Investing in bookshops

A personal theological library is a vital tool for anyone serious about serving the gospel. It is important to invest in good Christian books. But have you ever considered the importance of investing in good Christian bookshops?

It’s a fact that Christian publishing is big business. This is not entirely negative: the unprecedented array of Christian material easily available at relatively low costs is a direct result of this ‘big business’ phenomenon. However, there is also a downside: the Christian publishing industry is, like any other big industry, largely market-driven. This means that popular books are far more likely to make money for the publishers and booksellers than unpopular books. In turn, this means that popular books are more likely to be printed, promoted, discounted and stocked, whereas unpopular books are more likely to go out of print, get forgotten, remain high priced or unavailable. In many industries, this is perfectly appropriate: good ice-cream tends to be popular, so it’s fine for the ice-cream industry to be driven by what sells. However, in Christian publishing, popularity doesn’t necessarily equate quality. In fact, the Bible teaches us to expect the reverse:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4)

This is why it’s important to support those Christian retailers and publishers who have taken the deliberate decision to prioritize quality literature over saleability in the mass market. This kind of policy means that they will suffer economically—they will have lower throughput, higher stocks and more cashflow problems. However, the benefits to God’s people are priceless—the easy availability of good quality Christian literature that supports sound and faithful teaching, which might otherwise disappear from the scene or get lost in a sea of junk.

Here are three examples of organizations in my part of the world that are particularly worth supporting. Each of them has slightly different aims:

Firstly (how could I not mention them!), Matthias Media provides high quality practical resources to equip and train all Christians in theology and ministry for the sake of gospel growth.

Secondly, Moore Books provides a comprehensive range of in-depth publications that are particularly appropriate for theological students and church leaders. Their stock isn’t chosen on the basis of theological ‘soundness’ (the authors and ideas are very diverse indeed!); rather, they aim to make available books that will stimulate and challenge at a scholarly level in order to exercise and equip Bible teachers for their task of carefully teaching the truth while refuting error.

Thirdly, The Reformers’ Bookshop fills another important need. This bookshop has a large range of books at all levels, but it deliberately aims to be discriminating in its choice of stock. Dave Hann, the manager, writes:

Both the assistant manager and I have studied at Moore College and the Presbyterian Theological Centre, and have benefited greatly from schooling in our Reformed Evangelical faith. This has in turn equipped us not to simply give people what they want, but to stock and commend what they need. Lord willing, through prayer and persistence, needs and wants will increasingly match up.

How can you support these organizations (and others like them)? Simply by making decisions to buy from them rather than from their competitors whenever you can. It’s unlikely to break your budget, but it will help to support what is good rather than just what is popular. And under God, it will help to make possible many more good quality, personal Christian libraries in the future.

14 thoughts on “Investing in bookshops

  1. Thanks for the recommendations!

    It saves not having to sort through a lot of “stuff” at Koo-Wrong smile

    Also, for what it’s worth, I happened to be in Koo-Wrong last week and checked the pricing of some of their Mathias Media materials. I noticed that most of the “Gudiebooks For Life” series were $2-$5 more expensive than MM sells them!
    – I guess that illustrates your point about popular versus quality eh?! wink

    Not to knock the big “K” altogether, we do get our Vegie Tales CD’s from them. So they do have some value…


  2. I’m totally with you on this one, and perhaps I even agree with the sentiment as to why they refrain from doing so, but if I could just air one small grievance here it’s that many of these fine book shops are not open outside of office hours. I live within walking distance of one of them, but I can never get there! So, if I would like that fine pleasure of actually going to the book store, to peruse through the books, I tend to end up in the big business options.

  3. Amen to that, Lionel!

    May I suggest that we suggest or, if we are in the position of making the decision, promote strongly to our congregations these 3 excellent book sellers?

    Many people just don’t think to go to these due to the fact that a well known bookstore in Sydney has such a large percentage of the market.

  4. I heard a former employee refer to the Christian bookshop they worked at as “Babylon”.

    And I once went to a large church out eastern suburbs of Melbourne which had plenty of Joyce Myer books etc. but missing, for example, was Leon Morris’ The Atonement.
    No Cross?  No Way.

  5. I’d love to shop at Moore Books &/or The Reformers’ Bookshop, but they have practical limitations that mean that I end up going to their less theologically discerning competitors.

    Firstly, location. I live in the west, but shops are in the inner-city. Thus getting there, finding a park, and getting back, takes up a fair chunk of your day.

    Secondly, they’re only open from 9-5 on weekdays, so there’s no way I, or most others in secular employment, can get to them during opening hours.

