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When Mainstream Book Dealers Become the Default Christian Store

Editorial

Every time a bookstore closes it hurts, even if it’s three provinces away from where you live.

In many cities, a mainstream bookstore might find themselves picking up a few extra orders for titles from Christian publishers. The ones I’ve talked to are aware of this phenomenon, but say the impact isn’t significant. In other cases, the customers are forced to educate themselves how to order online from CBD or other online vendors.

But in a great many cases, the sales never happen. The books never find their way into a consumer’s hands.

I’m committed to Christian books reaching people in families, neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools. I don’t have a personal succession plan for what’s going to happen to my own store — we currently have 4,000 fiction titles alone, and over 1,000 Bible products — but I do have a succession plan for continuing to promote the reading of Christian authors and reference materials. I still hope to keep writing reviews, and personally promoting the efforts of remaining booksellers.

I would greatly miss that connection if it all ended tomorrow.

And so, here in Canada, we find ourselves in a situation where stores like Chapters/Indigo have taken up the slack, offering in many cases a fairly decent selection of Christian non-fiction, fiction, and Bibles. (In some U.S. cities, if there isn’t a Barnes and Nobles, there’s the option of discount chain Ollies, which carries Christian remainders from B&H, Harper and other publishers.)

It wasn’t always this way. For well over two decades, it appeared that Barnes and Noble in the U.S. knew the secret that Chapters didn’t. I even offered my services to Chapters once, but never heard back. But eventually suppliers — especially Hachette and HarperCollins — were able to convince the stores to stock the Evangelical authors they had always been lacking. Hopefully, they see return on these products. Today at Indigo you’ll find a mix of good titles; not just the cases where authors have found their way to FaithWords or Howard or Waterbrook (being distributed to mainstream stores through Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House respectively) but also titles from David C. Cook, Baker Group, or Tyndale House, which don’t have an affiliation with a major publishing house.

So it pained me to hear that Indigo is continuing to face the challenges we all deal with on a daily basis.

An opinion piece by Jennifer Wells in the Business section of The Saturday Star this week noted second quarter revenue dropped by just under $13 million. Online sales were down 12.2%. She writes, “…Not that long ago, the CEO was counting on a $20 and up share price and further U.S. expansion…On Thursday, Indigo shares closed at $4.26…”

On the upside, the article notes that “…bookseller James Duant, who really does sell books and has his own nine-store chain of bookstores in the UK…has run Waterstone’s since 2011, returned the UK chain to profitability in 2016 and is now trying to work the same turnaround at Barnes and Noble.”

Writer Wells concludes that 4th quarter profitability at Indigo, necessary to offset money-losing quarters, is key. Christmas is a make it or break it time. But she adds, “Heather Reisman hasn’t yet fixed the recipe for Indigo; that ‘curation’ she refers to in staging books amid a studied lifestyle.”

In many cities and towns that have already lost their Christian bookstore, losing that “Religion: Christianity” section at Indigo would be the end of a physical presence for Christian authors and publishers in those locations.

Read the full article at The Star.

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