After several days of speculation, Send the Light Distribution (STL) of Bristol, Tennessee confirmed on Tuesday night that it will be shutting down in a brief email and website posting:
While you probably never heard of STL, they were a key conduit in getting Christian products to the brick-and-mortar retail community, with more than 10,000 wholesale customers. Despite this, the announcement this week has been greatly under-reported in Christian-focused media.
STL provided one-stop shopping for bookstores who would otherwise need to deal with each individual publisher. Of the more than 500 vendors who work with STL — which included book, curriculum, Bible, music, DVD and giftware creators — nearly a third were exclusive, meaning that STL was their warehouse, under the subsidiary Advocate Distribution banner, which allowed an equal playing field with books released by major publishers such as Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Baker Books, etc.)
Those independent publishers must now scramble to find new avenues of distribution, though the options are very limited.
The first option is Anchor Distributors of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, which has had a strong Charismatic emphasis which may temper the enthusiasm of STL’s more conservative publishers, although many of those are already represented in the company’s inventory. Anchor recently purchased Word Alive, a Canadian Christian book wholesaler, and is now the only remaining Christian distributor.
(A well-known company in Cambridge, Mass., Christian Book Distributors, primarily sells to consumers, not to bookstores. Despite having the word distributors in its name, it is not considered a wholesale supplier.)
The other option is Ingram Publisher Services which is part of Ingram Content Group, the world’s largest independent book distributor, which deals in a wide swath of printed materials including books from other religions, erotic literature, etc. which would be equally repulsive to STL’s conservative clients. Furthermore, Ingram recently slashed the wholesale discount to smaller stores unable to meet its new $5K minimum. (Full disclosure: …including the store this writer is associated with. While we still have access, we no longer can afford to pay a premium price for products and still remain sustainable.) (Point of information: Other publishers and distributors don’t do this, though the size of individual orders can affect discounts received; some smaller stores could view Ingram’s actions in this as simply hostile.)
Given the choice, Anchor would be the better option. Without new distribution avenues, stores dealing in print books may be forced to tell customers that a favorite author is no longer available.
The closing of STL also ends Great Value Books (GVB) a company which began as OM Lit, a fundraising arm of Operation Mobilization. STL had recently folded GVB into its primary warehouse. Bargain books are great deals for customers and can also contribute positively to a bookstore’s bottom line.
The closing of STL also affects another segment of the Christian population: Homeschoolers. Unless someone steps up to buy it, HomeSchoolCatalog.org will end when STL shuts down. As it did for bookstores, the homeschool division allowed families to purchase all their supplies from a single source.
So why the closure? In an article at CT yesterday, STL president Glenn Bailey stated, “When companies get creative and find new and better ways to do things, like Amazon Prime … at the end of the day, that kind of thing also destroys the current or past way that business had been done.”
But some see this as just a delayed ripple effect of the bankruptcy last year of Family Christian Stores. Literary agent Steve Laube disagrees, telling CT: “If their demise had been six months ago, I would have made the correlation [to the FCS bankruptcy]. But today it is merely a reflection of the shift in retail buying patterns. Ironically, it doesn’t mean books aren’t selling, when in fact they are. Instead it only means they are being purchased in a different place.”
For publishers and bookstore owners alike, this is a sad time. We wish them — and the nearly 100 employees at STL — the best and encourage you to pray for all who are impacted by this.