  6. Remember all the 3 bookshops offer mail order service if you know the book you want – i have ordered on line and on the phone and got the book the next day

  7. As much as we’d all love to support genuine reformed Christian businesses (even, perhaps by paying a small premium) opening hours, parking and accessibility will ensure that Reformers’ and Moore Books are patronised by only the most determined customers.

    My further problem with Reformers’ (I have never been to Moore Books) is that, as a Bible College student, they generally don’t stock stuff written by anyone other than a card-carrying calvinist, or that hasn’t received their own imprimatur. This makes even purchasing some text books difficult.

    Lastly, although I am happy to pay a premium to shop at genuine Christian bookshops, sometimes the big internet outfits just cannot be beaten. I have saved hundreds by always doing the maths and comparing local prices with Amazon, and (convert from Pounds Stirling but they offer free international postage).

  8. Thanks for your helpful comments! Just to reassure you that the parking is usually pretty good at Reformers. We’re at 140 Albany Road, Stanmore (on the grounds of Stanmore Baptist Church). Just park out the front and follow the signs. We’ve taken on board your comments, and are going to trial a new opening hour to 7pm on a Thursday evening (from the 19th March). We’d love to meet and serve you in whatever way we can.

  9. One note of caution: declining to stock books of some theologies is not in itself a virtue. As Chris pointed out, do we really want to be limited only to literature with Calvin’s stamp of approval?

    Here’s a worse scenario: Let’s not be too hasty in promoting a narrow selection of books lest the helm of our local bookstore is taken over by a less reformed perspective.

  10. Firstly, this whole conversation smacks of potter-esque “don’t say voldemort,” which I think is hilarious. 

    Secondly, Amen to the down-side of moore books’ 9-5 mon-fri hours.  This could possibly be ameliorated by a website that allowed us to browse by section, as if we were in the shop, as opposed to knowing the isbn of every title we wanted before we arrived (pls excuse exaggeration).

    Maybe MB could post a delicious library, or something similar, that lets us browse in a more visual, random, bookshop kind of way.

    There’s always a tension (as Chris A. has alluded to)  between taking advantage of the savings available on good quality resources (like the whole NICNT series, or dogmatics complete) at too-wrong or an o/s seller, and supporting ‘the little shop around the corner. 

    Let’s hope that these posts prompts more ppl to support the little shop around the corner, in the hope that quality over quantity is a valid state of being.

  11. Any of us engaged in evangelism or standing up for the gospel of grace have probably been labelled ‘narrow’ at some stage or other. In a ‘tolerant’ pluralist society, the exclusive becomes intolerable and we find certain names and terms used with contempt … for example; our Lord’s name… ‘sin’… ‘judgement’…‘Calvinist’.

    Our declining to stock some books is indeed a virtue, if those books, for example, deny penal substitution or the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

    As Reformed-Evangelical Christians, we have a responsibility to ensure that the deposit of faith is faithfully passed on to the next generation. What’s more, we are called to be discerning (Eph 5:10; Rom 12:2).
    Be that as it may, I’m surprised that it was suggested that Reformers is limited only to literature with “Calvin’s stamp of approval.” At Reformers, we do stock significant historic works, but we also carry many contemporary titles from numerous local and international publishers: Intervarsity-Press (IVP UK), Matthias Media, Crossway, The Good Book Company (Christianity Explored and Discipleship Explored, XTB, Explore…), Baker, Banner of Truth, Eerdmans, Evangelical Press, Christian Focus, Day One, Anglican Youthworks and Youthsurge, amongst many others.

    Over the past year or two, we have added hundreds and hundreds of contemporary lines, and have also become the Australian distributor for the Good Book Company. We are not primarily an academic, course-text bookshop – as Lionel pointed out: Moore Books does an excellent job at that.

    We make no apology for the good range of evangelical and reformed materials that are helpful and suitable for the wider public, and the LORD has graciously blessed our efforts.

  12. For those of us living close to the centre of the city it’s a great privilege to have the likes of Reformers and Moore books. I have been a patron of both stores and have found their service and selections supply most of my needs for preaching and pastoral ministry.
    It is easy to forget that both these stores are specialist stores and offer services that larger operations can’t. For instance, they can carry better of selections of individual publishers, and in the case of Reformers, you can usually get out-of-stock books within two to four weeks. This is fantastic service when you are pressed for a book that you need quickly. The other thing I like about them is that their staff are theologically trained. That’s a big plus when you need some discriminating advice.

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