Why Christian Bookstores Are In Decline

According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), there are now more than 2,321 independent bookstores. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of general market independent bookstores grew by 35 percent.

Sadly, Christian bookstores are not on the increase. Instead, they have been steadily declining for years. It seems like almost every week I read about another Christian bookstore closing. Rarely do I see news of a Christian bookstore opening. Last year the Christian publishing industry took a huge hit when Family Christian closed—losing 220 stores in one fell swoop (there were 240, but 20 were purchased to be run independently).

I believe there are three reasons why Christian bookstores have suffered while independent bookstores have thrived.

1. Lack of depth of inventory.

Christian bookstores tend to play it safe. They only stock bestselling books and books by well-known Christian authors and personalities. In other words, they only stock books they believe will sell well.

The issue with this is that consumers can get these books at the big box stores. Why would I take extra time from my busy schedule to go to a Christian store to purchase a book by Max Lucado when I can pick it up at Walmart with my groceries? Why would I bother to browse a local Christian bookstore when there is not much new material to discover?

Shortly after the start of the new millenium, when Christian publishing and bookstores were still in their heyday, Barna warned Christian retailers at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) that unless they broadened the books they offered for sale and included books with more meat and less fluff, that they would suffer. It appears these were prophetic words.

Recently, the Board Chairman of the CBA, The Association for Christian Retail, told Christian retailers: “Let’s return to carrying a healthy book inventory. If the life-changing impact of Christian books is leaving our stores, along with our most faithful customers, this is our chance to re-align our mission and responsibility to the church to be the place to discover new authors and Christian thought from foundational authors.

2. Failure to embrace Indies.

One of the reasons that general market independent bookstores are thriving is because they have embraced the Indie author. With almost one out of every five books purchased penned by an Indie author, booksellers cannot afford to overlook this massive group of enthusiastic authors. Local Indie authors have the power to bring the community into the bookstore.

Sadly, Christian bookstores and CBA, The Association for Christian Retail, have failed to embrace Indie authors. Other than establishing a Creative Pavilion section at their annual trade show (a tabletop area for authors), CBA has done little to encourage their member stores to work with Indie authors. They have not championed a “Christian Indie Author Day” for their stores, unlike the secular market has done with “Indie Author Day.” Nor have they developed guidelines their members stores can implement to help these stores be more confident that the Indie books they carry will be quality Christian material.

 

3. Using an outdated model.

Starbucks thrived because they marketed themselves as a “third place,” a space where people can share and enjoy a cup of coffee with friends and colleagues away from work and home. Many independent bookstores are also setting themselves up as “third places.” They are striving to be a place where friendly staff know and remember the names of their regulars. They are also a place for the community to gather over all things related to books and reading.

It seems that most Christian bookstores are maintaining the old model of simply setting up shop and expecting customers to come because they are interested in what the store is selling. Wouldn’t it be nice for Christian bookstores to be a “third place” for Christians and seekers to gather and encounter God without the formality of a Church building or service?

I know I don’t have all the answers. Bookselling is a difficult business. However, comparing and contrasting the general market independent bookstores with Christian bookstores does show some glaring difference that I believe account for the current state of the industry.

Related Posts:
How to Get a Book into a Christian Bookstore
Christian Retail is Struggling
The Demise of the Christian Bookstore

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Are You Stuck? Here’s the Antidote!

Stymied. Stuck. Stalled. Stopped.

Ever feel this way? Maybe you have run out of steam or ideas. Or maybe you are just discouraged. Or maybe you just aren’t sure what the next best course of action is.

You are not alone.

In John 21, the disciples know that Jesus is alive after his crucifixion. They have seen him twice. Yet, they are not sure what they should do. Jesus has not given them any specific instructions and they are no longer “traveling” with him.

Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” The other disciples tell him, “We’re coming with you.”

They all don’t know what to do next. Peter has an idea. It sounds good. They know how to fish. It’s comfortable. So fishing they go.

Then Jesus shows up. He gives Peter instructions. Jesus tells Peter to “feed my sheep.”

The same can be true for you.

Are you unsure of what to do next? Wondering which marketing endeavor you should undertake? Unsure of which book you should write or publish next?

Here is an old poem that addresses this issue. It is titled “Do the Next Thing”  and Elisabeth Elliot re-popularized years ago.

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

Today, just do the next thing that is before you. Trust that God will show up. He will either tell you to do something else or confirm what you are doing.

By the way, today, April 26, is Poem in My Pocket Day!

Related Posts:
Poetry: A Difficult Genre to Sell
Do You Have a Poem in Your Pocket?
What’s Holding You Back?

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Announcing: The 2018 Christian Indie Award Winners

The votes are in and counted. The winners of the 2018 Christian Indie Awards have been determined!

