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Christian stores vs. the internet

Andy Rau

It's a story we've heard before--local, independent stores fighting a losing battle against internet retailers and megacorporations like Walmart--but this is the first piece I've seen that looks specifically at the plight of Christian stores today. Some are staying afloat by turning to the web to supplement their brick-and-mortar business, but many more are experiencing something more like this:

The Word, a small storefront specializing in books and music, is no match against massive competitors like Borders and Barnes & Noble. "Their [religion] section is my whole store," he said.

That also means his and similar stores are less attractive to publishers and distributors, many of whom have ceased offering discounts on small orders or have begun selling in bulk directly to churches.

Davis said it's often cheaper for her to buy certain products herself at Target or Wal-Mart and resell them, rather than pay the manufacturer's price only to charge the customer less.

A bit depressing, and it highlights questions that other markets have already had to face: is there an ethical dimension to the decision to buy a product online or from a local seller? Do businesses that can't compete in our market economy deserve to go out of business? Do they have any special moral claim to our patronage?

Also of note, given that my employer created and hosts the Bible Gateway, was this little item from the article:

In many cases, consumers aren't even shopping online.

They're downloading or copying what they want freely from sites like Bible.com and Biblegateway.com.

"People don't need to buy Bibles anymore to compare [passages] . . . and I can't disagree with them," said Nancy Davis, owner of Buckeye Church Supplies in Rocky River, which closed its street-level store last June and fell back on its basement warehouse.

It makes sense, although it nevertheless makes me feel somewhat sad, that the days of the local Bible salesman are being eclipsed by the internet age.

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