the most active branches of the church today, and, i would hazard a guess, THE denomination most likely to vote when asked to do so, we shouldn’t be surprised that it won so convincingly.

          That said, it does look like a really interesting read, and is one I shall certainly be stocking in the future.

          Indeed, I don’t wish to come off negative about it, It may well be a really deserving winner, and indeed, must have been pretty good to have even been shortlisted.

        • So, if Luke surmises correctly, voted not so much by readers of Christianity mag as by Sally Army supporters… (no doubt some of whom are readers of the mag anyway)…

          Melanie: I somehow suspect that most of your customers probably aren’t amongst the select group that read Christianity mag, so you probably haven’t lost much by way of sales anyway. When I was at LST, where a good number of my customers were also Christianity readers, we rarely sold anything that I could trace back to a Christianity review or promo, so your chances would be even slimmer…

      • Yes, that is probably more accurate, but, barring an active drive by the publisher / author / street team to have his readers respond to this survey, I see nothing about that book which would mean that it’s readers are significantly more likely to respond than other readers… without outside prompting of course.
        Survey’s are open to skewing, but generally represent a cross section of readership.
        Unless the question is something like “Do you respond to surveys”, the type of people who respond to them shouldn’t significantly adjust the result, unless, of course, their was a call to arms on the author/publishers mailing list to vote for the book.
        Which makes me wonder… does anyone here subscribe to something like that to see if that happened. 82% is a HUGE majority.

  6. I do get asked for Salvation Army CDs and books but never know where to get anything from apart from Fairway as remainders. Perhaps TMD or Kingsway or Jointhedots could distribute them and then a rep would show us the product and we could give it a higher profile. Or perhaps there is someone doing it already?

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