Catholic bookstores defy boom-bust

Curtis Stang, manager of Universal Church Supplies, says their unique titles and religious supplies help combat the lure of online shopping.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

h3 class="cap">Curtis Stang, manager of Universal Church Supplies, says their unique titles and religious supplies help combat the lure of online shopping.

 

October 24, 2011
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

More and more web-savvy consumers are turning to their home computers to browse the latest book titles through online book marketers such as Amazon and Indigo.

As a result, local Catholic bookstores have been forced to adapt to the apparent growth of online shopping.

"We continue to have customers of all ages that are still in here buying books," said Curtis Stang, manager of Universal Church Supplies, 11105-102 Ave. "For us, there are other things that continue to grow at the same time we're losing to online purchasing."

Stang said he'd be naïve to think that the growth of online marketing is not affecting his business. But the amount is hard to measure.

Donna Wallace and Laurie Redl are owners of St. John of God Books, 9544-87 St. They agreed that the impact of online shopping on their business is hard to determine.

All they can do is be open to new technology, recognize the trend toward online shopping and adjust accordingly.

"I know that 15 years ago we sold more books than we do now. But who knows if it's because people don't have time to read anymore or they're on the Internet all the time," said Wallace. "They might just type in 'purgatory' and read about it online. They don't need a book anymore like they used to."

Both Universal Church Supplies and St. John of God Books offset book sale losses by also selling music, gifts, rosaries, greeting cards, toys, and other religious items.

MONITORING THE TRENDS

"We gain in places but lose in others, and we're as busy as ever. We want to keep our ears and eyes open to all these trends, for sure," said Stang.

Wallace and Redl said the biggest factor favouring an actual bookstore over an online store is the savings on shipping costs. Buying items in bulk quantities, they pay less for shipping, and may even have options on how they want items shipped.

An individual ordering a book online, however, usually does not have a choice, as UPS might be the only way to have a book shipped directly to their home.

"If shipping costs remain high, people might rather get our store to order it in," said Wallace.

Another new trend that possibly affects book sales is the emergence of e-books and e-readers. Some publishers are keeping up with these modern trends, whereas others are still traditional in their marketing.

"What percentage of readers in general uses an e-reader? Where are we in that trend? How much is that going to grow and when's it going to stop growing? What's the peak?" said Stang, asking questions that he does not yet know the answers to himself.

According to Stang, people might be inclined to buy popular books such as The Shack, via a web-based store, while more obscure titles, especially out-of-print books, may not be available except in a Catholic bookstore.

"If you're looking for more specific books, they may be hard to find online," said Stang.

Shopping online is harder with books, said Stang, unless the consumer knows the precise title or exactly what he is looking for.

Helena Lieskovsky,left, and Donna Wallace of St. John of God Books offset book sale losses by selling music, gifts, rosaries and other religious items

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Helena Lieskovsky,left, and Donna Wallace of St. John of God Books offset book sale losses by selling music, gifts, rosaries and other religious items.

Many students and theologians are looking for something new, and might not be sure what they are looking for until they find it. At his store, however, it's easier to browse and ask for assistance if it's needed.

"We get a lot of people who are on a faith journey, a spiritual journey, and when they come in here they may not know precisely what they're looking for," said Stang. "They need to browse up and down the aisles and look at all sorts of books."

OFFER ADVICE

Wallace concurred that the pleasure of perusing book titles can be much greater for some customers in a real store as opposed to surfing through them online. There are always people who like the touch and feel of paper. For those beginning a faith journey, the workers can help them find appropriate books, ones that are not too deep theologically.

"For people who like to browse, a real store will always be more appealing," said Wallace.

Edmonton Catholic Schools previously dealt directly with publishers to buy books. But recently the school division started making significant quantities of purchases locally, including buying Bibles for every classroom through Universal Church Supplies.

STEADY BUSINESS

Stang said the Church goods store has not felt the brunt of the economic downturn as much as other areas of commerce.

Business has remained steady and consumers still seem to have money for buying books, regardless of what the economy is doing.

"By and large we didn't boom with the boom but we don't recess with the recession either," he said.

"For all of my buddies who are somehow connected to the oilfield, they had work and money for a few years, and now things have quieted down.

"Well, our business didn't go through the roof like that, but neither is it bottoming out. I think we seem to be recession proof."