Roger Olson recently made this comment:
“Go to any Christian (or secular) bookstore and look for the section marked ‘theology.’ It probably doesn’t exist. I’ve been alive long enough to remember when EVERY Christian bookstore had a fairly large section labeled either ‘theology’ or ‘doctrine.'”
I think Olson’s comment is right. So let me just take a minute and show what our “theology” category looks like. We are definitely an exception.
We have 80 feet of shelving devoted to the category and at my last inventory count we have over 500 different titles.
Why Your Christian Bookstore May Not Be Able to Do This.
Now let me come to the defense of those stores which don’t (and probably can’t) maintain this kind of inventory. The industry average for the number of times a book should sell in a year is four. That is to say if a book doesn’t sell at least four times a year it’s not profitable to keep it in stock. To be sure my theology category is filled with books which only sell once or twice a year. It is the rest of the store that carries me and it is only because of the popular trade, fiction, music, and, yes, even gifts that allow me to keep a well-stocked theology section (not to mention an equally large section devoted to Old Testament Commentaries, New Testament Commentaries and Biblical Studies sections). If the store had to depend on my categories alone to run the store we would be out of business by the end of the year (okay maybe next year). I have customers every week say they wish they had a store like ours where they live. Well, truth be told they probably did at one time (Olson says he remembers when every store had a large theology section) but it could not sustain itself with the customer base they had. (It helps that we have a few seminaries and many, many churches which are vital to our health.) While my department does as well as can be expected I see many customers come in with a list of books, look at them, and then tell me they are going to buy them from Amazon. I understand every penny counts but they could at least buy one book from us as a way of saying thank you for being there for them. (And for spending 20 minutes answering their questions.) Everyday I hear stories from people who visited a Christian bookstore and tell me they had a hard time finding “real” books. Many Christian bookstores are devoting most of their floor space to fiction and gifts because that’s what they have to do in order to stay alive. So try not to be too hard on them. They’re trying, but they have to do what they do to keep the doors open. The industry as a whole is going through a difficult time and far too many Christian bookstores have had to close their doors. The next time you’re in your local Christian bookstore (if you have one) take some time to thank them for being there and if the spirit is willing and the wallet isn’t too weak maybe you could pick something up while you’re there. I know they would appreciate it. And if you’re ever in Grand Rapids please stop in and give us a visit. I guarantee you won’t have any trouble finding books.