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20 arguments for and against buying Christian books online

I started pondering the pros and cons of buying Christian books online when I discovered that I could buy a book (Wayne Grudem’s ‘Systematic Theology’) for $22 cheaper online than from my local Christian bookstore.

Earlier this week, Tim Challies shared his thoughts on buying from the local Christian bookstore versus buying on Amazon. He wrote this article because:

“I regularly receive emails rebuking me for supporting Amazon by pointing readers there after I review a book. Sometimes I receive emails rebuking me for supporting any online retailer, whether that is Amazon or a Christian ecommerce bookstore. According to the people who write me, I ought to point readers to their local, community bookstores. But I am not convinced that there is an “ought” in this situation—that one option is morally superior to the other.'”

It was a good discussion, but didn’t cover all of the arguments for and against. I wrote these up when I first started to think through this topic – and here they are. What would you add to these lists?

Argument for buying books from your local Christian bookstore

  • If you don’t know what you’re looking for the staff might be able to assist.
  • By supporting Christian booksellers, you’re giving them a presence in your community (and unbelievers might wander in).
  • Local bookstores are good for people who aren’t online.
  • Local bookstores often support Christian ministries (e.g. Reformers gives 10% to a mission agency of your choice, for sales from church book stalls).
  • Less chance of credit card fraud.
  • No hassles with delivery issues.
  • Get the book straight away (no time to wait for it to arrive – if they have it in stock).
  • Relational opportunities (e.g. have a coffee at the store’s cafe, chat to the sales person).
  • You can check out the book before you purchase it.
  • It’s much easier to source books for a church/camp bookstall from a local store.
  • If the book is published in Australia, buying locally saves emissions by avoiding the book shipping overseas (to the distributor), and then shipping back to Australia (to you).

Arguments for buying Christian books online

  • The money I save from purchasing online (which can be substantial), can go to my church, or to support other ministries.
  • Is the best use of our money (stewardship) to support bookstores that have high operating costs when this money could be used elsewhere?
  • Free delivery (with some online stores).
  • It can be easier than visiting a store (no driving, parking, etc).
  • Affiliate payments can go back into ministry.
  • Don’t support stores that promote themselves as Christian bookstores, but sell products from false teachers. Obviously, this isn’t all Christian bookstores.
  • You’re guaranteed to get the book (often local stores don’t stock it, and it can take months for the book to arrive).
  • Receive reviews from people who’ve read the book, rather than from staff who might not have read it.
  • Read samples of the book online (and even download samples to your Kindle).

What would you add to this list?

Which arguments for or against hold the most weight for you?

Here’s an interesting article by Albert Mohler on ‘Why bookstores matter‘.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Joanna

    December 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Going to a local Christian bookstore is great in theory.  The reality though, can be less appealing. Where I used to live the closest Christian bookstore had a very impressive range. However it took 20+ minutes each way to travel there. Busy with ministry responsibilities and academic work I simply couldn’t justify that much travel time in most cases to get something I could have posted to me with free or cheap shipping, Where I now live, there is a Christian bookstore much closer. However, the selection is very poor. They only have a small range and much of it is made up of fiction, Christian living books (some by dubious authors) and trinkets. There is not many serious theological books available there. 

    Another advantage of buying online is you can get ebooks that take up no physical space and are effortlessly portable. This is a huge advantage if like me you find yourself travelling or moving house on a regular basis or you lack the storage space for printed books

  2. Chris Ashton

    December 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Isn’t it a good thing, in and of itself, for Christians (and others) to pay less for books? Or is it only a valid argument for online purchasing if the money “goes to your church, and to support other ministries’?

    If my motives are less pious (for example if I’m pocketing the cash), should I actually be using the local guy?

    What if I’m using the savings to buy other books? Or does it depend on whether the other books are Christian books?

  3. David McKay

    December 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Mainly: shopping in a local store versus shopping on my Kindle
    but also buying in Australia versus buying overseas
    For: 1. Browsing in a shop is so much better than browsing online
    Against: 1. But browsing online gives more choice [if you already know what you’re looking for]
    For: 2. Yes, but browsing in a shop introduces new books you didn’t even know existed to a greater degree than the online browse.
    Against 2. Currently buying from overseas is considerably less expensive and the books arrive in almost the same time as if ordered from an Australian bookshop: sometimes sooner.
    For 3. Browsing in a shop allows you to take the book home with you immediately
    Against 3. So does my Kindle
    Against 4. The local store is hardly ever open. Certainly not 24/7 as Amazon’s Kindle store is
    Against 5. The store with plenty of stock doesn’t have as much as it used to [I wonder why?] and is 3 hours away
    Against 6. Storing on my Kindle takes up no space at all. That back room is crammed full of books. If e-readers had been available a few years ago, we’d have more room in this house. I would have bought some books, but others would have been free samples on my Kindle, or purchased ebooks on my kindle.

