Christian Products’ Industry Future is “Bleak”

Sharing is nice

Demonstrating once again the failure to distinguish between Christian products and Christian books, Christian Retailing reports that former marketing exec for Nelson and Zondervan, Greg Stielstra, foresees a bleak future for the Christian "products industry" (CR):

"Brick-and-mortar operations haven't lost all their business, but they've lost the business that will allow them to stay in business, whether they know it or not," says Stielstra.

Interviewed for World Magazine’s annual books issue (ironically releasing Independence Day, and just one week before the International Christian Retail Show), Stielstra says: "There's a lot of lip service to online retailing and to e-books, but there's still too much allegiance to old ways of doing business. Surges in Christian fiction, or in sub-niches, are just disguising the fundamental problems."

Stielstra adds that the music industry showed the way ahead for the book business. "It's no accident that it took a computer company–Apple–to figure out the new music model. They had nothing invested in the old model, nothing to protect."

(Incidentally, in the same upcoming issue, a World report highlights self-publishing as "the bright spot in a gloomy book-selling environment.")

Many thoughts ricocheting around my head over this, but one question stands out: Could it be that some Christians don't consider books just another product among the "miscellaneous retail" taking over Christian stores? Okay, another: Could it be that the Christian retail channel has focused too narrowly on certain segments of their potential market?Or maybe it's just that Wal-Mart or Amazon is cheaper.

The International Christian Retail Show changed its name from the Christian Bookseller's Convention recently after many years of books losing floor space to other products. Now books are also losing to a retail industry that sees no connection between their recent downturn and the surge in popularity of the "spiritual-but-not-religious" description of faith.

We can ignore or decry the situation all we want. But I wonder, 

Is there a connection between current rejection of establishment restrictions (about which the established powers–religious, corporate, and governing–are typically very concerned), and these entities' declining health?

Because whether YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are creating or following this social revolution, it doesn't seem many in the established powers (save Obama, maybe) are really paying much attention. 

Well, I haven't read the article yet. Maybe that's part of what Stielstra is saying about Christian retail. His coauthored book, Faith-Based Marketing probably deserves a fair read.

Sharing is nice

2 thoughts on “Christian Products’ Industry Future is “Bleak””

  1. Mick, I wonder how, or if, Stielstra’s observations tie in with the poor turnout for the recent Christian Book Expo. The economy, poor promotion, location and cost were all cited as possible factors for the seeming disinterest in that event. But other possibilities seemed to go un-asked. For instance, were the Expo’s numbers indicative of dissatisfaction with contemporary religious literature, disconnect with readers, shoddy product, or simply a plateauing of the current religious book industry. It’s funny to me how quickly the low turnout was blamed on poor planning, advertisement, location or cost, rather than an admission that our culture and its institutions are in tremendous flux.
    We’re on the backside of recent polls indicating that Americans are in some type of religious transition. Christianity — at least traditional Christianity — is in flux among a new generation of postmodern youths. So why can’t that be affecting the Christian book and/or products industry? We can rail all we want against “emerging” churches, theologies, and hipsters, but until we begin thinking forward about the industry and its publishing models, I wonder that observations like Stielstra’s we’ll be less infrequent.

  2. “Could it be that some Christians don’t consider books just another product among the ‘miscellaneous retail’ taking over Christian stores? Okay, another: Could it be that the Christian retail channel has focused too narrowly on certain segments of their potential market?Or maybe it’s just that Wal-Mart or Amazon is cheaper.”
    I can’t speak for the overall consumer market, Mick, but to answer your first question: Books are the primary reason I go to the Christian bookstore. Second question’s answer: Yes, without a doubt. Third question: Definitely a factor.
    I do think there is somewhat of a disconnect between some publishing houses and the readers of Christian fiction. It seems to this outsider that “traditional” literature playing to the same old ladies (and not necessarily old because that would be me :(!)as the primary audience for its novels is missing a considerable and diverse audience. That old mule can’t carry the load forever. Granted some Christian readers pick up one “lousy” Christian novel and write the whole industry off, and some just have no idea what’s available to them because they don’t know how to find the Christian worldview novels in secular stores because so often they aren’t there!
    It isn’t like publishers and their editors aren’t looking for “something different” within the framework of a Christian worldview, but, honestly, I don’t think some of them have a clue what some fiction readers are looking for outside their usual target audience. JMO

Discuss...