The good bad news

MintsIn a story that must have been in the can for a while, Newsweek reports that 271 independent members of what used to be known as the Christian Booksellers Association closed down in 2003. No word on store closures for 2004, but Bill Anderson, president of the CBA, “estimates that 200 more are sputtering.”

The cause isn’t a dearth of demand but the kind of cultural proliferation that I wrote about in my feature story in the February 2003 issue of Reason magazine.


Not long ago, if someone wanted a work by Christian horror writer Frank Peretti or lay theologian Philip Yancey, they would have had to visit a religious specialty store. Now they can find it at Barnes & Noble or Borders.


[S]uccess [of evangelical books, music, etc.] has attracted big book chains and discount retailers that are aggressively taking over the market, selling Christian books often at a steep discount. . . .

The independents, says Anderson, “have been thrust from a protected specialty niche into an open field with a price-driven market.” The retail climate, says Anderson, is “the worst it’s been in 30 years.”

Reporter Peg Tyre seems to sympathize with the Christian retailers who are being crushed by McBookstores, Wal-Mart, and other aggressive discounters. “Christian booksellers,” writes Tyre “are tired of turning the other cheek” while “modern-day Goliaths” carve into their market share.

The CBA has begun advertising on Christian radio to try to keep people coming to the niche stores, and individual members have started to experiment with new forms of marketing. It’s a good thing they’re in it for the long haul because, as Tyre reminds, Christian retailers “won’t be able to defeat this behemoth with a single shot.”

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  • Shawn Macomber

    I wonder if any of this is an effect of just the high rate of turnover for smaller stores. People who have never owned a business often get into these sorts of enterprises and are burnt out and unhappy after a couple years. I know in the small area I grew up in, Christian bookstores were coming and going more often than trains. I’m sure the widening of the market has something to do with it, but I know other “independent associations of…” have made hay out of numbers of stores closing without providing the number of stores opening.

    Course, I could just be wrong. The world LOVES proving me wrong.

  • Seth Williamson

    I suspect that at least a not insignificant minority of Christian bookstore owners are simply not serious enough to do what it takes to compete in today’s marketplace. A store opened up a couple of years ago near me. I wanted to check it out, but they were closed at 5 or 6 pm every day, which simply didn’t fit my daily schedule. They also closed when it snowed. It was no surprise to me when they folded after less than two years. One can understand being closed on Sunday–but if it’s too much trouble even to keep early evening hours on weeknights, you can’t expect success.

  • Liz DeMar

    I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Is it morally wrong for me to purchase a book at Barnes and Noble if the same book is available at a Christian bookstore? Christian bookstores have taken a turn for the worse over the past decade or so. Books are now contained to one small section (maybe 15%?) of the store, with so-called Jesus Junk taking at least 40% of the store’s space, and music and church supplies taking the remaining available space. Each time I’ve visited a Christian bookstore in the past few years I’ve been sorely disappointed by the paltry selection. (This has been true for several different chains in several different cities). If the stores sold books, then maybe I would be more inclined to buy books from them. But as it is, I have no interest in Thomas Kinkade paintings, Christian t-shirts or trinkets. And I’ll always be a capitalist at heart: if B&N is cheaper, then that’s where you’ll find me. What’s wrong with that? It makes my purchase no less Christian.