Churchgoers 'buying less Christian literature'

Churchgoers 'buying less Christian literature'

Two Christian bookshops have announced their closure in the past few days, with booksellers saying that churchgoers are buying less Christian literature.

Barbican Bookshop in Fossgate, York, closed on Saturday (11th January) after 53 years and The Horsham Christian Centre in Horsham will close at the end of the month after 20 years of trade.

Doug Fletcher, owner of the Horsham Christian Centre, said: “The challenge is that it is a diminishing market with people turning to buying online, but our readers are reading less as well. Whilst the church is growing, the days where a church would buy books for people to read are gone because now people can carry out their research online. Also the days where a minister would carry out a sermon and hold up a book afterwards and say ‘if you want to get more, read this’ are also behind us.”

Fletcher is currently holding a 50%-off closing down sale.

He said that one change he would got back and make if he “had a time machine” would be to utilise social networking more in order to attract and retain loyal customers. “If I had listened to people about 10 years ago with the advent of the internet and social media, I would have used it more, reached out to people and made those changes then. Our customers value face-to-face relationships, it isn’t just selling books,” he said. “It is about the relationship.”

Manager Andy Bingham of the Barbican Bookshop told the York Press that the “financial pressure” of modern day trade had eventually caught up with the business. He said: “The shop has been a beacon of light on the high street for the church community in York and it is much loved and much cherished by customers all over the country. We have had a lot of people getting in touch since the closure was announced, both in letters and emails expressing their sadness that the shop is closing.”

David Lock, owner of the Manna Christian Centre in South London and also the chairman of the Bookseller Association’s Christian booksellers’ group, said that the picture for the sector was “mixed” but that he was “working harder just to stand still”. He also thought churches and their congregations were buying less Christian literature, which was an added strain on top of rising rents for shops and competition from online retailers.

He told The Bookseller: “It is a difficult climate but we have got to remain positive. Churches in the last few years have moved away from supporting bookshops. Some of them have linked to Amazon when recommending where to buy books, then donated the money they earn as ‘affiliates’ to charities like Christian Aid, which obviously draws sales away. However, before Christmas we began reaching out and contacting people and churches directly saying we are on the high street and they really should be supporting us and we have found that is working.”

Yesterday (14th January) also saw the final day of trade for two branches of the former high street Christian bookshop chain Wesley Owen in Birmingham and Kingston-upon-Thames.

The Bookseller reported in January 2012, that Wesley Owen, owned by Koorong, announced it was to close the majority of its Christian bookshops because the bricks and mortar business had been overtaken by online and digital growth.

Nielsen Bookscan sales indicate that the value of religion sector fell 4% year-on-year last year to £16m, and that within that, the value of the Christian sub-sectors fell by 2%, to £11.6m. By volume, Christianity literature-only sales were down 2%, to 1.2m. However, while Bookscan data records sales through all major bookshops, it does not record sales from market stalls, some independent religious shops and church foyers, which all sell books.