THE Bible Society has called for urgent consultation over the future of Christian bookshops, after Monday’s announcement by the Christian book distributor and Bible charity IBS-STL that it is to sell its UK operations. They include the 40 Wesley Owen bookshops.
The company said that financial problems, alongside supply and ser-vice difficulties in its distribution and retail outlets, had led to a “decision to exit the business”, a statement said. STL, formerly Send the Light, merged with the International Bible Society (IBS) in 2007 to become one of the world’s biggest not-for-profit book distributors.
Rumours that the company’s UK operation was going into liquidation or administration were dismissed in August by the chief executive, Keith Danby. “There is no immediate crisis,” he said at the time. “We are working hard to overcome the current difficulties and return to a normal cash position as soon as possible” (News, 18 September).
When Mr Danby, global president of IBS-STL, took over leadership of the UK charity in February this year, he confessed to being “deeply embarrassed” by the shortcomings of its new computerised ordering system, SAP. Winning back credibility and customer confidence would be “a very big job”, he said in an interview published in March.
The economic downturn could result in the closure of some Christian retail stores, he warned then. He believed that Christian retailers had to embrace the new reality of book-buying on the internet and digital downloads, but reiterated: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind as to the missional value of Christian bookshops in the UK. I believe that [they] provide a Christian presence in the community.”
Mr Danby described the sale in Monday’s announcement as a prudent and necessary step. “Whilst a difficult decision, we are focused on finding a solution to continue the important work of IBS-STL, to secure the jobs of the 490 people employed in our ministry, and to fulfil our financial obligations to our suppliers and creditors.”
The charity’s operations were being actively marketed to “a number of interested parties”, and it hoped to complete negotiations for sales or potential closures within the next few weeks, the statement said.
The chairman of the UK board of trustees, Michael Fitch, emphasised: “We continue to believe strongly in the power of God’s word and Christian resources to change people’s lives. We are praying that we can pass the torch to other like-minded organisations, so that our UK staff, suppliers, and ministry partners can carry our work forward.”
The Bible Society, which owns the Christian Resources Exhibition and the Christian Booksellers Convention, said on Wednesday that it was committed to “rebuilding a confidence among the Christian retail trade for the future”. It is planning a conference in early January for all those engaged in the industry to come together and discuss the future.