    But I don’t want to see the local store or the big city store disappear!

  4. Karl Grice

    December 22, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    I currently manage two Christian bookshops in regional NSW. I think it is a good thing that Christian books are so readily available online. And at the same time, there are many benefits offered by local Christian bookshops. (Steve Kryger has already identified a lot of them).

    I don’t want to spend my life replicating something that Book Depository can already do. The challenge for me as a bookseller is to focus on those areas and needs that online shops can’t meet – while at the same time making sure the business is financially viable. Sometimes this achieves both goals at the same time.

    About 18 months ago our shop began a joint venture with some local Christians who wanted to start a cafe. This enabled us to move our shop onto the main street of Orange. The change in location and the additional source of income improved our long-term financial viability.

    Before the move, almost all our customers were Christians. Now 40% of the customers coming through the shop each day aren’t Christian. Most of these customers know that we sell Christian books and that all the staff are Christian. It is the nature of both a bookshop and a coffee shop is that our staff develop friendships with our customers. It is a truly special business to be involved in. We have many exciting stories to share already, and it’s only been 18 months.

    We’re not just selling books now, we’re creating a space where evangelism occurs naturally. It is also a space we’re Christian can meet and encourage each other, with a great range of resources to refer to. We are a ministry to the community, but we’re not asking for donations. We’re simply asking that Christians purchase their books locally. And if you’re going out for coffee or lunch, come to our shop. In fact, if you’re meeting with a friend who isn’t Christian – bring them to the bookshop for coffee. One of our Christian customers did this in November. She chatted for an hour with her friend in the cafe, and then bought her a bible. Her friend was so excited to have her first Bible. We regularly get to meet new Christians, who are introduced to our staff as their friends buy them their first Bible. It is very exciting and we have many more stories to share!

    (The bookshop in Orange was started by a committed group of Christians in the early 1970s, and Christians in Orange have been shopping with us for almost 40 years. The business has been growing steadily across four decades. For the first 25 years it was completely staffed by volunteers, including a full-time volunteer manager. Without that history, the shop would not be here today.)

    Suggestions
    Buying Christian books online is not a bad thing, but here are my suggestions for better options:

    (1) If you can see that a local Christian bookshop has a valuable ministry then choose to buy books from them – even if it is a little inconvenient sometimes.

    (2) If you would like cheaper prices, tell the bookshop staff. Remember that online stores can move their prices up and down overnight – whereas physical bookshops can’t re-sticker their books everyday. Often bookshops are happy to price-match. Bookshops usually have sale sections too, where you will find books and CDs cheaper than you will ever get them online.

    (3) If you would like your local Christian bookshop to stock a better range of books, then befriend the bookshop staff. Be a loving Christian brother or sister. Throughout the last five years, many customers have given me books to read, written me letters and sent me links to read via Facebook. This input from my customers has an impact on me and on the stock you will find on the shelves. (It is also much easier to sell a book that I have read).

  5. Karl Grice

    December 22, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    You may be interested in a discussion that was on Radio National’s Australia Talks recently. Guests presented a range of opinions:

     

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/australiatalks/the-book-industry/3695964

     

    One thing that jumped out at me from the the
    Radio National discussion was the impact of government taxation
    policy. Australia booksellers are now competing with UK based Book
    Depository (now owned by Amazon). Being based in the UK, Book Depository does
    not need to charge GST to Australian customers and benefits from a subsidised
    British postal system. Many booksellers choose to price match book depository
    anyway, forcing them to cut costs in other areas (eg. staffing), which usually
    means the business owner works longer hours each day.

