Now I know that difficulties in bookstores aren’t unique to the Christian sector. I am one of those who mourn every time any bookstore closes, and over the past ten years various issues have caused all kinds of fluctuation in the bookstore community across
As I thought about this question, several very different ideas popped into my head, and I realized I need to answer this question in two ways: objectively, as a Canadian small-business owner who is also the daughter of a small-business owner and the wife of a business change consultant, and who therefore has some awareness of the principles of effective businesses; and subjectively, as both a producer and a consumer of the products in the bookstores.
Since including both my objective and subjective ideas on this situation would make for an awfully long blog, I’m only going to do a small part here: my objective thoughts.
Objectively speaking, the first question that comes to me is, “Why do Canadian Christian book stores exist in the first place?”
In the broadest sense, Christian books have always existed. From Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Whimsey Mysteries, books with a Christian faith perspective grace the shelves of most bookstores and libraries. The truth is, through the ages, many of the greatest poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists have written from a Christian faith perspective. Agatha Christie would fit here. So would John Grisham.
But there are also other books that were more overtly “Christian,” whose focus was less on being great literature and more on educating and teaching people on the faith.
A lot of these books date back to the late 1800’s, when people such as Dwight Moody saw that there were few available materials for helping Christian grow in their faith. Dwight Moody began producing small books to fit this void.
By the 1930’s, there were books and other materials being produced by a number of publishers in the
So on an ideological basis, Christian bookstores came into existence to provide resources for Christians to help in their growth and their ability to witness to others. On a practical level, they also separated the good from the bad so that customers could trust that the books before them weren’t going to be offensive. (I am not concerned here as to whether that was a good idea or not - just the facts.)
The number of Christian bookstores slowly increased in both the
In the 1950’s, R. G. Mitchells became the first Canadian distributor, bringing books up to Canada from Christian publishers in the United States. Eventually, several other distributors came into existence, all either offshoots of American publishing house or relying on American products: Ausburg Fortress
So it seems to me that objectively speaking there were three key reasons for having Christian bookstores in
1. To provide a place for American Christian publisher to sell their products
2. To provide overtly Christian products to help Christians grow in their faith and ministry
3. To provide “safe” materials for the Christian consumer and his (or more likely “her”) family
But times have changed. How are things going now? I decided to do a SWOT analysis to discover what I think.
Strengths of Christian bookstores
They have generally been safe places to find books to give as gifts – you knew you could trust a book from Moody, Zondervan, etc.
They can carry a number of books on each topic, and not just the bestsellers
If you are looking for a book on a specific topic – prayer, marriage, raising children, you should be able to find something good.
Because many see it as ministry, staff will often do all they can to help you find the perfect book
There is a sense of belonging, rather than just being in a store, in many of them
You don’t have to worry about the content of what your kids pick up
Weaknesses of Christian bookstores
Many of them are small and don’t actually have a lot of books - may have more giftware and other items
Popular books are often higher priced than on the internet or at Costco
Some of them are more gift stores than bookstores
Some of them are dangerous for small kids because of all the breakable giftware: at Walmart, your kids are in a cart and you can relax more
You may well have to order the book you want and sometimes it’s not available or takes a long time to come in
Many stores are in out-of-the-way locations
Many of them don’t have the finances to keep up technologically
Many of them order one book at a time and therefore may not have adequate stock
High reliance on American books
Threats against Christian bookstores
Higher overhead and smaller orders lead to higher prices on books
Because of the almost complete reliance on books published in the
Walmart, Costco and other stores often carry popular books at much lower prices
If you can get a book while at the mall, why go to another place and pay more?
More and more people are buying from the internet, where you can find pretty well anything you might want
Used bookstores on the internet make getting older materials easier
The younger generation isn’t reading as much, or they’re reading on the internet or on book readers.
The ability to download music has decimated CD sales
Some churches bypass bookstores and buy materials in bulk directly from the publisher
Photocopying of materials
Use of projectors instead of hymn or chorus books
Churches having their own on-site bookstores
Statistics have long shown that very few Christians have been going to Christian bookstores
Reliance on doing things as they have always been done, and not looking for new ways to do them
Opportunities for Christian bookstores
Some of them are good at fostering a sense of community
Cater to those who are not comfortable ordering from the internet
Foster loyal customers who are motivated to keep the stores open
Cater to people who prefer to hold the book and look at it before buying
Create reasons for people to come in because it’s “the place to be”
Go back to their reasons for existing and study the validity of those reasons in today’s market, and determine whether or not there might be new reasons
Use new technology to their advantage
Cater to, and create, an atmosphere conducive to those who LOVE books
Can you add any strengths of Christian bookstores? Weaknesses ? Threats? Opportunities? Please do comment.
This blog kind of grew as I started writing it. To read my subjective thoughts and my ideas for what we might see in the future, please go to my own writing blog, www.bluecollarwriter.wordpress.com
N. J. Lindquist is a Canadian author, publisher, and speaker who is a God-follower.
If you want to know what N. J. is thinking about life in general, go here.
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N. J. writes a regular column on the body of Christ for Maranatha News.
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