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Back from a week away and I’ve been ploughing through books as fast as my brain will allow. Claire and I managed to grab a morning free to visit Salisbury — well, the bookshops in Salisbury, at least. Some of you will know that there are problems with the SPCK chain of shops, which was recently taken over by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

You can [follow this saga->] on the brilliant Dave Walker’s Cartoon Blog.

Their problems have been blamed on a number of things, including the rise of Amazon, and too many bookshops competing in a dwindling market. But I think the problems are often badly run bookshops. Good Christian bookshops have a breadth of stock and an enthusiasm for their work. (There are lots of words I might use to describe the SPCK chain, but ‘enthusiastic’ isn’t one of them.) A lot of the time the problem is that Christian bookshop managers talk about the job in terms of ‘ministry’. They’re not selling books, they’re exercising a bookselling ministry. But there’s nothing wrong with selling books and trying to do it really well. Boring stock selection is a far greater problem than Amazon. Bad shop layout, drab displays and uninterested staff will kill your bookshop more surely than the internet.

Let’s face it, SPCK has been complacent for a long time about their shops. Maybe they saw themselves as part of the establishment, as part of a cathedral town as, well, the cathedral. It’s all very well complaining [as this post does->] that ‘Hardly anyone wants to really get to know the Bible in depth.’ You’ve got to inspire them to do so. You’ve got to fill the shop with book recommendations. You’ve got to display the stock and explain to customers why a book is great. You’ve got to run events and signings. You’ve got to work at this.

Because it’s not a ministry. It’s a business.

To illustrate my point, just around the corner from the SPCK shop in Salisbury there is the [Sarum College Bookshop->]. It’s half the size, but light and airy, really well-stocked, with loads of good, sensibly-priced secondhand books in the basement. It’s what a modern Christian bookshop should be and the new SPCK owners could do worse than pay it a visit.