SOMETIMES, IN RUNNING UKCBD/THIS BLOG, I want to make like Elijah: to simply run away, hide in a cave and wait for the inevitable. Unlike Elijah, however, I’m not being pursued by an angry Queen who wants to chop me into pieces: on the whole the Christian book/retail trade remains a very positive area to work in; and whilst the unrelenting tide of bookshop closures may feel like a tsunami overwhelming us, I don’t think God has finished with this trade yet. Refining and redefining, certainly; but finished? Far from it — and what I see happening here is far from whistling in the dark.
Allow me to offer some facts and figures:
The UKCBD database currently holds 801 records. Of those, 209 are flagged ‘Omit’, for various reasons: some are incomplete and have never made it to the live site, others are archived as businesses have relocated; only 79 (just under 10%) are specifically flagged ‘Ceased Trading’ — and only 26 have been flagged ‘Ceased Trading’ within the last 12 months. That’s not the full picture: I’m aware of a number of shops that have ceased trading (Chelmsford Christian Bookshop and Quench, St Albans are two examples) but I haven’t updated their entries yet, simply due to the constraints of time and other commitments.
On the opposite side of the coin, however, during that same period 23 new records have been added. Looking back over the last quarter alone, these include:
- Midlands Christian Books, Walsall (2/2/2012)
- SACREdplace Bookshop, St Austell (30/1/2012)
- Windflower Books, Flax Bourton (25/1/2012)
- Liverpool Cathedral Shop, Liverpool (6/1/2012)
- Cathedral Centre Books (Catholic Truth Society), Salford (2/1/2012)
- Refreshing, Rotherham (24/12/2011)
- Cornerstone Books & Gifts, Ulverston (12/12/2011)
- St Albans Diocesan Resource Centre, St Albans (10/12/2011)
- Angeli Christian Books and Gifts, Cambridge (8/11/2011)
- KA Christian Jewellery (Online/Mail Order Only) (5/11/2011)
Some of these are brand new, launched within the last few months; some are relocated or ‘resurrected’ businesses, taking over existing premises from collapsed ventures; others are well established but had somehow slipped under the radar and never made their way into my listings; and some, quite clearly, are not ‘Christian bookshops’ as we’ve come to know them: they are all, however, part of the current Christian retailing reality, the reality that is now being refined and redefined.
Again, this isn’t the full picture: it’s rare for more than a couple of weeks to go by without someone contacting me to provide details of a shop or business that isn’t in the directory. As I prepare this post, I have records pending for several shops that I’ve only recently found out about:
- Burning Bush, Dungannon
- Carmel Bookshop, Bristol
- Children of Christ, Welling
- Jireh Books and Gifts, Poulton-le-Fylde
On average, then, for every shop that has disappeared over the last year, another has popped up: some towns, such as Nottingham, are now without a Christian bookshop; others, such as Rotherham, have gained one; and elsewhere, more flexible ventures such as Richard Greatrex’s Windflower Books and Jenny Hickman’s Midlands Christian Books have emerged. The UKCBD database is growing, not shrinking.
Some of the chains — SPCK, Wesley Owen, Living Oasis — are broken beyond repair; others — CLC and FM Bookshops — are still in business, some branches struggling, some thriving, the strong supporting the weak. The collapse of Living Oasis and the failure of Koorong to make a go of Wesley Owen here in the UK perhaps tells us more about the shortcomings of their particular business models than it does about the trade in general.
Steve Mitchell is right in what he affirms when he says:
… it is a brave man to bet against the online business which is so rapidly growing… the charity or independent model is now the best option to maintain physical Christian stores.
But he is wrong in what he denies: because there are plenty of brave men — and women! — out there: not “betting against the online business” but integrating the online with their business models.
The future of Christian bookselling in the UK depends not upon pitting the online against the physical but upon bringing the two together. It’s a secret that lives at the very heart of our faith: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” — and to that I add, there is no longer physical or virtual — “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
We who are Christ’s disciples should know these things better than anyone else. Throwing people overboard in the storm is not the way of Christ. Lopping off limbs when the head says to the foot, “I don’t need you anymore,” is not the way of Christ. The only time we see Christ breaking things up is when the temple of mammon attempts to supplant the temple of God — and, coming full circle now, the remnant of Israel that God promises Elijah he will save consists of “all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
The way of Christ is the Cross: is to face impossible odds, to take the pain, to bleed and die, and then — only then — rise to new life. There are no short cuts to resurrection.
To those now feeling like limbs lopped off; to those pursuing the vision of that “well-run and nimble independent sector” that Eddie Olliffe speaks of; to those following the way of Christ regardless of personal cost: I salute you.