Friday, August 08, 2008

Christian Bookstores

John's Christian Stores (no website, perhaps no coincidence) is going out of business. It is located in Carol Stream, IL--just down the road from Christianity Today's headquarters, and near Wheaton and two evangelical publishers (Tyndale and Crossway). It strikes me that the closing of this store would make for a great profile piece in a magazine or newspaper to illustrate a trend: if a Christian bookstore and gift shop can't survive near Wheaton of all places, can it survive anywhere?

In July most evangelical publishers descended on Orlando for the International Christian Retailing Show (ICRS). In the late 90s the convention attracted nearly 15,000 people. This year: under 7,500. Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher, no longer attends the event. Professional attendance was down 17% from last year. (More info at Publishers Weekly.)

Not every Christian bookstore is fading. Westminster Books has done something truly remarkable--a bookstore at a small seminary quickly became a go-to place for many of us regarding books. In part it had to do with discerning a need, clarifying their distinctiveness, and fulfilling it with excellence.

But will Christian bookstores survive. More controversially, should they survive? Can they compete with and its gigantic selection, great discounts, fast (and often free--and in two days?!) shipping, no tax, ability to "search inside" a book, etc.

Does this in some ways parallel the larger cultural phenomena and battle of WalMart vs. the Mom-and-Pop stores?

Lots of questions.

I'll be out of pocket on Monday, but I've asked Frank Turk--who has done a lot of thinking about such things--if he'd do a guest column while I'm away.

Stay tuned.