Phil Groom writes:
The borders of Eden are no doubt as well guarded as ever — but where the biblical story gives us angels with flaming swords to keep the ravening hordes of fallen humanity at bay, in the new Eden we’re faced with firewalls. And the new Eden wants to keep us in, not keep us out.
I’m talking about eden.co.uk, Christianity’s contender for the throne of Amazon; and according to a recent press release issued by Eden’s Managing Director, Gareth Mullholland, it’s not about price: it’s about Range, Availability and Convenience:
‘Range’, ‘Availability’ and ‘Convenience’ are the top three reasons that customers say they now shop with Eden.co.uk instead of their local Christian Bookshop. This is contrary to the popular opinion that ‘price’ is the primary concern.
Eden clearly have a point: it’s restricted range, limited availability and the Brewers’ astonishing mastery of the art of complete inconvenience that combined to drive customers away from the former SPCK bookshops. As Meg Gilly, one of many people commenting on the petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop, has said:
In the past I would spend £500-600 a year at the Durham Cathedral shop on books for myself and items for my churches. Now the items I want are not available and the range of books is much reduced.
But what about price? Are Eden not being more than a tad disingenuous here? As any visitor to eden.co.uk immediately notices, the company specialises in discounts, in giving away margin for increased turnover. Melanie Carroll — who many here know as the former manager of spckonline.com — offers this challenge:
Come on Gareth, Prove that statement by removing the price factor and lets see how much the price really is a factor then when a good percentage of those customers decide to visit Amazon instead to partake of their breadth and convenience?? probably not then hey – not a risk you are willing to take?
How much margin Eden are giving away may be privileged information, but one thing we can be sure of: like Amazon, Eden will be expecting ever deeper discounts from their suppliers. It looks like a feeding frenzy for the goose that laid the golden egg, and whether it will end the same way remains to be seen.
In the midst of it all, however, one company stands firm, and their name says it all: Friends and Heroes. But Gareth isn’t happy:
Unfortunately [Friends and Heroes] aren’t available through any online retailers such as Eden.co.uk, WesleyOwen.com or even your own christianbookshops.org store. This is because Friends & Heroes don’t want to supply internet retailers because they say ‘we have our own website’.
Although this kind of thinking was common a few years ago, with one distributor describing internet retailers as ‘cowboys’, things have moved on a long way and publishers recognise that customers will choose to shop with their preferred retailer.
This Christmas we will sell thousands of children’s DVDs but not a single copy of F&H. It’s a real shame because they deserve to be seen.
Unfortunate indeed. Perhaps. But why should Friends and Heroes make their products available through other websites when they’re quite capable of meeting demand through their own? It’s a world wide web, after all, a global storefront. Customers will, as Gareth says, choose to shop with their preferred retailer — and for most, that retailer is the one that offers the products they require, when and where they require them. Friends and Heroes products will be seen and people will find them without Eden’s help, and it’s a real shame because Eden won’t share in the profits…
Please don’t misunderstand me: I admire Eden’s success. I am totally committed to seeing Christian retailers make the most of the opportunities the internet brings us. Eden drives my own online store at www.christianbookshops.org and the commission from those sales helps to subsidise the costs of running UKCBD (and I should also point out that all eden.co.uk links in this post are affiliate links to the same end). But not satisfied with 75% growth whilst everyone else struggles to make ends meet, Eden’s target is 100%:
Eden.co.uk has announced that book sales in September were up 75% on last year and that the company is on course to hit a target of 100% annual growth by the end of its financial year in January.
The message of Eden’s press release seems to be: Christian bookshops beware: Christmas is coming — and Eden wants it all.
And what’s more, the Welsh Development Agency apparently wants to give it to them. For the privilege of moving just 10m across the border into Wales, the Dragon has roared its approval and is now helping to fund Eden’s further expansion:
Fast growth can be difficult for small businesses but Eden is being supported by the Welsh Development Agency who have already provided grants towards training and development. The WDA is part-funding an intense period of business planning with the School of Management at Cranfield University, meanwhile another significant investment from the WDA is expected in early 2009 to develop new sales channels for christian books in the UK.
“Last July we moved into new premises on the other side of Chester and we are now ten metres over the border into Wales. The Welsh Development Agency has recognised our potential and is helping to ensure our growth and stability by providing us financial support along with experienced ‘mentors’ from leading businesses in North Wales.”
“Fast growth can be difficult, ” say Eden. Any growth would be wonderful, say the rest of us. Congratulations to Eden on securing that funding; and I’m curious about these “new sales channels for christian books in the UK” — a new chain of Christian bookshops? A rescue plan for the former SPCK bookshops? A bit late for most, but we live in hope. Or are we talking faster servers for more websites and a bigger, brighter online presence for Eden? Or perhaps — and now we really could be onto something truly wonderful — assistance for the rest of us to develop online sales channels alongside Eden?
In the meantime I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief and saying thank God that Third Space Books aren’t based in Wales: visions of the Brewers breathing fire after cross breeding with a dragon come to mind. On the other hand, like Donkey’s Dragon in Shrek, perhaps the Welsh Dragon would have eaten them. Suddenly, I’m a believer…