The Demise of Bookstores

Physical bookstores have been on a rapid decline for the past few years. Last year, in 2011, Borders declared bankruptcy and closed around 300 stores nationwide. Yes, a handful of these (14) were purchased by Books-A-Million, but that did not really make a dent in the decline in the number of actual physical bookstores.

More recently, citing steadily declining sales in their physical bookstores, The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) announced that they will close all 57 of their Cokesbury stores by April 30, 2013.

In 2010, CBA, the association for Christian retail, reports that 77 stores closed, while only 14 new stores opened. In 2011, 54 stores closed and 32 new stores opened. The number of stores closing continues to outpace the number of stores opening.

Interestingly, UMPH reports that while they are closing their physical stores, they will continue to operate their online bookstore at www.Cokesbury.com. The company says they have seen a steady increase in sales through their online bookstore over the past 10 years. The company has decided to put their resources into growing their online store rather than pouring resources into their dwindling physical stores.

Is the decline of physical bookstores just a sign of our economy?

I don’t think so. I think it is more. I think it points to a shift in our culture.

1. Our lifestyle is changing.

We lead increasingly busy lives. The big box retailers that offer groceries, home improvement, clothing, and other goods all under one roof are growing. More people are shopping at these stores for the convenience and time-savings they offer. Few people have the time to drive to multiple shops to buy niche products.

2. Our nation is becoming increasingly post Christian.

As our nation moves farther and farther away from embracing Christianity, the number of people seeking specialized Christian products diminishes. Many people may still purchase these products, but spending extra time to seek them out is not their priority. Hence, even Christian bookstores in malls are experiencing declining sales. Shopping for other goods is just more important.

Just as UMPH has experienced increased sales on their online store, so I think that more and more Christian book sales will be made via the Internet. As Christian books increasingly become a niche market, sales will migrate to the Internet. Currently, 49% of all books are purchased online. I believe the percentage for Christian books purchased online is probably higher than that.

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