The Parable Group’s annual State of Christian Retailing report, which includes responses from 220 Christian booksellers and analyzes $84 million in sales, revealed that sales at Christian bookstores decreased 2.4% from 2021 to 2022. This decrease is less than the sales slump of the total print market reported by NPD from the same time period, however.
Christian retailers across the U.S. reported adopting new practices such as a focus on customer service and digital marketing in response to the challenges of 2022, including inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain delays. And while sales fell compared to 2021, they were up 12% from 2019, suggesting retailers have held onto some of the gains that achieved in the first years of the pandemic.
The report also revealed that average prices for products across U.S. Christian retail locations rose 8.1% in 2022 over 2021. Comparing 2022’s product costs to 2019, prices have increased by 22%. The report said the increases could be due to post-pandemic issues such as gas prices and labor shortages, but also could be attributed to a lack of discounts and markdowns in stores.
Books continue to account for the most sales at Christian retail outlets, taking 35% of the market by units as well by dollar amount. Gifts follow at 29% by units and 26% by dollars, which is a slight increase from 2021. Bibles account for 8% of sales by units, but take up 22% of the market by dollars, due to their higher price tag.
The top-selling adult book categories remain largely unchanged since 2021. While still the top-selling category, the market share for Christian living flat-lined. Devotional sales have also flattened, while Bible studies and autobiographies saw a slight increase in market share. Sales for fiction and commentaries fell slightly.
Sarah Young, whose 365-day devotionals—Jesus Calling, Jesus Listens, and Jesus Always—are mainstays on PW’s monthly Religion Nonfiction Bestsellers lists, was 2022’s top-selling nonfiction author at stores that report to Parable. Francine Rivers, author of Redeeming Love and other Christian romances, was tops in fiction. Six titles were bestsellers across both Christian retail and NPD BookScan charts, including Young’s devotionals, Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, and The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Only one of the crossover bestsellers, The Return of the Gods by Jonathan Cahn, was a new release.
Despite 2022’s sales decline and rising product prices, 83% of Christian retailers reported an optimistic outlook for 2023 and beyond. Lorraine Valk, owner of Parable Christian Store in St. Joseph, Mich., is among these. “We are excited for the year ahead, and although there are inevitable bumps in the road, the need for Bibles and Christian products is stronger than ever,” she tells PW.
Valk noted that adjusting her product mix helped Parable Christian stay nimble in the past year. “Adaptation is a necessity, and daily recalibration allows us to make the minute changes to make our stores shine amidst the noise of so many shopping channels,” she says. “The wise retailers are going to markets, scouring magazines and websites for trends on gift selections and for outstanding display ideas.”
Making shopping as easy as possible is key for Christian retailers, according to Greg Squires, president of the Parable Group. “Retailers should continue to find ways to be more convenient for customers in the coming years,” he says. “It’s an effort that will make them more competitive in many ways and get customers to say, ‘I’ll be back!’”