For some people it comes in the middle of a good book. For others it comes as they close the last page and sigh. For me it comes as I talk with people about the books they are reading. It is that moment of enlightenment when a person realizes why they like reading so much. It could be that character who finally makes sense in the mystery novel or the book that finishes with the “perfect” ending. Whatever it is for you, it is something that is addicting and makes you want to experience it again and again.
This week, I got the chance to get out of my cocoon of an office and spend some time in the field making observations about this bookselling ministry that I am a part of. Once again, I was reminded why I like books and bookselling so much. My colleague and I were working on a series of short videos created in each of our stores that can be used at our team conference later this year. As a part of the videotaping process, I randomly asked a number of customers if I could ask them some questions. Amazingly, a few said yes.
As we began talking with these various people, it became obvious that while much has changed about the bookselling process over the years, some things remain the same. The reason that people shop in our stores was as varied as the people themselves, but there were certain themes:
1. People want a unique variety and selection. While Amazon may have unlimited selection, it can never compete with the unique curated selection of books in a well-run bookstore. If, for example, someone wants a generic selection of Easter books based on data and best seller lists, they can find this on any number of on line booksellers’ websites. If however, they want a hand-picked assortment of books that have been chosen “just for them”, they can only do that in a store like ours.
2. People want to touch, feel and see an item before making a choice. For some people, they even like the smell. Book purchasing is still a sensory experience. While some would like to postulate that bookselling is really commodity business, I beg to differ. It is amazing to watch a person shopping in a bookstore as they browse shelf after shelf before making a final decision. Rarely do they simply look. Most of the time they take the books down, open them up and read a few pages before putting it back. That tactile experience cannot be replaced by a computer.
3. Amazon does not offer hugs or prayer. Time and time again our customers expressed gratitude for the ministry that takes place in our stores every day. People come in looking for a product and instead meet a person uniquely placed to make a difference in their lives that day. There aren’t many stores where you can walk in and ask for prayer as a normal course of business. The emotional uplift that a person experiences just walking in our doors is palpable as some simply smile as they cross the threshold.
4. People need an Oasis – Over and over again, I heard people comment that our stores were places of peace and tranquility in the midst of a busy and chaotic world. Some people actually stop into our stores just to experience this atmosphere, hear some Christian music and to become inspired by the books they discover. Another emotion that people often described was joy and delight as they located the book they were looking for, found “the perfect gift” or simply realized there was a place like this bookstore that could be their “third place” in the heart of the city.
5. People need People – most gratifying me of all the themes I heard that day was the reality that people really like interacting with people when making a book or Bible purchase. Almost all the customers I interviewed mentioned how much they appreciated our knowledgeable staff and getting personal recommendations. These are not the typical “if you bought that book, then you will like this book” suggestions made on line, but specific ideas about books and Bibles that have really impacted the lived of other people.
At the same time as Family Christian Stores is working its way through bankruptcy proceedings and long established independent Christian stores around the country are closing their doors, God is still blessing the local Christian bookstore in the city. This collection of missional resource centers in the Philadelphia area is still a vital connecting point for the community. What a blessing it is to serve alongside the men and women who keep the doors open, welcome people in and offer to share the love of Jesus and the joy of the Holy Spirit each and every day.