Tag Archives: Wales

Good News from Cardiff

Phil Groom writes:

Just discovered this news report in the United Reformed Church of Wales News section. It’s undated, so not sure exactly when it was published, but fairly recent…

A new Christian bookshop is born

A new Christian bookshop has opened at City United Reformed Church in Cardiff. Readers of Reform might know that two years ago Britain’s oldest Christian bookseller, SPCK, turned over its chain of shops to a pair of American brothers who formed St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to use the shops as a means of promoting the Orthodox communion here in Britain. The agenda failed to impress SPCK’s traditional customers. The religious press joined a community of bloggers in reporting staff reductions and shop closures toward the end of 2007. At the end of March SSG closed its Cardiff shop, located at City URC. In June they declared themselves bankrupt.

Churches Together BookshopCustomers and City Church members joined church leaders across Wales in expressing their concern over the loss of a shop like SPCK, the only Christian bookshop in Wales catering to broad, mainstream ecumenical interests. As City Church had originally taken in the SPCK shop fifteen years before, when they were no longer able to afford rising city centre rents, the church saw the shop as one of its mission responsibilities. The elders appointed the minister and church secretary to explore a way forward for keeping a resource like this available for the churches.

That exploration bore fruit with Churches Together Bookshop opening in late July, and on the first Saturday of September holding its “Grand Opening” celebration with a service of dedication.

Read the full report
Visit the Shop


Flaming Swords, Firewalls and a Welsh Dragon

Eden Press Release, 01/10/2008

Eden Press Release, 01/10/2008

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…

Comments from Cardiff

Congratulations to Tom Arthur, Ruth Dickinson and Terry Cox on getting the new Churches Together Bookshop in Cardiff up and running. In the midst of all the chaos and bad vibes caused by Mark Brewer’s ‘Cease and Desist’ notices, it’s great to be able to report some good news. Somewhat ironically, the day the shop opened, July 22nd, was the same day Dave Walker had to pull the plug on his ‘Save the SPCK’ pages — the day the blogosphere exploded in Mark Brewer’s face. Little did you realise how much support there was out there for you, Dave: here’s to the day you get those posts back online!

Tom Arthur relates how things in Cardiff all fell apart then were pulled back together here:

[Editor’s note: I’ve taken the liberty of adding some links, correcting a couple of typos and inserting some extra paragraph breaks… hope you’ll forgive me for that, Tom. Original posted here, July 23rd.]

Picking up on Phil Groom’s query, we have Ruth Dickinson as manager at the Cardiff shop full time with Terry Cox assisting. Both had been working for SSG when SSG closed the Cardiff shop. We opened yesterday, 22 July. It has been quite a journey.

About fifteen years ago we took in SPCK when they were no longer able to afford city centre rents, so there has been a book shop at City United Reformed Church for quite a while. When SSG took over we began hearing customers’ concerns at the same time as we were following the background drama on the Cartoon Blog and listening to Ruth and Terry’s experience of Brewer bullying.

At one point Mark Brewer sent me an email asking us to take over the shop as a franchise (with a contract almost ridiculously slanted in his favour) and he wanted it signed and returned by that Friday. If it wasn’t so sad this Brewer episode in the life of the British book trade would be laughable. The short story is that when they closed the shop here at the end of March the elders appointed me and our church secretary, Patrick Hickey, to explore a way forward, which we did, and I am now chair of a board of directors of which Patrick is secretary.

The Brewers wanted £5,000 for the fittings and fixtures. We locked them out and said nothing was moving until the last quarter of rent was paid. So we got the fittings and fixtures and the safe and etc and so on. With backing from the national ecumenical organisation for Wales we named the new shop Churches Together Bookshop, and we got financial backing from City Church, the URC’s National Synod of Wales and the Church in Wales (Anglican).

SPCK’s Simon Kingston has been particularly helpful as we were putting together a business plan, as has been Margaret Leaming of Edinburgh’s Cornerstone Bookshop (which went independent of SPCK about a dozen years ago). I find this whole thing rather scarey. As a scholar and a cleric I am singularly unprepared to launch a new career in business. But this is something that simply had to be done for the sake of Welsh churches. There was no other mainstream-to-liberal Christian bookshop in the whole principality.

We are planning a Grand Opening the first week in September and want to invite everyone who is anyone to celebrate this adventure. I’m hoping this can be a gathering at which some of the major concerns can be addressed that have been floating around on the blogs over the last several months. The issues are not just for the book trade, for for the health of a battered church.

Terry and Ruth posted this brief note here on July 23rd:

Just to let you know Phil that we are up and running, as from Tuesday 22nd July, and that business is going well.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers and best wishes

Terry Cox & Ruth Dickinson

Later that evening, Ruth wrote:

On behalf of Churches Together Bookshop, Cardiff, thank you for your good wishes, prayers and support over the last few months. We opened our doors on the 22nd and have been delighted to see so many people, visiting and buying! A grander re-opening/blessing is planned for early September.

Judith, we look forward to catching up with you. If you go to the website http://www.ctbooks.org.uk and click on “opening hours ” you’ll hopefully see the inside of the shop, with some prominently displayed books by Dave.

Hope anyone visiting Cardiff will take time to pop in and see us.