    The Australian Bookselling Association is (1)
    lobbying the government for changes to the tax system and (2) promoting the
    concept of buying local – in a similar fashion to the “Buy Australian
    Made” campaigns in the 80s. Part of the “buy local” argument
    is that we should be supporting the local economy and keeping jobs in
    Australia. The marketing is putting a much heavier emphasis on supporting your
    “local community” rather than the patriotic emphasis of the campaigns
    to save the Australian manufacturing. I’m not sure we ever saved the Australian manufacturing industry, so unless there are changes to Government taxation policy, we could lose much more of the Australian book industry.

  6. Karl Grice

    December 23, 2011 at 1:19 am

    I manage a Christian Bookshop in regional NSW, so I have a strong interest in this topic.

    It is a good thing that Christian books are so readily available online. So, the question I regularly ask myself: Why is it still important for Orange to have a local Christian bookshop?

    There are lots of reasons – many of which Steve Kryger has already identified. One key reason for us is missional. About 18 months ago we began a joint venture with some local Christians who wanted to start a cafe. This enabled us to move our shop onto the main street of Orange and now 40% of the customers coming through the shop each day aren’t Christian. These customers know that a Christian bookshop is attached, and know that all the staff are Christian. It is a truly special business to be involved in. We have many exciting stories to share already, and it’s only been 18 months.
     
    We’re not just selling books, we are creating a place where evangelism can occur naturally. Except unlike most ministries, we’re not asking for donations. We’re simply asking that they purchase their Christian books locally. And if they’re going out for coffee or lunch, come to our shop. In fact, if they’re meeting with a friend who isn’t Christian – bring them to the bookshop for coffee. One of our Christian customers did this in November. She chatted for an hour with her friend in the cafe, and then bought her a bible. Her friend was so excited to have her first Bible. We regularly get to meet new Christians, who are introduced to our staff as their friends buy them their first Bible. It is very exciting and we have many more stories to share!

    Along with the missional benefits, our diversification into fair-trade coffee and light meals also helps with the long-term financial viability of the bookshop.

    (The shop in Orange was started in the 1970s by a group of dedicated Christians, many of whom volunteered for years to build up the business. Without their sacrifice, the shop would not be what it is today.)

    Here are my suggestions for book buyers who want to support their local shop:
     
    (1) If you can see that a local Christian bookshop has a valuable ministry then choose to buy books from them – even if it is a little inconvenient. If you need the book by a certain date, tell the staff. If they can’t get it in soon enough, buy it online. But check again with them for your next title. Timeframes will vary for bookshops depending on the title.
     
    (2) If you would like cheaper prices, tell the bookshop staff. Remember that online stores can move their prices up and down overnight – whereas physical bookshops can’t re-sticker their books everyday. Often bookshops are happy to price-match. Bookshops usually have sale sections too, where you will find books and CDs cheaper than you will ever get them online.
     
    (3) If you would like your local Christian bookshop to stock a better range of books, then befriend the bookshop staff. Be a loving Christian brother or sister. Throughout the last five years, many customers have given me books to read, written me letters and sent me links to read via Facebook. This input from my customers has an impact on me and on the stock you will find on the shelves. (It is also much easier to sell a book that I have read).

    (4) Pray for your local bookshop staff. Recognise that we are working in a difficult industry and that just as churches struggle with change, Christian bookshops are going to struggle to adapt. Most Christian bookshop staff genuinely desire to serve God in their local community.

  7. Eric Johnson

    December 23, 2011 at 3:02 am

    Where i live in the states the christian book stores that survived the recession seem to pretty much be the arms of the secular owned christian publishers. And they do sell a lot of the false profits and unhealthy media like christian romance novels and “christian” movies played by secular actors.

  8. Chris

    December 23, 2011 at 3:53 am

    I was surprised to see that ebooks didn’t make it into this article – it was as if you were comparing retail shopping with online shopping for the same product (i.e., a printed copy).  Fortunately, the  previous comments already touched on ebooks.

    Now for my 2 cents:

    Pro’s for buying online/ebooks:
    -ebooks are cheaper, faster, easier
    -ebooks can be read on multiple devices, meaning I can read a few pages on my phone at night and continue on my tablet in the day.
    -don’t have to worry about the “theological views” of the store.  Well, that is if you are shopping at Amazon or B&N online.  The problem with local Xian stores (imo) is they tend to be backed by a particular denomination and carry that denomination’s theology.  If you don’t agree with it, good luck finding many books that suit your interests.  What’s worse, if you are unsure what makes a book “good theology” or “bad theology” according to your own church tradition, you may be heading into a bookstore completely unaware that the books you end up buying might lead you astray.  Then again, the problem with Amazon and B&N.com is that there is such a broad array of books, you have only user reviews to guide your search.
    -great for introverts who don’t like pushy salespeople!