Christian book lovers and retailers voted on 189 nominated titles in 13 categories. The winners in each of the 13 categories are:

Fiction:
Waiting for Butterflies, Karen Sargent, Walrus Publishing

Historical Fiction:
Solve by Christmas, Amber Schamel, Vision Writer Publications

Romance:
An Improper Proposal, Davalynn Spencer

Christian Living:
Pizza With Jesus (No Black Olives), P.J. Frick, Lighthouse Christian Publishing

Bible Study / Theology:
The Supremacy of Christ, Dr. William McCarrell and Rev. Richard McCarrell, Grace Acres Press

Devotional:
Delight Thyself Also In The Lord, Delight Thyself Design Ministries, Delight In Him Publications

Biography / Memoir:
Go West: 10 Principles that Guided My Cowboy Journey, Jeremy Sparks, Elevate Publishing

Relationships / Family:
Helicopter Mom, Bethany L. Douglas

Children’s (age 4 to 8):
Made for a Purpose, Kristie Wilde, Wilde Art Press

Children’s (age 8 to 12):
The Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants, James Tate, author, Jay Reed, illustrator, Beyond W8 Loss, LLC

Young Adult (age 12+):
Huntress (Life After Book 1), Julie Hall

Gift Book:
Fear Not: You are in Partnership with God To Manage His Creation, Jose Bonilla

Christian Education:
Leading by Example: A Parental Guide To Teaching and Modeling Christian Faith At Home, Rev. Dr. Tim Tooten, Sr.

Congratulations to all the winners! The Christian Indie Awards are sponsored by Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA).

Are you looking for a great book to read? Try one of the winners of the Christian Indie Awards!

Related Posts:
The 2017 Book of the Year Award Winners
The 2016 Book of the Year Award Winners
The 2015 Book of the Year Award Winners

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Are You Using AIDA to Hook Buyers?

So tell me quick and tell me true, or else, my love, to hell with you!
Less – How this product came to be.
More – What the damn thing does for me!

So ends a poem on advertising by Victor Schwab titled “Tell Me Quick and Tell Me True”.

Poor language aside, these lines sum up some good advice on marketing and advertising copy. Providing more information does not guarantee that the recipient will get your message. Sometimes using fewer words has a greater impact. Keeping your words lean makes them clearer and more memorable.

One model widely used in marketing and advertising can help you be more direct and clear in your marketing communication. The model covers the four steps consumers move through in making a purchase decision. The model is:

AIDA:  Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

AIDA represents the four areas your marketing messages need to cover to move a customer to action. Here is a breakdown of the process:

  • Attention: Grab potential reader’s attention by using words that are important to them.
  • Interest: After you have their attention, then you want to build their curiosity. The goal is to keep them engaged to move them to the next step.
  • Desire: Tell your potential readers what is in it for them. Whet their appetite so that you fan desire to read your book. Convince them they want to read your book.
  • Action: Finish with a call to action. Tell the interested reader what to do next—buy the book, read the first chapter free, etc.

Any marketing graphic you create about your book for your website, social media, catalog, magazine, etc., should contain all four of these elements. Consider this Coca-Cola ad.

The picture of a young happy couple grabs your attention. The term happiness grows your interest. Then #openhappiness grows desire. The idea that you might be able to actually drink a bottle of coke and feel happy creates a strong desire. An explicit call to action is missing in this advertisement, but it definitely is implied: “Buy Coke, drink it, and you will feel happy.”

You can easily implement AIDA in your marketing materials starting with your book cover. Make sure that your book’s cover (your #one marketing tool) draws people’s attention and creates interest and desire.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Mars.

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Six Marketing Hooks to Grab Your Audience
A Good Marketing Guideline
What Authors Can Learn from Shopping Behaviors

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How to Get More Attention for Your Books

When it comes to promoting your book on social networks, do you feel like you are wasting your time? You might be right… you really might be barking in the wind.

Recent studies show that social shares are way down. Recent studies by Buzzsumo and Shareaholic show that social sharing is way down. Due to algorithm changes on Facebook, social shares have decreased almost 50 percent in the past year.

Surprisingly, search engine discovery has made a comeback. In 2017, 34.8% of site visits were driven by searches, while only 25.6% of site visits came from social. Prior to last year, search lagged behind social.

So, how should you adapt your online marketing strategies to accommodate the decline of social shares on the Internet? Following are two strategies.

1. Share unique information that your target audience is interested in.

Don’t join the crowd. Often when a topic becomes popular, everyone jumps on it and adds their own two cents. This results in a large number of posts on a single topic, causing many to be lost in the crowd. So, while it is good to stay on top of the latest trends for your topic or niche, make sure your voice is offering something different that will stand out.

2. Write catchy headlines.

Whether you are writing headlines for a blog post, a video, a podcast, or other information you are sharing on social media, make your headlines stand out. When Buzzsumo analyzed 100 million headlines to determine which ones were the most successful in getting noticed and shared, they discovered that certain three-word phrases racked up the most likes, shares, and comments.

From their study, Buzzsumo shared the top 20 three-word phrases that received the most shares on Facebook. Check them out in the chart below.

The key to grabbing attention to garner social awareness and shares on the Internet is by writing headlines that grab attention. CoSchedule offers three great free tools to help you be more successful in writing headlines for blogs, subject lines for emails, and messages for social media to capture more attention for you and your books. Check them out:

Give these free tools a try. They can help you improve your messaging to gain more attention in the increasingly crowded digital realm.

Related Posts:
Grab More Attention With Your Titles
Is Social Media a Waste of Time?
Are You Grammatically Correct?

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