Two Worlds: A Shout Out to Christian Publishers and Suppliers

Discussions Update
At some point within the next week or so I plan to post a summary of the recent discussions, working title “Kingsway: Discussion Summary and Unanswered Questions”.

A preliminary draft is available in the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers facebook group: all group members are welcome to comment, suggest revisions and/or possible solutions, but I respectfully request that you refrain from taking the discussion into any public forums until it is finalised and published here. Thank you.

IN THIS EXCERPT from the recent discussions about Kingsway, the Spirit Break Out album in HMV and Kingsway’s RRPs, Luke Bunger (The Hub, Walsall) replies to John Robinson (aka ‘John the Areopagite’), presenting us with two possible ways in which things could turn out for the Christian book trade over the next few years.

Many publishers and suppliers offer their Christian retail partners wholly commendable and comprehensive support: I hear the praises of CWR, IVP and Lion Hudson sung most often. This shout out is not to them but to those who seem tempted to think, “Christian retailing is dead: let’s go elsewhere…”

No doubt there are many other scenarios between the two extremes in the picture Luke paints: we live not in a world of black and white but in a rainbow world, with myriad possibilities and God’s promise of grace arcing overhead; but rainbows only appear after the storm — and after the storm, by God’s grace, sometimes we get to choose the colours. Let’s choose wisely.

Obvious typos and minor punctuation/grammatical errors have been corrected, but otherwise these excerpts are exactly as written:

John Robinson said:

God forbid that Kingsway were to actually do their mission and spread the Kingdom message. I think it was high time that some Christian retailers were to understand that the messianic vision is for the world and not to be kept in the back streets – I heartily commend Kingsway for trying to spread the Gospel any way they can!

John the Areopagite

Luke Bunger replied:

John.

The simple fact of the matter is that no-one is criticising Kingsway for getting their stuff out there. In HMV, Amazon, iTunes or otherwise. Many of us (and I would suggest almost everyone who is commenting here) think that it’s good.

The thing we don’t like, however, is taking existing customers and encouraging them to shop elsewhere. Everyone receiving the email were existing Kingsway customers, primarily people who are already Christians, and many of whom already buy Christian music, who either signed up online, filled in contact cards at events, or responded to those cards which used to be placed in the front of CDs and DVDs.

This did NOT hit HMV’s sizeable database, nor did it hit every iTunes user. If it did, this would be amazing news, even given the unfortunate wording.

It hit Kingsway’s.

And as a result, in the main, it was read by people who already support Christian music. Many of these already use Christian bookshops (I know for a fact several of MY customers received it).

It encouraged these people to stop supporting their Christian bookshops and instead to use the secular HMV store for their Christian music needs, and that is what we take offence to.

The other issue is that does making the music available at HMV really spread the gospel, if as a result Christian businesses are closed down?

Let me propose two situations for you to consider:

In the first, Christian publishers and suppliers like Kingsway effectively abandon the Christian trade in favour of the secular trade. Their reasoning is simple: the Christian trade is dying, and focusing on retailers like HMV and Amazon reaches a wider audience.

As a result, their self-fulfilling prophecy comes to pass, the trend continues, and within the next few years, the Directory Phil manages reduces from a few hundred entries to a few dozen.

As a result, Christians still have access to music and books, and non-Christians have the possibility of stumbling across them while browsing through the Self Help sections of bookshops, or the Blues and Gospel section of HMV.

The second option is that suppliers and publishers make a continuing push to support the Christian trade, even if it risks alienating HMV, iTunes or Amazon. Their logic is simple: Christian bookshops exist primarily to support the Christians in the community, and spread the gospel to non-Christians and we should invest in that.

As a result, the trend of closures is slowed, and maybe even reverses. Christian bookshops become healthier, more vibrant and more appealing. Because of the commitment by suppliers, the bookshops become steadily more profitable, and are able to open up more branches, and move into more high profile locations. HMV, Amazon and others may kick up a stink, and may even decide not to stock the products (though that seems unlikely, if there is demand for it, and the possibility of making a profit).

Now. Picture a seeker. Someone who is interested in the bigger questions, but unsure whether they are ready to commit to anything by crossing the threshold of a church. The kind of person who I see most days at The Hub.

In world one, there is no Christian bookshop. They visit their local Waterstone’s, ask about Christianity, and are pointed to either the World Religions section, where they can buy three or four copies of the Bible, alongside dozens of other “Holy Books”, or the Self Help section, where they stumble across a Joel Osteen book, but not before picking up a handful of other books all advocating wildly different beliefs and opinions. They ask the staff member for advice, and the best answer he is trained to give is, “This one by Paul McKenna is very popular. You may have seen him advertising it on the TV recently”.

In this world someone interested in Christian music will be pointed to the Blues and Gospel section, and will think “I’m really more into Rock… I’m not really into Blues or Gospel music… I guess there is nothing in the Christian scene for me”.

