Curtis Riskey, President, Christian Booksellers Association

riskeyDove: Christian Retail has faced a number of recent challenges, especially concerning the transition from physical goods to digital media. Where do you see the replacement of declining revenue to retailers coming from in the future?

Curtis: A lot of people think the world is going digital. In fact, I have data that show otherwise. E-book sales have flattened. They make up about 20% of the total market according to USA TODAY. Most of the growth in e-book sales was attributed to Fiction. This was partially due to a lot of free product given away. 62% of young readers (ages 16-24 years) prefer print books to e-books. 50% like to hold the product, and 20% say they don’t want to be restricted to a particular device. 10% say they can more easily share a physical book than an e-book. We’re seeing a decline in sales of e-books because they are device-oriented.

My concern is that we are reading more now but we tend to read in snippets, rather than long form. Short clips don’t offer the context or background to develop an idea or precept, which worries Christian authors and publishers.

Dove: I agree. I use my Bible app in church during the sermon. But I use my print Bible for study and devotions. It’s more difficult to highlight or write in the margins of a digital Bible.

What other challenges are the Christian bookstores facing, and what are your recommendations?

Curtis: The question is, are stores embracing “Omni-channel retailing”? We are encouraging retailers to meet the needs of the customer, whether purchasing a product in the store, or ordering it online through the store’s website and have it shipped to their homes. There is even the opportunity to order a product online and, if it’s not acceptable, the customer should be able to return it to the store for refund or credit.

Dove: We have closely monitored the Christian Retail industry because of the addition of our Dove Faith-Friendly and Faith-Based seals that were added to serve the stores and their customers. One advantage Christian retailers have is customer loyalty. Another benefit many stores offer are unique products that customers can’t get elsewhere. A book/video combination, or a printed devotional with a video are examples of value added that general market stores don’t offer. I also just learned of Christian Authors Network, an organization that offers in-store virtual events to Christian retailers for their customers.

Curtis: Yes, I’m familiar with Christian Authors Network. We’re encouraging our retailers to be creative and find new inventive ways to engage their customers. One way is to provide access to authors live via Skype to a group of customers at the store. It saves the time and travel costs for the author and still gives the store and customers a face-to-face interaction similar to a book signing. These live video events can also be included in the list of benefits to customers by joining a club that the store offers for an annual membership fee.

Dove: Christian Films are growing in number and quality. How is that impacting Christian retailers today?

Curtis: The beauty of feature films is that it they are long form as I mentioned earlier. As such they cut through the noise of the culture and take time to present the story in a compelling way. We embrace the medium of film as the future in reaching the culture; not only the U.S., but worldwide. Regardless of the language, the story of redemption is relevant to all cultures.

Dove: In light of the recent explosion of more and better Christian films, what role do you see the Christian retailer taking?

Curtis: As a community hub, the Christian retailer has an opportunity to offer a wide and deep selection of movies in their entertainment section. The mass merchants only carry the top selling titles from major studios. They rarely carry faith friendly or faith based independent films, and they are diminishing the amount of space dedicated to DVD and Blu-ray products. However, customers of Christian retailers have the assurance of knowing that when selecting an uplifting or inspirational film, they can trust their local store owner/manager together with the endorsement of the Dove Seal. Digital streaming is a bridge that Christian retailers must cross. There are new ways to be part of this new technology. One example is to work with the Christian film releasing companies and co-sponsor screenings, or influencer screenings, and offer products for sale in the lobby. Another option is to offer a store-branded digital locker for storing streaming movies purchased from that retailer.

Dove’s take away: Christian retailers should not shy away from new technology simply because it seems strange or different. Rather embrace change and figure out how to include it in the store’s overall strategy. Curtis Riskey and CBA offer many helpful resources to the industry.

Credits: Dick Rolfe, CEO – The Dove Foundation