Sunday, 24 November 2013

Do they KNOW WHY it's Christmas?

Were you one of the people who were glued to the ‘Dr Who’ celebrations last night ? I have to confess that I’ve never been a great fan, although we did watch it in the early days when our children joined thousands of others hiding from the Daleks behind the sofa!

But that early exposure didn’t prepare me for the 50th anniversary episode that I watched because I wanted to be an intelligent grandmother – among other things! Well when I say ‘watched’, I flicked in and out, and possibly because of that, didn’t have a clue what was happening.  That was a pity because I’d like to have known, and for those ‘on the inside’ it was obviously a great experience.

Someone at church today remarked that this episode of Dr Who was reflecting the war between good and evil and the need for a saviour. That may or may not be the case – as I said I only watched bits of it - but it did strike me that Christianity and what Christmas is really all about, is probably as much of a mystery to the people who throng the streets for their Christmas shopping, as Dr who is to me. If you asked the lady queuing up in Boots for her ‘three for two’ special offer, what Christmas means to her, I would be surprised to hear her say ‘Well there is a battle between good and evil and we need a Saviour!’

Did people understand it better in earlier years? When I went to visit the CLC bookshop in the City of London’s  Ave Maria  Lane,  I was fascinated to find Christian references were everywhere . Amen Corner, Paternoster Square, the Shepherd with his sheep, the towering grandeur of St. Pauls  – over and over again there were signs to remind passers by of the way Christianity once shaped our land. 

CLC is one of the larger bookstores and sited where it is among banks and officers, it’s a destination shop, visited by people out of the centre of London who phone ahead to check that certain books are in stock. My other destination that day was the Church House bookshop, tucked away off Dean’s Yard, with the magnificence of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament close by. That too is a place for clergy and others ‘in the know’ to find books related to their ministry.

And yet for the thousands of tourists thronging around near both sites, the fact that ‘Unto us a child is born’ and all that springs from that, is not part of their Christmas musings. What a privilege to have such news to share! The question is ‘Do they KNOW about the real Christmas’ and if not, do we care enough to find a way  to tell them? Or does Christmas become to us the sales figures at the end of  the day and little else?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Because He gives, we give too

Christmas is the time for giving. We all know that. And as booksellers, publishers and authors we hope that people will buy their gifts from us, or that what we’ve written or published will form a book-shaped bulge in someone’s stocking or a glitter – wrapped gift under the tree.

Christmas is a time for giving. Giving money for good causes … we’ve just had the razzle dazzle of Children in Need and the generosity of British public was even greater than last year, in spite these times of worry about bills and jobs. That is all done on a grand scale of course. But what can the individuals in the Christian book trade do, with their limitations of staff, facilities and size, to demonstrate to those who’ve never understood it, that God gave the Greatest Gift of all?

The Corner Stone Bookshop in Cirencester is well situated to meet people right where they are. It has a wonderful facade, bow windows looking out onto Dollar Street, a few minutes walk from the Market Square. It forms part of the ministry of Cirencester Parish Church, which has one of the largest buildings for a parish church in England.

Housed in a building that is 350 years old, they serve delicious coffee and home made cakes, and they had an interesting experience one year when they gave something away. 

Every fortnight there is a Farmer’s Market right outside the church, and one Christmas, the team gave away mince pies to stall holders and shoppers alike. A small enough thing you might think. But people were amazed that the church was giving something away rather than asking for something.One stall holder, who hadn’t been to a service of any sort since he was at Eton,  was so impressed, that he decided that he needed to discover more about a church that wanted to give to him. He began to attend the church and now is a church warden, his attitude completely changed about faith and God.

There are other ways in which The Corner Stone gives to the people who visit the shop. When stock has been around for a while, manager Lynne Doolan draws people’s attention to these books by regularly offering some titles at reduced prices rather than using the 'sale or return' option with the publishers. When the bible reading notes are out of date she makes them available free to people who want to ‘taste and see’ whether they might be the notes that would help them on their faith journey.

