Sunday, 27 October 2013

Marketing for the Technically Challenged and Totally Terrified - Bookshops,Bunyan and The Word

Bedford is a town you tend to pass as you drive up the A1 or M1. Which is a pity because apart from having a multi-racial and multi lingual population - 100 languages spoken at the last count - it is the place where one of the most famous books in the English language was written. 

Pilgrim's Progress, a book that is second only to the bible in sales terms, was penned in Bedford gaol, when John Bunyan was imprisoned there for preaching outside of the established church.

It's always a great encouragement to me as a writer, that although few if any of Bunyan's sermons are remembered, it is what he wrote in prison, for the entertainment of his children, at what was probably the lowest point of his life, that has lasted and changed lives. 

So 'Books' are certainly 'Us' in Bedford and there has been a Christian bookshop here since the late 1970's. Initially it was housed in a room above a local GP's garage,tucked down a country lane. How people found it is something of a mystery, but find  it they did and The Pilgrim Christian Bookshop flourished within the limitations of its situation.

After two or three years it was moved into Bedford, fairly near the centre. Staffed mainly by volunteers it had a coffee shop upstairs which served to draw people in. My father was one of those who helped out and during his stint on a Monday morning my sales increased by about 100% since he turned them all face out on arrival! 

Scripture Union took the bookshop over when the Karach's retired and moved to Norfolk, followed by Wesley Owen and then the Living Oasis chain. Sadly it closed then for a while, before Joy Denny felt God giving her the vision for restoring the witness that a bookshop can give to any town, and the Word Bookshop was opened in a popular shopping area near Bedford's beautiful Embankment.

It is a small shop but crammed with stock and supported by at least 30 of the churches in the town. Joy has had bookselling experience, since she managed The Pilgrim bookshop for some years in the early part of it's life, and perhaps this is why she has seen steady growth in support and sales. But she is also aware of where the needs are. 

While I was in the shop a lady was asking for a bible to give to someone who was doing an Alpha course at the King's Arms,one of the town's bigger churches. Rather that give her any version Joy rang the church office to ask what was being used in the course. Sadly the receptionist didn't know but, when pressed, promised to ring back.

 I wonder if that is a 'Tip for the top' for other shops. Perhaps a register of the bible versions used by the churches running Alpha in YOUR locality would help you to serve enquirers well. And the Gideon booklet of 'where to help when' is available from your local branch of the Gideons, to tuck inside and make this Book of Books more accessible to a new reader.


  1. Having worked in a Christian bookshop over several years I would say that it is the 'know-how' of the workers/manager that make it successful as well as the effort given to going that extra mile. Joy is a great example of both.

  2. I absolutely agree. thank you