Monday, March 31, 2008

Changing Market Indicators

Last week the April issue of Christianity Today arrived in my mailbox. The online version isn't out or I would be pointing to it. The cover story blared, "How To Save The Christian Bookstore (Hint: Stop making it so religious.)" by Cindy Crosby. While I found the topic and the article fascinating, it took me several days before I could read this reality check on the Christian (and general market) bookstore market.

I've known Cindy Crosby for many years and followed her writings. Her husband Jeff is an associate publisher at a Christian publishing house. Until I read this article, I didn't know about their background of running a Christian bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana, which is a college town because of Indiana University. According to the opening of the article, there were four Christian bookstores when the Crosbys were there from 1983 to 1993 and "today, not one of the four is left." It was a sobering sentence to me because of my own experience with books as well as the four years I spent at Indiana University. If you've never read my story, I'd invite you to read this magazine article which first appeared in print in 1988. As you read it, notice the impact of a Christian bookstore and the book that I purchased. It's one of the major events of my life and could not have happened without the presence of that bookstore.

The article points out statistics such as the shrinking number of Christian bookstores as well as the smaller numbers of general market bookstores. It shows again the ever-changing marketplace. Recently I took my wife to a major shopping area in Scottsdale. While she shopped for some clothing, I checked out the mall directory for a bookstore. Several years ago there was a bookstore in this mall but not today. Yes, there is a Border's bookstore about a block from the mall but no bookstore is located inside this shopping area.

Within a couple of miles from my home, a couple from my church has opened a Christian bookstore. It's in a good location near a busy grocery store with lots of traffic and visibility. The doors have been open for about two months, yet every time I pass it, I notice their customer traffic. Is anyone buying books there? Sadly the answer is rarely. The store is attractive and has great displays and even a few comfortable chairs yet customers who buy will be the way they can keep their doors open. I'm concerned for them and have been trying to support them with anything I can purchase in their shop.

The article is well-worth your attention even if you have to track down a copy. As writers and communicators, we need to be aware of where books are selling. It points out once again the necessity of every author do to something each day to promote their presence online and their own books.

As I complete this entry, watch for a forthcoming announcement about a teleseminar that I have scheduled for next month. My guest will be someone who knows firsthand how to keep books alive in the marketplace. It will be worth your time and effort to make sure you catch this event. I'll be announcing it soon.

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2 Comment:

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Kristi Holl Left a note...

This is certainly a sobering reality check. It also points--again--to the importance of authors working online to promote books. I'll be looking for your teleseminar soon.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie Left a note...


Thanks for your timely and astute article about Christian bookstores. We've noticed the same trends as we travel. Bookstore owners are usually quite candid with us.

If we owned a Christian bookstore, here are some action steps we would take, along with brief rationales:

1) We would cultivate relationships with Christian authors, including self-published ones. As often as possible, we would host book signings and author appearances. We would do this with gladness, instructing our employees to be helpful in every way when these events occur!

2) Even a self-published author probably attends a local church and has some friends and relatives. If only these people turn out for a given event, this still creates floor traffic and puts cars in the parking lot. This creates "buzz" and makes it appear as though there is a reason to drive in, park, and shop.

3) Weather permitting we would set up book-signing tables outdoors in front of the store, with balloons and signs. Once again, this creates visibility and gives the impression that business is being done. It gives people a reason to stop, drop in, and shop.

4) We'd use a consignment basis in working with most of these authors. They could supply the books; we'd sell them at retail and pay the authors only for what actually sold. In this way we would not be buying a lot of inventory --- who can afford that --- we would only be "buying" what we actually sold at the event. In the case of authors with strong local connections, such as being active members of a megachurch, we'd keep a good supply of their books in stock (watching purchase patterns) and we would use our relationship with these authors to make further contact within the megachurch.

5) We'd be the "go-to" place for anyone doing small groups, Bible studies, Beth Moore studies, etc. --- THE place for supplies for these groups. People buying their book for a Beth Moore group are likely to buy a Christian romance novel, or a new CD, or ??? We'd want them in our store, often.

Those ideas are quick, and off the top. Most store owners complain to us about "bundling" and "packages" and the stiff requirements from large wholesalers (no names used here, but we know who we mean). The booksellers end up paying for inventory that doesn't sell, or isn't the right mix or their market or their area. We feel their pain! But the steps above would be very positive and low-cost to implement.

Keep up the great work!
Dr. David & Lisa Frisbie
The Center for Marriage &
Family Studies, Del Mar, CA

The Center for Marriage & Family Studies


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