The Demise of the Christian Bookstore

The news broke last week that Family Christian stores are closing. The decline of the Christian bookstore continues.

Family Christian declared bankruptcy two years ago, in 2015. Not wanting to see this valuable resource for selling Christian products fail, Christian publishers and other suppliers forgave Family Christian $127 million in debt and approved the reorganization that allowed a number of Family Christian stores to remain operational.

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Now, Family Christian has made the announcement that despite the changes they made to improve product selection and make their stores more appealing to their clientele, sales have continued to decline. Now the chain is forced to close its stores.

The closing of Family Christian stores is sad news for the Christian book industry and for communities around the country. The impact of this big.

  • Christian publishers will now have 240 less stores to sell their books through.
  • 240 communities across 36 states will now lack a physical resource where people can discover Christian products, where the gospel can be proclaimed, and where people can receive encouragement.

While book sales are migrating largely to the Internet, there is still something to be said about physical stores. Across the country, physical stores are not on the decline. In Charlotte, where I live, there are numerous strip malls and shopping centers being built.
In fact, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) has been reporting an increase in their number of bookstore members of the past few years. The number of independent secular bookstores around the country is growing, while the number of Christian bookstores is declining.

You may want to attribute the decline of the Christian bookstore to the weakening of Christianity in the United States. I don’t think that this is the largest contributing factor to what is undermining Christian bookstores.

Why are Indie general market bookstores succeeding while Christian bookstores aren’t? I think the answer can be summed up in one sentence:

General market indie bookstores have embraced the indie author, Christian bookstores have not.

Here is why this is so important. Indie authors are excited about their books. They may not have the clout that national bestselling authors have in terms of drawing large crowds, but they still draw people to a bookstore. Indie authors are enthusiastic. They host events and invite the community to these events. Bookstores that embrace indie authors and their events find that these authors bring the community to the bookstore. These community members come for the indie author event, but they also buy other books. Increased foot traffic equals increased sales.

Sadly, for fear of the “unknown”, Christian bookstores have refused to embrace the indie author to their own demise. I just hope that the remaining Christian bookstores wake up and do what they need to succeed.

Related Posts:
How to Get a Book into a Christian Bookstore
Seling Books in an Overcrowded Market
Christian Bookstores Closing

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5 thoughts on “The Demise of the Christian Bookstore

  1. Lots of interesting thoughts here. I have never been a fan of Christian book stores (in general, not specifically saying Family Christian) – too often they sell too much “fluff” and not many books of substance about the faith – or sell too much “silly” stuff catering to commercialistic trends rather than truly Christian items. But I digress…and it is sad to see this chain close. Physical stores are important for various reasons.
    I totally agree with your thoughts about indie authors. I approached 2 of the Christian book stores in my area (one a chain, and the other independent) and both refused my self-published book with WestBow Press (division of Zondervan). I thought the independent store might be more flexible – nope.
    WHO DID TAKE MY BOOK? A secular used book store – that also sells some new books! They were flexible and even had a system in place for taking several of my books on consignment. And this store is thriving, and has several other locations in this area of the US.
    Indie publishing is becoming more accepted/common and I think stores reject these authors to their peril. Of course, not all self-published work is quality but I think it is fairly easy to detect the lower quality, and stores could have some policies in place for indie books.

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  2. For many of us, the bookstore and Christian publishing have become irrelevant. I only read Christian fiction—focusing on redemptive and spirit-filled fiction. The bookstores do not carry these titles and Christian publishers do not publish them. All my reading come from indie publishers [or smaller] and most come from self-publishers. When will companies like CBD carry the genuine Christian content? I doubt they ever will.

    Also, I only read ebooks [preferring iBooks, but forced to Kindle much of the time]. I’ll never use a bookstore or Website which does not give me DRM-free versions which will work in at least one of those formats.

    Things have changed more than many want to admit. The powerful, transformational fiction is now in the hands of self-pubishers, primarily.

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  3. It’s unfortunate, but was predictable (I saw this coming a few years ago). Indie publishing is more than just a few bad authors who couldn’t get published–many go Indie by choice (look at “aritsan” everything and the grassroots productivity of hipsters… just watch an episode of Portlandia.) Big chains have stuck to their guns so hard that they’ve only gotten overloaded with massive amounts of Joel Osteen remixes, the quarterly Went to Heaven/Hell and came back story, or books 263-278 in their current Amish romance series. Consumers want more than the few blanched selections released by the big houses and the big houses want to limit their risk and only sell what has been proven to make money… hopefully this new revelation that the old sales benchmarks aren’t sustainable will encourage them to again take risks with brave new titles (except on the kind of titles like I saw last weekend… there’s a good reason some titles never see the light of day–I’m looking at you, author of “psuedo-inspirational angel erotica.” –I wish I was making that up–nobody wants to see Fifty Shades of Paul and SIlas.)

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  4. I couldn’t agree more, and touch on it in my response above. It is sad some of the content that passes as Christian.

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