Sunday, May 23, 2004

I guess it's bad news for somebody

The Associated Press reports that Christian bookstores are suffering because of the mainstreaming of Christian books. "Victims of their own success" is the idea, though not put into those words.

What's happening is that enough people are buying Christian titles to make it worthwhile for WalMart, Barnes and Noble and Costco to carry them, at discounted prices. That means that people don't go into the Christian (read that, Evangelical) bookstores to buy the other stuff they sell.

I have a hard time feeling a lot of sympathy. The Evangelical bookstores in our area have about 25% of their floorspace dedicated to books and the rest to kitschy little knickknacks. ''The problem for Christian booksellers is that best sellers are what we call 'traffic builders,'" says Bill Anderson, president and CEO of the Christian Booksellers Association. "So it isn't just a matter of losing sales on a few high-profile titles. It's the additional items that don't sell because people aren't coming to the store.'' Never once in the story does he mention that the "other items" are mostly Precious Moments (TM) figurines. Erg.

At the same time, the "Christian" booksellers narrowed their selection Christian books to such a narrow band of ideology that if I wanted something--Vinita Hampton Wright or Christian classics such as Dickens or Dostoevsky or something published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press--I had to look elsewhere ("religious fiction" at Borders; "literature" at any standard bookstore; a specifically "Orthodox" bookstore--or the Internet for any of them).

The good news (so to speak) is that there are a lot of books being written from a Christian worldview, and the writers are growing more proficient at their craft. More good news is that that the secular bookstores are willing to sell a good story or a popular title, regardless of ideology.

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