The Parable Group’s annual survey of Christian bookstores trends found that sales rose 8% last year over 2022. According to the report, "2024 State of Christian Retail," sales increased at 79% of reporting stores, held even for 11%, and declined for 10%. The findings are based on reports from more than 200 Christian bookstores who generated $84 million in sales last year. The 8% increase follows a 2% sales decline in 2022. Moreover, the survey found that 76% of reporting stores said their sales were higher in 2023 than in pre-Covid 2019.

Looking at 2023 trends, the survey found that gifts generated the largest amount of sales, accounting for 27% of revenue, followed by sales of adult books (25%) and Bibles (24%). Children’s books represented only 7% of sales. The report also found that Christmas sales were stronger than expected, echoing trends in the general trade market, with sales surging in the last week before Christmas.

Though their sales were generally flat in 2023 compared to 2022, the four most popular book categories remained the same: Christian living (25.9%); devotionals (14.7%); fiction (10.3%); and Bible study (8.7%). The pastoral helps, Biblical reference, gift books, and church life, categories all had sales increases in 2023, but combined to account for only about 11% of sales.

Among the strategies used to boost sales, 74% of respondents reported that they actively engaged in promoting their stores on social media; 60% adjusted their inventory mix; and 43% devoted more personal time to the sales floor.

The survey also looked at what books perform better in Christian bookstores compared to general bookstores. According to the report, 50% of titles on the top 20 bestseller lists for Christian retailers were new titles, a stark difference compared to the broader retail numbers reported by Circana BookScan, which found just 15% of the top 20 religion books bestsellers reported were new titles.

Swing by a Christian retail spot, and you'll notice a fresh vibe with a bunch of just-released hits.

“Diving into the differences between mainstream bestsellers and Christian retail favorites is always interesting,” observed Randy Ross, director of Christian retail marketing at Parable, in the report. “Walk into your typical bookstore, and you'll spot the usual suspects in the top 20—familiar titles and timeless classics. Now, swing by a Christian retail spot, and you'll notice a fresh vibe with a bunch of just-released hits." Ross said Christian bookstores function as "a cool discovery hub" for new books, which "opens up exciting possibilities for growth in Christian retail spaces."

Among the chief issues retailers faced in 2023: concerns about the performance of publishers and other vendors. These concerns spanned from disruptions from warehouse shortages impacting timely deliveries, to complications arising from system changeovers. Retailers also voiced frustrations about vendors cutting benefits like free freight and discounts. Supply chain disruptions and rising costs were also major challenges, retailers reported.

While the overwhelming majority of retailers were optimistic about the future, they did raise some concerns, including the health of the economy, staffing issues, and an "unfavorable" calendar featuring an early Easter, late Thanksgjving, and a mid-week (Wednesday) Christmas.