Following STL Distribution’s Closing, the Number of Book Distributors Serving the Christian Market Drops to New Low

Book warehouse shelves (Photo: Flickr)
Book warehouse shelves
(Photo: Flickr)

In recent years, a number of Christian book distributors have been hit by the same market forces affecting the stores they serve. This summer, Send the Light Distribution (STL) closed down after 40 years in business, citing losses from the Family Christian Stores’ bankruptcy, e-book and Internet sales, and store attrition. That leaves only Ingram (through its Spring Arbor division) and Anchor as book distributors dedicated to the Christian market.

Citing now-defunct Christian distribution companies of 10 years ago, such as Riverside and Appalachian, Larry Carpenter, president and CEO of hybrid publishing company Christian Book Services (CBS), said the number serving Christian stores is at an all-time low today, down from his estimate of five at the market’s peak in the late ‘90’s. “It’s definitely a negative thing: the number is downsizing, not right sizing,” he told PW. “The real losers are the retailers—now they have much less of a choice and opportunity in distribution.”

Ingram now handles all distribution for CBS, which is still owed $52,000 from STL. One of the biggest challenges STL faced was diminished business because of the number of bookstore closings in recent years. According to the 2016 State of the Industry report from the Christian Booksellers Association, three new CBA stores have opened since December 2015, while 27 have closed.

Nevertheless, Bob Whitaker Jr., president of Whitaker House Publishing/Anchor Distribution, has a sunny outlook on his distribution program. Anchor services over 300 vendors, 100 of which are publishers. “We have weathered the storm of competition,” Whitaker told PW. “We are optimistic, there are still CBA stores out there and we’ve been satisfied in meeting their needs.”

Anchor also carries e-books, gift products, and church supplies, with the latter constituting “a huge part of our business,” said Whitaker. Digital sales, however, have eaten up a lot of the book market for distributors, especially in fiction. Fortunately for Anchor, “most Christians live on nonfiction titles—especially Bibles and Bible studies—and those items haven’t taken a hit and are more available than ever in print today,” said Whitaker.

Yet as STL leaves the business, Christian music distribution company New Day and general-market distributor Midpoint are making inroads.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Publishers Weekly
Emma Koonse