Despite LifeWay Closing All 170 Bookstores, Christian Bookselling is on the Rise

“There are at least 100 markets with 50,000 people without a Christian bookstore within an hour’s drive.” PHOTO BY PJ ACCETTURO ON UNSPLASH

When LifeWay Christian Resources announced it was closing all 170 bookstores late last month, following the 2017 closing of all Family Christian’s 240 stores, you’d be forgiven if you assumed it was the end of days for Christian bookselling. Each at the time of their closing was the nation’s largest Christian bookstore chain.

The reports of a retail apocalypse for Christian bookstores, a phrase borrowed straight from the Bible, is more “fake news,” but the kind that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, believes Greg Squires, the owner of The Parable Group, a data-driven marketing agency that supports Christian retailers, publishers and ministries.

“There is a broad perception among Christian pastors, church leaders and faith-based consumers that bookstores are gone,” he shares. “Even among Christian publishers there is a lack of depth and understanding about how meaningful the interactions are in a Christian bookstore.”

Nobody disputes the fact that bookstores in general, along with Christian bookstores in particular, have been impacted by Amazon and the changes in the way people buy and consume books.

“Christian publishing has been equally impacted by these changes, compounded by the loss of a large number of brick-and-mortar Christian retail bookstores,” says Stan Jantz, president and CEO of Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).

Demand for faith-based books is growing

Yet Christian and faith-based books are a bright spot in the overall publishing industry. In 2016 the Association of American Publishers (AAP)reported that books with religious and inspirational themes from both religious and trade publishers were among the best-selling books.

“Religious presses, imprints that focus on religion, spirituality and faith, grew 6.9% to $1.13 billion from 2015 to 2016,” the association announced.

“Books that emphasized values, simple living or had inspirational messages like the Magnolia StoryPresent Over Perfect, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Uninvited were among the most popular in 2016,” reported Tina Jordan, APA’s vice president of trade publishing.

That growth continued from 2017 to 2018, with religious presses accruing 4.5% revenue growth and in January this year, the latest AAP StatShot reports religious presses led the field with an 8.1% increase in sales, compared to the industry’s drop of -3.2%.

“Christian publishers are growing, with some experiencing years of significant growth,” confirms Jantz. Among the leaders in the field are Baker Publishing, Harper Collins Christian Publishing (which owns Zondervan and Thomas Nelson among others), Faithwords (a division of Hachette Book Group), Tyndale House, Crossway and Harvest House. Plus many Christian denominations operate a publishing arm.

These publishers are finding traction among the next generation of readers with authors like Rachel Hollis, Sarah Young, Bob Groff and Lysa TerKeurst, who “show,” rather than “tell” how faith can help people navigate in an increasingly secular culture.

“These authors are prominent on both Christian and general market bestseller lists,” shares Jantz.

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SOURCE: Forbes, Pamela N. Danziger