Dinosaurs, Lies, and Christian Bookstores

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I was speaking with another Indie author at a convention over the weekend and she told me of the last panel she had participated at a different con. “I was next to an author who, after I’d answer the moderator’s question, would say the opposite of what I’d said and then insinuate I was somehow lying. He insisted that the traditional model was the only way and that anybody not published by the Big 5 was a no-talent hack.” I was not led to believe that this fellow was printed with said publishers.

His response is indicative of what he is: a dinosaur of the publishing era and someone who refuses to update his thinking based on the modern market and technology. He’s not uncommon, either.

Guys like him are leading the charge towards extinction and there is no easier place to see the fall out of his thinking than in the near-total collapse of the Christian book-selling industry. Within two years we’ve seen the largest two Christian brick-and-mortar book retailers completely close their stores, and the secular publishing world isn’t faring much better. So in the microcosm that is the faith-based publishing industry, what does it mean for Christian authors? The pending changes could be scary…

…or they could be exactly what the industry needs to demonstrate a correction that gives credibility to Indie writers who are changing the landscape of the publishing world.

The major publishers of the past have kept the gates pretty well guarded, but at the expense of many, quality, original writers whose stories are making people step back and ask why such amazing tales were shut out. The Martian is a prime example and so is Wool (and the author even refused to enter the “normal publishing industry” despite being offered a 7-figure book deal after his success. The success of guys like Hugh Howey has lent credibility to Indies. But regardless, a lot of the old guards at those collapsing gates refuse to give any serious thought to those breaching their walls as they collapse around them.

The turmoil within the publishing world is a sign of the times. The way people shop has changed and those who refused to get on board the ship have been left behind to starve in the ports. Companies who refuse to give credibility to the immense talent of Indies (and their capacity as self-promoters) are now rocked back on their heels by the dearth of their success and the impact it has had on their bottom line. The Big 5 are not necessarily starving in their castles yet, but losing a tiny fraction of a majority still translates to a lot of money they have missed out on. The ones who will lose the most in this skirmish are those who claim that Indies aren’t even real authors and insist that they should not be taken seriously. In all honesty, spite is a great motivator and Indies are great networkers and collaborators.

In an era of Trump, Obama, and polarized national politics, I wonder how much of modern thinking has been applied to national economy and business tactics. I don’t really care how people vote or what side of the aisle they root for, but it’s undeniable that the right has gotten further right and the left has gotten further left. In the same way, people no longer engage in business or relationships by seeking partnerships and commonality. I blame social media. How often do you see people post “If you don’t agree with XYZ, unfollow/unfriend me right now?” That’s nonsense, but polarization has taken over the American way of thinking and it needs to stop. Indies are real authors who earn real money. Some of their books suck. A lot of filth flows from the Big 5, too.

Right now, the biggest publishing chaos is in the distribution… the bookstores. As the market corrects to accommodate Indies, brick and mortar stores feel the brunt of it worst. Back to the Faith-based microcosm. In 2017 Family Christian Stores closed all of its stores. All of them. Now, LifeWay bookstores are doing the same. Speculation is that Barnes and Nobles will eventually follow suit and move to a primarily online model. In spite of the loss of chain Brick and Mortars, mom and pop bookstores are doing well and on the rise. The market for books is growing and physical books are on the rise again for the first time since the ebook craze took off in earnest.

Christian writers might be especially fearful thinking that the loss of those chains will lead to a loss of demand for their books. I see the opposite. Book buyers from those environments will finally start looking for other ways to get the content they desire. We have an opportunity to introduce readers to new ways of getting books.

Technology will change again, and wildly within the next decade meaning something new is on the horizon. Indies are the typically the first to innovate. If we keep our finger on the pulse of the market, we stand to gain the most with our books. Basically I’m saying this: it might very well be the best time to be an Indie, especially one with faith-based books. The changes are happening there first and whatever results might be the perfect petri dish for the secular industry to change, refine, and perfect.

One thing is certain, the winds of change are coming on strong and those refusing to bend with the winds are breaking under their pressure.

 

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