The brick-and-mortar Christian book business is in trouble. You could see the steady decline year after year at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) run by the Christian Booksellers Association. In fact, in 2008, Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian retailer, did not attend. This year, ICRS will meet in Denver “to significantly lower numbers—of both vendors and attendees.” Of course, much of this is due to the down economy. But I noticed the fall off several years ago.
A number of the publishers are beginning to adapt to changes in market forces. Most books can be gotten online at discount prices. Ebooks are making an impact. We’ll have to see if they can compete with downloadable music. Who buys CDs anymore? Amazon’s Kindle (a little pricey) and Sony’s Reader is forcing publishers to consider alternative delivery systems for their products. American Vision has already made the transition. We started in 2007. While we still sell to retail outlets, a majority of our sales come from online purchases. Ebooks are a favorite with our customers, especially if they can get them for free. We have published several with more on the way.
There are other trends in publishing. Christian fiction is big. I found this interesting comment from Karen Campbell, director of public relations for Zondervan: “We’re seeing increased sales of fiction, in part because Christian fiction offers hope and inspiration during tough times.” People gravitate toward optimistic people and trends. Christians have been subjected to dismal forecasts about the future wrapped in a façade of biblical prophetic certainty. We should see the present series of “crises” as opportunities for ministry on a worldwide scale instead of discounting the future as a black hole. Jacques Barzun, author of numerous books that trace the history of ideas and culture—his Dawn to Decadence is one of his best (2000)—puts cultural pessimism in perspective for us:
“Sooner or later, the sophisticated person who reads or hears that Western civilization is in decline reminds himself that to the living ‘the times’ always seem bad. In most eras voices cry out against the visible decadence; for every generation—and especially for the aging—the world is going to the dogs. In 1493—note the date—a learned German named [Hartmann] Schedel [1440–1514] compiled and published with comments the Nuremberg Chronicle. It announced that the sixth of the seven ages was drawing to a close and it supplied several blank pages at the end of the book to record anything of importance that might occur in what was left of history. What was left, hiding around the corner, was the opening up of the New World and a few side effects of that inconsequential event. A glance at history, by showing that life continues and new energies may arise, is bound to inspire skepticism about the recurrent belief in decline.”
Amen and amen! There are lessons here for the perennially pessimistic.
Quoted in Warren Cole Smith, “Booksellers breakdown,” World (July 4, 2009), 68.
Jacques Barzun, “Toward the Twenty-First Century,” The Culture We Deserve (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989), 161.