First here’s the results as of earlier this week:
Here’s my response:
The timing on this poll for Canadians is eerie. First we lost the largest bookstore chain in the country last November when Blessings Marketplace closed. Then a few months ago, we lost the largest individual store in the country when Christian Publications of Calgary, AB closed. Then at the end of August, CMC, the largest Christian music distributor in the country, ceased autonomous operations, with assets sold to David C. Cook.This week the largest Christian book wholesaler in Canada went into receivership, which also impacts the six retail stores they owned.
Obviously, the blog poll is reflecting a longstanding frustration that its dominantly Calvinist readership has with the average bookstore. Heck, I’m in the business myself, but I’m not a fan of Joel Osteen, either. Over the years we’ve seen a handful of stores which catered to purists who could not abide the status quo, the majority of which, as with the readers of the blog hosting this poll, were Calvinist.
But the poll, and the comments that introduce it, would almost seem to celebrate the joys of book buying online. Let me assure you that in terms of the bigger, long-term picture, there is no cause to celebrate.
Instead, I would suggest a lament. These stores were on the frontline of ministry in our local communities. They dealt with people who were seeking a church, seeking counsel, seeking truth, or simply didn’t know what they were seeking. They were there for believers who needed something yesterday, needed something you can’t buy online, or didn’t know what they needed. They promoted local Christian events, provided prizes and gifts for churches and schools, and presented book tables at all kinds of events in camps, conferences and concerts.
They helped launch the “industry” we have today at a time before Left Behind, before Veggie Tales, before Gaither Videos, before Purpose Driven Life and before The Shack. They stuck with slow-moving backlist product because they believed that someone, somewhere might have a need. They stayed open in lean years during which they were losing money. They served customers at a time when it was about the quality of the product, the scriptural integrity of the product, the owners’ familiarity with the doctrine of the product; and not about the price of the book. In fact, when you make it about the price, you totally diminish the product. An author who brings insight into something that you never noticed before is giving you something that is priceless.
Retail store clerks taking the time to walk someone through an informed purchase of a Bible translation spend more customer service time than at the average shoe store, and require more technical knowledge than at the average consumer electronics store. You simply don’t get that online. The responders to this poll are the exception, not the rule, because they know exactly what books they want to buy before they order. Bloggers know exactly what they want to buy. But the average parishioner wants some help, wants to browse the physical book, and wants to talk to someone who acts as both bartender (listening to their story) and pharmacist (recommending the product that suits best and explaining its use.)
Longer term considerations factored in, this is a sad time for Christian publishing in Canada and the U.S. and the U.K..