Sunday, 21 October 2007

What would Noah do?

It seems that SPCK, a Christian publishing firm and chain of booksellers, has been having trouble lately. Following a takeover from a charitable trust, various changes have been made to the management that have unsettled things to the extent that vast numbers of shop staff are resigning, and the chain looks as though it might go under. I won't go into all the ins and outs (of which you can read more here and here), but I was rather struck by one of the quotes on the Cartoon Church blog:

“Every time someone buys from Amazon, rather than from a bookshop, that is
another nail in the coffin of a Christian retailer.” - Wesley Owen* Spokesperson

This made me feel a bit of a pang of guilt, given that I have used Amazon on more than one occasion to purchase 'Christian' books. So, I went to have a look at the SPCK online catalogue to see what they had in the way of youth ministry resources.

What I found was...nothing really. Which isn't to say that they don't sell anything I would want to buy, but that their website is rubbish. The only options are to look at 'New Releases', 'Bestsellers' or to do a search for titles, authors or publishers. There is a 'category' search, but you have to use one of their predefined terms which, although containing a wide range from 'Adventists' to 'Zoroastrianism', manages to completely omit 'youthwork' or 'youth ministry'. So how am I supposed to find anything, if I don't know that it exists in the first place? How are you supposed to browse? At least Wesley Owen's site allow you to do that.

It doesn't take a genius to make a business useful to its customers. And much as it would be sad to see the demise of a Christian bookshop chain, it doesn't seem that they want to actually help their customers. So what should I, as a Good ChristianTM, do to help keep them afloat? I guess the only option is to do my browsing on Amazon, and then search by title on the SPCK site, and buy the books at a higher price. I'm not really convinced, though, that a business should rely so heavily on Christian charity to keep its head above water.

*Another Christian bookshop chain.


The Cat said...

Totally agree. The web site is an important shop window, and a retailer should know how to display its shop window.

I think SPCK are wonderful, as they have provided a Christian book selection that is not Evangelically biased. But they have to compete in todays market, and it sounds like they are not. Some of the changes being asked for sound like they come from "The Dummies guide to Shop Management" - management by book is always a bad move.

Given that our local second hand book shop has recently closed, because of competition from Amazon and eBay, I understand the pressures small bookshops are under. But the response needs to be rather better than this.

Anonymous said...

Don't just use Amazon - try or or Also check out which not only has loads of reviews but also lists loads of Christian bookshops, many of which will take electronic orders and post books to you - many much quicker than Amazon. You can also find loads of book reviews at

Ginger said...

Thanks for the suggestions - I'd not heard of any of those save for Wesley Owen, and their websites are far more navigable than SPCK's.

One of the problems I find with youth ministry resources in general is that so many of them are American. Not that there's anything inherantly bad about that, but I just find that they don't translate well culturally. It's particularly noticeable in the RC resources - the UK Evangelicals seem to have a greater publishing output.

Maybe I should just write a book myself!

Custard. said...

I'm a big fan of St Andrew's Bookshops - there's one a couple of miles from where I now live and I try to pop in once a week or so when I'm not too snowed under with work.

They're sometimes cheaper than Amazon too, can order stuff fairly quickly and do a 10% student discount.

Oh, and I hugely benefited from RC youth resources - I'll probably blog about that in a few days...

I suspect what Amazon does means that bookshops have to raise their game to compete, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Pilgrim said...

Sorry to be coming to this kinda late... related discussion here, if you're still interested:
Christian Bookshops — who needs them?

Thanks to anonymous for referring to that's the UK Christian Bookshops Directory... well worth a visit, even if I do say so myself. Dedicated reviews section too, with a handful of reviews on 'Youth Work and Ministry' books...

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