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Product Lines in Decline

bible bookstore

As if Christian bookstores aren’t already under siege from technology competing for leisure time spending, eBooks themselves, the rise of online ordering, and the decline in reading; some product lines are being completely wiped out.  For example:

Lapel Pins: Seems silly to begin the list with what was generally a $2 – $3 item, but Christian bookstores sold a ton of the little pins. Evangelicals were the biggest customers who preferred pins that were witness items. But then everything went Casual Sunday. No suits for men = no lapels. Relaxed dress for women = no jewelry.

Bible Software: With so much available online, we don’t hear much about new software anymore. Furthermore, retailers got tired of being stuck with software that became obsolete with newer operating systems, or newer versions of the software itself.

Concordances: While it could be argued that online resources limit the need for all Bible reference products, once you’ve used online Bible websites, using a print concordance is a real pain.

Choir Music: What’s a choir?

Praise & Worship Songbooks: Surprise! You thought we were going to say hymnbooks. But in some stores hymnbooks actually sell better than worship folios and chorus books. The reason? Worship leaders get everything they need from CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Inc.) and in the trenches, the congregation doesn’t use print music at all, as everything is projected on a screen.

Tracks: In many churches, a soloist can simply get the worship band to get charts for her/his song, and audiences prefer live music over canned music. But in many churches the “special” has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Tracts: The printing and distribution of gospel tracts was a cultural phenomenon that was an extension of a wider movement in which political broadsides were as common as religious ones on Main Street. Furthermore, current trends are moving away from conversion by argument. However, the cream always rises to the top, so tracts like Steps to Peace with God still sell well.

Bookmarks: If fewer books are selling, then that means fewer bookmarks.

Colouring Books: Older elementary kids can do amazing things on their Mac or PC, so you’re not going to impress them with a coloring book and a package of four crayons.

Pencils: This was once a huge industry with over a hundred available designs from a half-dozen suppliers. But you aren’t going to impress a kid today with a 29-cent pencil. (Unless maybe you throw in a colouring book.)

Sunday Bulletins: Churches large and small can create amazing color graphics on the church computer, and megachurches send all their weekend bulletin needs to a local print shop. Ditto brides planning their weddings or families constructing a print memorial to be given out at a funeral. So while Broadman, Warner, Cathedral Art and others can claim healthy sales, the handwriting is on the wall, or more accurately, on the laser printer.

Sunday School Record Books: Attendance records still exist as parents use a swipe card to check their kids in and out of the Children’s Ministry Centre, but there’s no need for wall charts and stickers. Besides, what organized sports couldn’t do to disrupt church attendance, the demands of parents’ shift-work jobs did. Many kids can only make it every other week.

Christian Magazines: In days of yore, when the pastor came to visit, you demonstrated your spirituality by having Christian Life and Moody Monthly prominently displayed on the coffee table. Nothing needed to fill the gap here because increasingly, the pastor doesn’t come to visit. 

The upside? Christian bookstores can better focus their energies on books and Bibles, and growing departments such as DVDs.  Strengthen the things that remain.

So what did we leave off the list?

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  1. Joseph
    July 6, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Great list Paul.

    How about some Clip Art books, or Banner Design books.

    • July 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Clip Art is a great example; not just the books, but even the CD-ROMs are redundant. Don’t know how I missed that. I might add it to the version of this article running at Thinking out Loud.

  2. July 6, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Paul – This is so sad really. eBooks have made it possible for many many new authors (like me) to self publish Christian material. They’ve lowered the bar and removed the expensive barriers to breaking into publishing. As a result, there is so much more material being released. But I love my old bookstore! I’d like very much to find a way to have them involved in marketing and selling my ebook. (Can’t print it; too expensive unless it really takes off). Any ideas?

    • July 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      The industry was on the precipice of something truly useful with print-on-demand technology, but then eBooks made everything too easy and too cheap and print-on-demand took a back seat.

      You can however use your eBook as a calling card to see if you can get your foot in the door of a larger publishing house.

      • July 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm

        Paul. Thanks. Yes, I’m doing that today actually. Sent out a dozen or so well targeted emails to editors of Christian fiction at the leading houses. But I’m wondering if there might be some way to enable the Christian bookstores to get a piece of that ebook market.

        Just thinking out loud here, but what would you think about:

        A counter of computers or kindles in a Christian bookstore. Store manager has selected and downloaded ten ebooks to recommend to her customers. Customers browse the books in the store. If they want to buy one, bookstore manager collects the cash and prints a voucher. Customer enters the voucher number into the ebook vendor’s site when they download the ebook from their device. Might even give the customer a discount on ebooks purchased this way to offset the inconvenience. Of course there is an extra mouth to feed in this transaction, but it would be OK with me if that would help keep our bookstores in our communities, and the advertising value for me, as a new author, would be well worth it. (this channel model might be limited to indies, or select titles from the larger houses, but hey, it’s another revenue stream for the bookstore, and might actually catch on)

        Anyway, the idea is now out there is any of the Jeff Bezos wannabes out there would like to take a crack at it.

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