In a story that must have been in the can for a while, Newsweek reports that 271 independent members of what used to be known as the Christian Booksellers Association closed down in 2003. No word on store closures for 2004, but Bill Anderson, president of the CBA, "estimates that 200 more are sputtering." The cause isn't a dearth of demand but the kind of cultural proliferation that I wrote about in my feature story in the February 2003 issue of Reason magazine.
Not long ago, if someone wanted a work by Christian horror writer Frank Peretti or lay theologian Philip Yancey, they would have had to visit a religious specialty store. Now they can find it at Barnes & Noble or Borders.
[S]uccess [of evangelical books, music, etc.] has attracted big book chains and discount retailers that are aggressively taking over the market, selling Christian books often at a steep discount. . . .
The independents, says Anderson, "have been thrust from a protected specialty niche into an open field with a price-driven market." The retail climate, says Anderson, is "the worst it's been in 30 years."
Reporter Peg Tyre seems to sympathize with the Christian retailers who are being crushed by McBookstores, Wal-Mart, and other aggressive discounters. "Christian booksellers," writes Tyre "are tired of turning the other cheek" while "modern-day Goliaths" carve into their market share.
The CBA has begun advertising on Christian radio to try to keep people coming to the niche stores, and individual members have started to experiment with new forms of marketing. It's a good thing they're in it for the long haul because, as Tyre reminds, Christian retailers "won't be able to defeat this behemoth with a single shot."