Christian Retailing

VITAL SIGNS: e-books Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 04:14 PM America/New_York

Getting serious about e-books

They may not like it, but retailers know they can’t ignore digital publishing


We asked survey respondents what questions they ask fellow retailers when they talked about e-books. They told us:

  • Are there other areas to build our business that are not so easily accessible outside the brick-and-mortar?
  • What’s even available?
  • What are the logistics?
  • What are you doing about e-book sales?
  • Do you read digital books, and if so, how do you like the experience?
  • Will the digital impact on book sales be greater than it was on CD sales?
  • How to integrate with church bookstores and Web stores?
  • Yes, there is a shift, but isn’t the digital emphasis over-inflated?
  • Is there a way to make money selling e-readers and digital content?
  • Will it last?
  • Will consumers tire of system incompatibilities, system crashes?
  • Is eye strain a problem that increases with e-reader use?
  • Will readers miss their print editions and decide to return?
  • How will this affect the bottom line? Will we be able to remain in business?
  • How do we offer these to our customers?
  • What options are available and how to determine what works best for your store.
  • Is it really worth the time and money for the Christian retail store to invest in digital books and readers?
  • What is our strategy for the future shift in sales?
  • What are the advantages of e-readers other than easy access to digital books?
  • How much longer can we survive? There is not enough profit in e-books to make it worth the effort.


We asked respondents to comment on the CBA industry task force’s inability to find a possible industry-wide platform for e-book sales:


“E-books will only increase, not decrease. A solution must be found—it’s not an option to give up. As Christians, we have the mind of Christ. We have the advantage; the solution is out there.”

“Readers and smartphones are in the ‘toddler’ stage of their existence. I don’t think there is enough stability in the market in order to come up with a solution that would be all-encompassing for our situation.”

“I think the task force threw in the towel too early. They should have continued to look into finding a digital content solution.”

“I am disappointed that an industry-wide solution could not be agreed upon.”

“The whole process was a waste of time. We cannot, in a brick-and-mortar store, compete with digital technology. If we are to remain solvent, we must focus on product diversification.”

“Very disappointed. I was hoping there would be a great plan for independent stores being able to sell digital books.”

“Not surprised. Our industry has had its head in the sand regarding most changes--technological, theological and societal--for decades. Only forced changes are acknowledged and then grudgingly. We do not set trends but scramble to catch up.”

“It makes sense: digital content works well when sold in large numbers. Independent retail stores all having different needs and systems, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the problem.”

“Everyone has an interest in seeing their preferred system be chosen; it was the same years ago when CBA was trying to advocate a single inventory control system.”

“At this point it seems useless to come up with a reader for only Christian books. It would be impossible to compete with the Kindle or Nook.”

“It’s a shame that a consensus could not be reached. There has to be a solution for Christian bookstores to compete with the likes of Amazon and other e-book providers.”

“Not surprised ... too many different levels of technical efficiencies to make a single solution work industry-wide.”

“There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the integration of digital books into the existing marketplace. We are a church bookstore with a membership of 8,000 people, and we still have only received a few requests for e-books. But another church bookstore in our area has a serious interest from their membership and will have to address the demand for their customers.”

“No problem. We’re not really that interested anyway.”

“Let’s try it again. We have to develop solutions that will help stores move forward with digital solutions.”

“It is a shame, first of all, that the Christian industry is so far behind the secular market. Christian retailers should be on the cutting edge of new technologies, not four or five years behind.”

“It’s the publishers’ job to put this together, not the trade association. Why? Because you will not get any agreement between independents, small chains and large chains, where trust is scarce (sadly).”

“I do understand the problem ... no single solution is best for the variety of retail outlets that CBA encompasses. We are very small ... the demand is not there at this point ... our folks are a bit slow to catch on to new things with regard to Christian books. We’ll get there and make a choice when the time is right.”


“Disappointing: The Christian trade should be leading the way. Instead, we lag behind then try leaping onto the world’s bandwagons at the last minute only to land with a crash as we find they’ve moved.”

“This is best left to digital provider companies such as Integra Interactive.”

“The entire industry, including secular publishers, is in upheaval. I am not surprised a solution cannot be reached because I don’t think anyone has found an effective, all-encompassing solution yet. Everyone is scratching their heads.”

“Christian bookstores are burying their head in the sand and are not changing with the times. Not only with e-books, but also with the experience-based draw of coffee shops. Starbucks’ draw is the experience. Christian bookstores should be able to provide this better than anyone.”

“Retailers seem shortsighted—more interested on protecting their turf than nurturing the new frontier.”

“Publishers need to wake up to the reality that they are going to have less and less control over how people consume books and other content. They are unable to make that call. To think otherwise is foolish.”

“A digital content solution is but one part of the experience, and retail stores need to think about the experience they can control and influence.”

“In my view, the important challenge of the task force was to initiate dialogue on the process and begin spurring development of solutions into the marketplace. Over the next few months, we will begin to see a number of solutions from companies such as Spring Arbor and Signature Websites. It will be interesting to see to what degree stores will embrace the technology into their product mix. The next year or two will be fascinating in this regard.”

“It’s not surprising, because the options available for a digital content solution are rapidly changing. Combine that with a digital content solution being of differing degrees of importance to individual stores, and the discussion stalled.”

“For the sake of the industry, I had hoped it would end differently, but I must believe that during the process much about the world of digital content was learned and will in the end be of benefit to some, if not all in the industry.”

“Things are changing so quickly, I am not surprised that no consensus could be reached. Whatever they decided would have to be fairly broad and fluid to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape.”

“Christian retail stores cannot compete with e-books—it is a different business. They should serve with ‘physical’ products, service, information and a comfortable gathering place.”

“I think they were realistic for once. Without the ability to deliver an e-book to a common device (Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android, Nook), you will never capture any critical mass. Customers do not want to buy yet another device either; any solution that requires a proprietary device is not a solution.”

“There is no possible way for a brick-and-mortar bookstore to participate/compete in the e-book world. When a consumer wants to buy or read on their mobile device, they can do it anywhere in the world, instantly, cheaply and with the best systems possible. The last thing they want to do is stop their purchase and drive to a bookstore just to add complexity, cost and confusion to the process.”

“I was disappointed, but not surprised they couldn’t reach consensus. This is a very traditional, hide-bound industry, which makes it difficult to flex and adapt quickly or easily to changing realities. Our general market counterparts are having even more trouble than we are, but it was still disappointing that our side wasn’t able to lead the way with a spirit of cooperation and collaboration.”

“Too many people with differing agendas and priorities.”

“The majority of CBA sales are in print format, and CBA can make its best contribution by focusing on that area of retail. It will be difficult for CBA to add value to the stores in the territory of e-publishing. The decision to disband the task force is wise.”

“The industry needs to try again.”