    Pro’s for buying locally:
    -easier to return items
    -printed books are easier to loan out than ebooks
    -staff can help you

  9. Chris @ PrayBuddy.com

    December 24, 2011 at 4:56 am

    I agree with your questioning here. We are supposed to be good stewards of resources, so I would say that spending less money on a book so that more can go towards things such as giving, saving, family stuff, etc. would be perfectly acceptable. Actually, I see nothing “immoral” about supporting either online or local. It comes down to your own personal taste.

  10. Karl Grice

    December 24, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I manage a Christian Bookshop in regional NSW, so I have a strong interest in this topic.

    It is a good thing that Christian books are so readily available online. So, the question I regularly ask myself: Why is it still important for Orange to have a local Christian bookshop?

    There are lots of reasons – many of which Steve Kryger has already identified. One key reason for us is missional. About 18 months ago we began a joint venture with some local Christians who wanted to start a cafe. This enabled us to move our shop onto the main street of Orange and now 40% of the customers coming through the shop each day aren’t Christian. These customers know that a Christian bookshop is attached, and know that all the staff are Christian. It is a truly special business to be involved in. We have many exciting stories to share already, and it’s only been 18 months.
     
    We’re not just selling books, we are creating a place where evangelism can occur naturally. Except unlike most ministries, we’re not asking for donations. We’re simply asking that Christians purchase their Christian books locally. And if they’re going out for coffee or lunch, come to our shop. In fact, if they’re meeting with a friend who isn’t Christian – bring them to the bookshop for coffee. One of our Christian customers did this in November. She chatted for an hour with her friend in the cafe, and then bought her a bible. Her friend was so excited to have her first Bible. We regularly get to meet new Christians, who are introduced to our staff as their friends buy them their first Bible. It is very exciting and we have many more stories to share!

    Along with the missional benefits, our diversification into fair-trade coffee and light meals also helps with the long-term financial viability of the bookshop.

    (The shop in Orange was started in the 1970s by a group of dedicated Christians, many of whom volunteered for years to build up the business. Without their sacrifice, the shop would not be what it is today.)

    Here are my suggestions for book buyers who want to support their local shop:
     
    (1) If you can see that a local Christian bookshop has a valuable ministry then choose to buy books from them – even if it is a little inconvenient. If you need the book by a certain date, tell the staff. If they can’t get it in soon enough, buy it online. But check again with them for your next title. Timeframes will vary for bookshops depending on the title.
     
    (2) If you would like cheaper prices, tell the bookshop staff. Remember that online stores can move their prices up and down overnight – whereas physical bookshops can’t re-sticker their books everyday. Often bookshops are happy to price-match. Bookshops usually have sale sections too, where you will find books and CDs cheaper than you will ever get them online.
     
    (3) If you would like your local Christian bookshop to stock a better range of books, then befriend the bookshop staff. Be a loving Christian brother or sister. Throughout the last five years, many customers have given me books to read, written me letters and sent me links to read via Facebook. This input from my customers has an impact on me and on the stock you will find on the shelves. (It is also much easier to sell a book that I have read).

    (4) Pray for your local bookshop staff. Recognise that we are working in a difficult industry and that just as churches struggle with change, Christian bookshops are going to struggle to adapt. Most Christian bookshop staff genuinely desire to serve God in their local community.

  11. Karl Grice

    December 24, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Btw Steve, you can always email or fb me if you need copies of Grudem at good prices.

  12. Steven Kryger

    December 30, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Thanks Karl, I’ll definitely keep that in mind! All good for Grudem at the moment 🙂

  13. david

    January 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Another benefit of buying online is reduced environmental impact from not driving to the store. Stewardship is more than just money. 🙂

  14. David McKay

    January 3, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    If you decide to downsize, you might get a little bit of money for your books at a second hand shop.  No such luck with ebooks!

  15. Deb

    January 21, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    My biggest pro for buying online is that ebooks take no storage space. I had to give away hundreds and hundreds of books when we retired and downsized. With my Kindle, I can keep them all. The other reason I shop online is that I found more “Jesus junk” in my local Christian bookstore than relevant books – not true, I’m sure, of many.

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