They will probably save a few pounds on the books they buy, v/s the prices they would have paid in Christian bookshops, but that’s about the sum of it.

In world two, this seeker would hopefully be able to walk into a Christian bookshop in his or her town.

They would have the choice of dozens of translations of Bibles, in hundreds of different shapes and sizes. They would have a wealth of Christian teaching available, whatever background or circumstances they find themselves in, not to mention the wealth of information afforded to them by staff who have the time and knowledge to talk with them about their needs, and pray with them about their circumstances.

They would ask about music, and find that there are hundreds of CDs and DVDs available, in many different genres, that whatever music they like, there will be something in the Christian world for them.

They may have to journey into the backstreet to find it, but find it they hopefully will, and when they do, they will find a place where they can find out much more about the Christian faith than they likely ever would in HMV, Waterstone’s or at Amazon.

So I ask you this: in which circumstance is the Gospel of Jesus Christ really more effectively preached, and the lost more effectually reached?

Of course, we would all prefer not to have to live in an either/or world, but a both/and one. But if we do have to choose, I know which choice I would be making.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Two Worlds: A Shout Out to Christian Publishers and Suppliers

  1. Thanks to Luke for his summary of the ‘main issue’ here – Kingsway promoting HMV direct to OUR customers, and at prices we can’t reasonably match. Probably like many other Christian trade managers, I try to receive what suppliers send out direct to customers, so I can see what’s going on. So I, likewise, was somewhat peeved to read the tone of Kingsway’s email, even if rejoicing with them in the fact the CD was selling well.

    If there is fault in this specific situation, it lies with the ‘marketing department’ at Kingsway who allowed this email to go out to customers, without adding the ‘rider’ somewhere that ‘Spirit Breaks Out’ is still also available from your local Christian retailer……... I’m not sure this has ever been addressed in any of the responses from Kingsway. This small, but important point could easily be fixed in the future.

    The wider picture that Luke paints very much reflects what we see happening in the ‘Trade’, and should give us all pause for thought.

    • Andrew, thanks for the comments.

      I think part of the issue is that while Kingsway says that they do not intend for certain retailers to undercut so heavily, in this case, Kingsway did facilitate it.

      They sold it to a company who’s web retail is based in Guernsey, where they effectively get an extra 20% profit margin, meaning that they could price it at below the cost price of retailers, and still make a slim margin themselves.

      Their goal appears to be to take as many customers as possible—hence the very low price point—and this was facilitated by knowing Kingsway would be driving customers towards them by way of an email bulletin.

      I understand that kingsway’s desire is to create buzz around the release, but that should not—in my opinion—come at the expense of isolating your core customers, especially when you know those customers are struggling as is.

      Luke

  2. Phil.

    Thanks for highlighting the comment. Much was said by many people which was very good.

    It’s worth pointing out, many retailers view Kingsway as one of those partners like Lion, IVP and CWR—most of the time. Much of what they’ve done, since taking over their own distribution is very good. Their partnership offers a good level of discount, good promotions, and see-safe terms are much appreciated. Their 50% discount on new products is industry leading.

    Of course, no-one is bulletproof. Mistakes are made, and things like this would really be best avoided, and do need highlighting. However, I do not consider Kingsway the sort of retailer who has abandoned the Christian trade to the wind, rather one which doesn’t always consider the consequences of their marketing decisions.

    I think it is important to point out that Kingsway, in general are good partners, who occasionally act in ways which would suggest otherwise. It is not, i think, intentional, just ill-considered.

    Luke

    • Thanks for the points you’ve raised, Luke. Yes, I too trust that Kingsway is on the side of us retailers, although the Spirit Break OUt issue was disturbing. Just had a customer enquire about the price of Louie Giglio DVDs. I checked Amazon to see how compatible we are. The result is very encouraging: Kingsway does not seem to supply Amazon UK with these DVDs (only have the region 1 versions). My own fear about Kingsway is that they might overstretch themselves with all the publishers they take on. Hope it doesn’t lead to their demise, like so many other over-ambitious enterprises before them. But, thank God for Kingsway.

      • Very encouraging on the Louie Giglio stuff.

        I share your worries about the rapid growth of their distribution business.

        Kingsway is a new distributor, and one, it is worth pointing out, who has at times struggled with that new role. I worry that the sheer number of big artists, labels and publishers who now use them exclusively could overstretch them. At a time when many distributors are streamlining, I wonder if Kingsway Distribution can keep up this level of growth.

        I hope they can, but would rather see them get those they already have right 100% of the time, before they add too much more.

        And I say this as someone who get’s quite healthy margins from Kingsway compared to many other distributors.

        Ambition is fantastic, but as people at the former Living Oasis Stores will tell you, too much ambition, bigger visions than you can realistically achieve, can be very damaging.

        I want to see kingsway around for the long haul.

Comments are closed.