An Industry Shakeup

Back in 1998, Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer wrote a book titled BLUR: the speed of change in the connected economy. In the book they state, “Welcome to the new economy—a world where the rate of change is so fast it’s only a blur.”

blur

The book industry is no exception. Changes happen all the time. The industry is blurry because things are constantly changing. Here is the most recent shakeup for the Christian book industry: Send the Light Distribution (STL) is closing.

Citing the lack of funds to remain competitive with the current supply chain for Christian products, STL is liquidating. The company has told suppliers of Christian products that they can keep their product with STL for 90 days while they search for another distributor. During these 90 days, the company will keep their suppliers’ products on the market to their entire customer base.

STL is a large distributor. They sell products for more than 500 suppliers (publishers and authors) to over 10,000 retail locations. However, they can no longer compete in an industry with shrinking store space and growing online print-on-demand sales.

The closure of STL leaves three main distributors in the Christian marketplace that small presses and independent authors have access to: Anchor Distribution, BookMasters, and Spring Arbor. Of course, small presses and independent authors have easy access to distribution with Ingram and Spring Arbor via print-on-demand services Lightning Source and IngramSpark (Christian Small Publishers Association offers its members discounts on these two services).

Nothing is constant. Publishers and authors must be willing to adapt and adapt quickly to changes to stay vital and continue to reach readers. STL was slow to change. They did not incorporate ebook distribution into their services, and they did next to nothing to promote a little known print-on-demand program they had with Snowfall Press for independent authors.

Years ago, I spoke with a Senior Executive at STL about their need to incorporate ebook distribution to stay relevant in the changing marketplace. Sadly, they did not take my advice. The Christian industry still lacks a distribution program for ebooks…and now they lack one distributor as well.

Related Posts:
Publishing Industry Trends for 2016
A Shakeup in the Christian Book Industry
Embracing Change

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12 thoughts on “An Industry Shakeup

  1. > The Christian industry still lacks a distribution program for ebooks
    This is an interesting comment.
    What would you hope a Christian ebook distributor would do that the existing general market distributors don’t do?

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  2. Steve:
    Christian bookstores do not order from general distributors. Now, ebooks are not sold in stores, but they are sold in online stores. Most Christian bookstores have online stores. However, since there is no central ebook distributor for Christian books, small presses and independently published authors don’t have a way of at least getting their ebooks listed on Christian stores online stores. Having a Christian distributor that sold both print and ebooks would help ensure that small presses and independently published authors could at least get their ebooks listed in Christian bookstores online.

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  3. I strongly agree. A Christian alternative to Smashwords, or CBD accepting works from self-publishers, or something. My Website/blog [radiqx.com] has been pushing for this for several years now. It’ll be interesting to see what the Lord does. Maybe He’s coming before such a site could be implemented? The Christian fiction with redemptive or spirit-filled content is getting out, but the Christian bookstores and online retailers have cut them out.

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  4. I understand the enthusiasm from the Christian bookstore side and the benefits of such stores – I worked for STL UK for many years.
    I’m less certain how it works from the consumer standpoint given that ebooks require a device of some sort and these are commonly tied to a specific retailer.

    I’d be interested to hear how well ebooks are working for any Christian (or non-Christian) stores who are currently selling them. All the chatter suggests that sales are dominated by a small number of big players, most notably in the US and (even more so) the UK. Is there enough “niche” business to support smaller players, particularly when publishers would have to be very brave to ignore those bigger players and customers are likely to have their devices.
    That’s a genuine question. I don’t have enough data to tell and I suspect the answer will be different in different parts of the world.
    Something like Safari for Christian ebooks would be great and that might be a workable model for our niche, especially if it could involve stores.

    There’s also the question of whether the general distributors already offer something that addresses this.
    For example, Gardners apparently supply ebooks to 500 retailers (suggesting there must be enough business for some smaller players). Are any of these niche retailers of any sort? It seems likely. If so, how does Gardners handle them? It seems reasonable to think that they (and others) could supply just those ebooks that are in particular subject categories or from particular publishers, for example.

    I’m certainly keen to see a much more varied marketplace for ebooks in general (and my current experimental venture relies on it).

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  5. My hope is a place where readers could go to find vetted Christian books. I’ve developed a five-level classification system to do that which I use for my book reviews. It is also being used by the reviewers associated with my book review site. Right now, most of the “Christian” books marketed are barely Christian or not Christian at all. My romance reviewers rarely find a romance that is even Christian religious, let alone redemptive, or spirit-filled. Though we gave a spirit-filled award on Monday. I read one the other day that was sold to me as Christian but was actually Mormon.

    I gave it an Old Testament level rating with a direct warning of the possible Mormon connection. But I see books marketed as Christian from pagans, wiccans, Mormons, and the whole host enemy spiritual viewpoints.

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  6. I guess you’re mainly referring to self-pubished books. Publishers tend to have deliberately predictable theological standpoints.
    If so, how do you reconcile the desire for a Christian distributor with the likelihood that authors will be publishing via Amazon in many cases?

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  7. Amazon will be there, but you can’t go there for Christian books. They include all kinds of junk because it’s a subset of religion/spirituality. It’s very frustrating.

    Publishers tend to have very safe, dull stuff with no real life.

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  8. I always tell authors to not just use one place to sell their books. Yes, authors can publish through Amazon, but they should also use a distributor to get wider coverage of sales for their books. Some estimates say that two-thirds of all ebooks are sold through Amazon. Even so, authors who only use Amazon are losing out on the other one-third of places people buy ebooks. All your eggs should not be in one basket.

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  9. Plus, it’s different for every author. I sell barely 25% of my ebooks through Amazon, and 30% for Createspace. Amazon is becoming a smaller percentage every year.

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  10. I sell more through my Website and Gumroad, where I sell an archive of PDF, ePUB, and MOBI for the normal ebook price.

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  11. There seem to be two separate issues here.
    One is the curation of titles and the other is broader distribution including the possibility of existing bookstores getting into the ebook market.
    A combined solution might be possible using something like Gumroad or Hummingbird but there are compilcations in both cases.

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  12. The main issue is the huge investment in software and server space necessary. It would need a large company or a major investor—and Christian fiction is a fairly small market.

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