The announcement last Thursday that Family Christian Stores will close all of its 240 outlets did not come as a surprise to publishers, many of whom have had FCS on tight credit terms since it emerged from bankruptcy in June 2015. Indeed, in announcing the decision to close, FCS president Chuck Bengochea said that, in addition to declining sales, “we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.”
“We prepared for this once they filed for bankruptcy—we’d been operating on a pay-as-you-go basis, so hopefully this won’t hurt vendors too much,” said Jonathan Merkh, v-p and publisher at Howard Books. Still, Merkh and other publishers noted that the loss of 240 stores will make it harder for consumers to discover new titles. “These stores have been an important outlet for Christian books, gifts, and Bibles for many decades, and Family’s millions of customers now have even fewer options for finding these wonderful, life-giving products,” said Mark Taylor, chairman of Tyndale House.
A number of publishers compared the closure of FCS to the collapse of Borders in 2011, wondering who will pick up FCS’s business. Following Borders’s closure, independent bookstores captured some sales, as did Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. But the biggest winner was Amazon, and one publisher who wished to remain unnamed speculated that, with more shopping moving online, the e-tailer will likely be the biggest beneficiary of FCS’s collapse.
The options for reaching consumers interested in religious materials through bricks-and-mortar stores have continued to shrink over the years. Independent Christian stores have struggled and may not be in a position to take advantage of FCS’s collapse the way ABA stores did with Borders’s. CBA president Curtis Riskey said the question of whether indies can gain from the closure of FCS “will be addressed in due time.” As part of a statement, Riskey said the FSC closure “brings to light the importance of adapting to a changing marketplace and changes in consumer behavior, and can be a catalyst that encourages us in the Christian products industry to find new ways to work together.”
Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, plans to serve Christian readers affected by the closing “wherever they choose to shop.” Schoenwald added,“We have a healthy and broad portfolio of retailers, domestic and international, that we will continue to work alongside and support their growth initiatives.”
Remaining Christian chain stores include Lifeway, but the Southern Baptist chain has cracked down on books that do not align with its doctrinal guidelines. “With Lifeway tightening their belts editorially, it makes things harder for us,” said Merkh. “It’s a tough industry and it makes it that much more difficult for us.”