by Dan Balow
Bookstores throughout the United States are going through the most challenging period in their history. The combination of online purchase of printed books and the dawn of the eBook have combined to deliver a one-two punch to the business of book retailing.
For Christian bookstores, the challenges started over a decade ago when a substantial part of their business (in some cases over a third) began to disappear when music became a downloaded media (iTunes started in 2001) and retail sales of CD’s began to decrease significantly. A second hit came when movies and video started to be rented and sold in numerous locations, then eventually becoming a downloaded or streamed media. To a lesser extent, audiobooks becoming primarily a downloaded media was another hit.
Remember Borders? They positioned themselves as a “media” retailer and the loss of music and movies put them into a spiral that resulted in their demise. Of course, the fact that they were a publicly held corporation didn’t help. Investors bail out fast when revenues drop and profit is marginal or nonexistent. They were not able to make the changes necessary to survive.
Add all these pieces and history together and you have the story of the challenges to be addressed by Christian retailers in 2014. The Christian Bookseller’s Association is addressing the issues from the bookseller standpoint, but I have a proposal what authors can do.
Adopt a bookstore.
No, not a legal transaction, but authors have an ability to draw an audience small and large. Hold regular meetings of readers in the store. Read to them. Talk to them. Test out your new book on them before it is published. Encourage the bookstore. Shop there, buy something. Get to know the staff. Post a list of your favorite books.
Christian bookstores have had a number of negative things happen that are out of their control. No matter what they do, they were bound to lose the music and video market to download. But they are still the place where a large number of people go to discover something new, buy a gift and connect. As an author, if you make a local bookstore part of your “social media platform”, you will be glad you did. After all, doesn’t the concept of “social” mean actually meeting with real people face-to-face?
And one more thing, when you are shopping anywhere for anything, you don’t need to tell the staff, “Thanks for your time, but I am going to buy this online”. Trust me, it’s like telling a friend that you need to go because you have a better friend you’d rather be with. Golden rule time…that’s all.
Any ideas how to “adopt a bookstore”? Have you done it already?