Some an hundredfold

I recently had reason to lament the attrition rate of independent bookshops (Yes, I know chains are not exempt…). Retail has always been tough but maybe there’s encouragement in the Parable of the Sower interpreted with a booktrading spin.

‘Some fell on the path’, interpreted by Jesus as those who did not even understand. So many books on our shelves. Impossibly more out there at the wholesalers. How many of them do you claim to have understood? Thank goodness for core backlist that we read when were younger and had time!

Stony ground: a store enthusiastically orders a stack of a challenging new title that churches really need to hear! Window display. Point of sale materials. But clients don’t want change, much less pay to read about it – too soon it is time to go back to feelgood stuff ordered prudently; or maybe back to a conventional job.

Thorns: worries, the deceitfulness of wealth; hmmm, not many bookshops are feeling the second these days. Is the most dangerous mistake to reduce Christian bookselling to marketing tactics and the risk of failing to pay rent and payroll?

Good soil allows the return on a single seed to reach 30x, 60x even 100x: extraordinary, and so it is with a bestselling book. Some fruit is measurable in the till and some is reaped in changed lives. Have you ever considered what a bestseller should feel like in your shop?

Let’s set the bar for Christian books at 100,000 copies sold in the UK: Suppose that 20% is sold online and 40% in secular bookshops; that leaves 40K in Christian bookshops. If the top 120 bookshops speak for 70% of the CBA total, that means 230 copies sold per larger shop. My guess is smaller shops would sell at around 70 copies. Not many Highland Books have achieved this!

How might it happen? The parable speaks of the man who hears the word AND UNDERSTANDS IT. The sign of a true bestseller is that sales do not fall away after an initial rush but trend upwards instead. Different human networks pick up on it, understand it, and internalise it. Bookshops are where bestsellers are created, as we all know, but it’s not by marketing hype so much as the insight of those who serve there.