Something special is going on in the UK these days and I don’t mean Brexit. After years of decline and contraction, Christian bookselling and publishing is beginning to look up again. This was clearly evident at the Christian Resources Together Conference that just finished. The energy, excitement and vibrancy of the attendees was palpable and the event has grown significantly. After the demise of the Christian Booksellers Conference (CBC), Steve and Mandy Briars decided to try something entirely fresh and new when they founded CRT just a few short years ago. Initially it was a modest gathering of likeminded Christian resource providers – both bookstores and publishers in a retreat like setting. Speaker, Nick Page, joked that the first year was so small they had to huddle together just to keep warm. This year, several hundred people came together to celebrate what God is doing and to learn from each other. So many people signed up that the spacious Hayes Conference Center was not big enough and some had to get hotel accommodations off site.
I had been asked to come and share some insights from my book, The Bookstore that Matters, and hoped to be an encouragement and inspiration. To my great surprise and joy, the time spent with folks who attended CRT was probably more of an encouragement to me than I was to them. The format of the conference was very conducive to small group interactions and one on one conversations. People were excited to see each other, to share their stories and to get ideas from fellow book lovers. As an outsider, I received a warm welcome despite the frequent comments about “challenges” on the other side of the pond.
One of the most invigorating aspects of the conference was meeting new and younger people that are now getting involved. Many come from secular companies and bring fresh insights and ideas and also a sense of passion and calling to this new type of work. It was so refreshing to see how people are genuinely working together to overcome obstacles that we all face. Some time ago, a private Facebook group was set up for the Christian retailers and publishers in the UK. I am privileged to be a member of the group and have been amazed at how helpful people are to one another. As soon as someone poses a question, another person is likely to respond in a matter of minutes. This ongoing collaboration is making a real difference and people from all over the UK are actually “bearing one another’s burdens”.
Interestingly, innovation is taking place in the publishing world as well. I met several people who have started publishing companies in recent years. They are using print-on-demand technology to keep inventory costs to a minimum while allowing them to take risks on new books that might not have been published in the past. Many of these books are of high quality and are being produced with proper editing and good cover design as well. The CRT event welcomed authors to attend and they seem encouraged about the recent developments in the marketplace and the ability to get books produced with a variety of potential publishing partners.
The format of the conference is clearly one of the keys to its success. Emphasis is given to training, worship, learning, speakers, author presentation, etc. The trade show aspect is actually not the highest priority. While there were many vendors present and attendees did visit these booths and appreciated what was being presented, this was done in a very low key and collaborative way. No high pressure sales tactics or coercive marketing techniques were being deployed. Working together was the key ingredient and people genuinely seemed to love being together. Well done Steve and Mandy. I hope to come again some future year.