I enjoyed my visit to Lynne and her team. Delicious cakes, an opportunity to sign books and a real vision to meet the needs of both the locals and the thousands of tourists who visit this lovely Cotswold town every year.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Discoverability - it works both ways

One of the things I've learned from exploring the very specialist world of Christian bookshops, is that names are very important. If you're in a strange town, and perhaps the shop you're looking for has been moved , even  if it is only a few yards up the road, or the shop numbers have altered, it can be very difficult to find what you're looking for. This is especially true if you have one eye on the traffic and the Satnav, and the other on the shop details. A shop definitely needs clear signage, but it is also helpful if the name  makes it clear what is sold there. In other words, it should 'do what it says on the tin.'

I had never visited Stroud before last week, despite the fact that my husband's family obviously originate from the area. I had the impression that it was quite a 'New Agey' sort of place as far as shops are concerned, and being on the small side, height wise, it took me a moment or two to locate the christian bookshop, even when the SatNav told me I'd arrived. Although The Centre has a hanging sign at right angles to the wall, if you're looking straight ahead, it isn't that easy to spot for a stranger.

However the locals obviously know where to find it, since the  shop has been in existence for over 30 years and has strong support from the local churches - some 60 of them from the wider area use it regularly. One of the titles I noticed were a row of 'Friendship' books - compilations of material that I have often seen on the bookshelves of my mother's friends. When I queried whether that sort of thing still sold, Alex Luffram, the recently appointed manager was very positive about them. He told me that 40 had been bought in for last Christmas and when he checked his stock lists there were only two left.

Most authors would be delighted to have two copies of a given title of theirs on the shelves, which all goes to point up another facet of 'discoverability'. Know who your core customers are and make sure that you cater for them [or in the case of authors, know who you're writing for.].

 I gather that some bookshop managers lean towards stocking titles that  they like themselves, but while it is easier to put your heart into selling books and other items that you feel really positive about, you won't sell many of the Puritan  writers if your local Christians favour  writers 

who appear mainly on the God Channel or vice versa. 'All things to all men to all men, that we may win some." Wasn't that how Paul saw it?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Discoverability - the KEY to Marketing for Bookshops and Authors

A church minister, whose church was in the town centre, was lamenting to a friend about the reluctance of so many men to come through the doors of his church. His friend waved a £10.00 note  under his nose . 'See that betting shop over there?"  he said "I want you to take this money and put a bet on the next race."

Thoroughly uncomfortable with the idea, the minister refused and his friend asked him why? 'Well I'm opposed to gambling on principle" he replied  "and I've never been into a betting shop. I haven't the first idea about how these places work, so I wouldn't know what to do. Besides, one of my congregation might see me go in and wonder what on earth I was up to!"

That is certainly the underlying reason why many men don't want to be seen going into church, but to a certain extent it can be true of christian bookshops too.Our bookshops are full of 'treasure' but sadly most people who walk past are totally unaware  of the riches within. They feel that they wouldn't know what to look for in a 'religious' shop, and would be embarrassed to ask. So how do we increase the 'discoverability' both of our shops and of the books and other items within them? 

One of the important things is the appearance of the outside of the shop. Clean windows, eye catching window displays, and attractive signage will draw people in. When I was looking for the Light bookshop in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, the bright modern name caught my eye as I drove past. Invited to 'come into the Light,' I felt welcome and intrigued. and the sight of gifts and cards made  it seem like a 'normal' shop and 'safe' to go  in.

Ruth Creighton has dreamed of running a christian bookshop for many years, and when her family had grown up she and her husband had a long search for suitable premises for before discovering their shop, built on what had been the foundation of a Congregational church on a High Street Shopping Parade.  Initially they lived in Gloucester but have now found a home in Stonehouse

Both Ruth and her husband Keith are no strangers to stepping out in faith. They are also involved with an unusual  ministry to truck drivers, which offers support, 'goody bags' friendship and a listening ear at the many truckstops up and down the country  

Ruth [pictured left] wishes they had room for a coffee shop, but the kettle is always full and ready for use, and her warm personality and listening ear means that many come into 'The Light' for a card or a gift, and leave having shared problems, joys and perhaps discovered a book which can help them to see life in a different light.