I just spent a couple days at a tradefair for the Christian Booksellers Association of Australia. It was a good time, but a lot of work as always. I am challenged whenever at these events by the plight of the small bookstores and the plight of the big stores.
Most Christian bookstores exist for multiple reasons, not just for the sale of books and gifts. Many exist to provide volunteers an opportunity to talk to strangers about God, pray with people, donate or give to people time or resources for their development and so on. As such the Christian bookstores are on the frontline for ministry in Australia, yet they are struggling. Why are they struggling? We all know - don't we?
First people are buying their books from overseas. Now I don't think there is anything wrong with this, lets face it we all want to save a dollar. But what does saving a dollar really mean? Could it be worth sending that little bit extra to help support your local store? Most of the local little stores are working for the people and set up primiarly to be a place where they can help the community. Many churches have little bookstores that are open at least a couple days a week, but there are also some churches that don't even open through the week. Where do people go if they want some support? Perhaps they don't anymore ... I am not sure, but I do believe the bookstores can fill this gap if we help support them to. So spend $20 on a novel by Paula Vince at your local bookstore instead of buying it for $14-$15 from overseas. Yes some of those overseas places are cheaper, but then you can even give it a flick and feel the book. Also see it as a ministry. By supporting your local store it keeps them there ...
Secondly we are buying our books in digital formats. Ok so this might be where it is necessary for bookstores to go e too. The major bookstores are selling ebooks online now and you can download their apps to make it easier, so do give it a go! But then with never going to a bookstore you will never get to see some of the new stuff they have.
Thirdly a spiritual battle... see Jo Wanmer's post from a few days ago....
One of the issue for Aussie Christian authors is that who is going to search for our books online if we don't know we exist? Who is going to be there for us? If the smaller bookstores take on our titles and then have them sitting there when your readers visit the store they will find them! So we need the stores even to get our names out there and then perhaps still sell more digital editions as well.
So what do I suggest? Do a bit of both, support your local small store, support your local big store, buy online and write reviews (yes almost all the major places have review writing options so write them up there so they might be seen and sell more - supporting one another...) and buy your digital editions. Do a bit of all of it! :) Christian writers should be reading each other and working together. I know many of you are and well done! Keep it up :)
PS many of the smaller stores sell more non-fiction than fiction. Challenge - go and get an Aussie fiction book from your local store and rave about it to them. They may not have even read it and don't know it is sitting there. Tell them you loved it and then they might promote it too! A great trick and hopefully it will help encourage them and be inspired too.