Publishing History

Retail is Dead! Or is it?

You’ve read the news. This calendar year bankruptcies or total closures were announced by Toys R Us, Gymboree, Bebe, American Apparel, Guess, Rue 21, The Limited, Gander Mountain, Vitamin World, and Family Christian Stores.

Sears and Kmart announced last Friday that they were closing another 63 stores in January, on top of the 358 they closed already this year. And the watchful vultures are proverbially placing bets on when the entity will finally die.

This is on top of dozens of other retail operations closing their operations in the past few years, shuttering thousands of locations.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s corporate sales grew by 28 billion dollars from 2015 to 2016 (see their financial statement here).

Is Retail Dead?

Shall we stick a fork in it? Is it done? Is the world of retail kaput?

Dare I be contrary and say “No, it is not dead”?

Like most people I can be guilty of grazing the headlines and the first few sentences of a news article. And then I claim to have an “informed opinion.” We can easily forget the news adage “If it bleeds it leads.” Bad news is shouted from the rooftops. Good news is left unreported.

I suggest we need to look beyond the gruesome headlines.

For example, last week the entire bookselling industry ran the story in their newsfeeds that Eerdmans Publishing was closing their in-house store. (The original article is here.) The article made this statement:

“The closing, which affects two persons, follows a retailing trend established earlier this year, when the nation’s largest chain of Christian retail stores, Family Christian Stores of Grand Rapids, closed all 240 of its stores in 36 states.”

Wait. What? Notice how many employees were affected. Two. And yet there is a jump to claim it follows the “retail trend” and compares it to the bankruptcy of the largest Christian bookstore chain.

If there are only two people running the store it could not have been a very large operation. It should not be compared to a chain of 240 stores with 3,000 employees (an average of over 12 people per store).

Yet the headline proclaimed or at least suggested more “bad news” for bookstore retail.

The State of Retail

In the November 2017 issue of “Internet Retailer” magazine, editor Zak Stambor wrote:

“Fundamentally, retail is healthy. Overall retail sales rose 4.4% in the second quarter and e-commerce sales jumped 12.1%. And stores aren’t going anywhere. In fact, there will be 1,326 net new U.S. stores opening this year across a range of categories-from supermarkets to specialty merchants to mass merchandisers-according to retail research and advisory firm IHL Group.”

You can get your own copy of the free study by the IHL Group titled “Debunking the Retail Apocalypse” by signing up at this link. (I highly recommend reading this well crafted 34 page PDF document.)

The difference however is that it is no longer “business as usual.” There are some very smart people trying different ways to appeal to the changing way people shop. There are strong efforts being made to integrate the online experience with the physical store experience. Less fear of a customer whipping out their cell phone in the store to check things out, but instead encouraging it

Isn’t it fascinating that is opening physical bookstores across the country and invested $13.7 billion to buy a grocery store chain…with 460 physical locations? Immediately upon taking ownership the set up in those grocery stores changed.

What About Books?

There are many questions and worries about the health, or lack of it, in book retailing. We scan the constant (breathless) headlines of the flat sales or declining sales at Barnes & Noble. We watched as Hastings closed and Family Christian Stores closed. We hear, “Everyone buys their books on Amazon. Bookstores are dead. Retail may have a heartbeat but bookstores need a post-mortem.”

Then why is the Canadian bookstore chain, Indigo, expanding into the U.S. in 2018? They will be opening their first U.S. stores next summer in New Jersey.

What about the October 27th article in Publishers Weekly? They wrote about dozens of new Christian bookstores opening in places where Family Christian Stores closed! This suggests that those communities can still support a quality Christian bookstore. The problem for Family Christian Stores was their financial debt. I wrote about this multiple times in the past. Their financial debt stressed their ability to stay viable.

What About You, the Author?

Should we say the following?

Amazon is the villain. Your favorite store or Mall are the victims. No one reads anymore. Books aren’t selling. The industry is dead. Therefore you should quit.

Emphatically, “No!”

Are things different? Yes. The shifting nature of online retail and shopping patterns and the opportunity for Indie authors have changed the landscape. The way we experienced it even 15 years ago has changed. We can resist it or we can watch and learn and adapt to it.

However, the bottom line is that content is still king. People still want, even need, content. They want to be inspired, entertained, or informed. Your job is to find a way to do that with your writing.

Think beyond the book. Consider periodical writing (both online and physical magazines). Think specialty writing (greeting cards, curriculum, drama). There are many ways to write for publication, not just the book. (Please take a look at The Christian Writers Market Guide for hundreds of places where your work can find a home.)

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