After gutting a furniture shop in one of the seediest areas of metropolitan Detroit, Dicksons Bible Bookstores, Inc., recently opened a huge Christian bookstore. Atop the store is a 50-foot sign that battles for attention with the strip-joint marquee across the street.

“We believe God wants us to be here to minister to people,” says Irene Wanner, co-owner of the Detroit chain of stores. However, urban depravity may not be the only challenge to Dicksons’ ambitious venture. Some fear tough times lie ahead for retailers of Christian books.

Sales have leveled off after lucrative years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fewer blockbuster titles have come forth to excite mass demand. And some big publishers are wrestling with internal and external difficulties, due in part to the tough times (see sidebar below).

Figures vary widely among the handful of organizations that track trends in Christian publishing. But experts generally agree the unlimited growth scenarios of a decade ago have been largely supplanted by more moderate expectations.

C. E. Andrew, executive director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), estimates combined revenues of the 33 ECPA members will grow only by about 6 percent in the current fiscal year. He predicts revenues will grow by about 8 percent in each of the next few years. This is down from increases of more than 13 percent in 1983 and about 9 percent in 1984.

Explanations

Put simply, sales of Christian books and Bibles over the last few years have been flat. The modest growth seen in publishers’ revenues is due mainly to a general increase in book prices. Many publishers have moved away from so-called mass paperbacks and toward higher-priced “trade” ...

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