I used to love hanging out at Barnes & Noble, sipping tea and browsing books. But I haven’t been there in months. Here’s a great read from the “Church and Culture” blog that explains why Barnes & Noble has been floundering and offers excellent advice for the church:
This was the question asked by James B. Stewart of the Wall Street Journal as the giant bookstore chain put itself up for sale this month.
Simple answer? The internet. More to the point, the internet of amazon.com, kindle, the iPad, e-readers and digital books.
But here’s the real question insight-fully raised by Stewart: with such market-share dominance in the book business, why didn’t Barnes and Noble, with dominant market position, do what it should have done? As Stewart observes, it could have “out-Amazoned Amazon, leveraging its brand and innovating when it began marketing and selling books online.”
Stewart’s conclusion: Barnes and Noble never really embraced the internet or e-books. In truth, it stayed tied to the old-fashioned world of physical books and stores. It was unwilling to destroy its old business model, so it simply focused on managing its decline, leaving Amazon to concentrate on the new world it was creating.
A similar story is happening with USA Today. As Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times notes, “The history of USA Today is full of firsts for the newspaper business: the first general-interest national paper of its kind, the first to use color widely in charts and photographs, and once first in the number of copies printed each day.”
Now? Its advertising revenue has collapsed and its circulation has plunged.
But unlike Barnes and Noble, USA Today is fighting back. It recently announced the most extensive reorganization in its 28-year history, shifting “its business model away from the print edition that has become ubiquitous in airports, hotels and newsstands across the country.”
Now the paper will focus on its digital operations, breaking news on its website, a stand-alone sports edition called USA Today Sports, and making content more available in digital form in order to snag a larger percentage of the tablet and mobile phone news market.
There are lessons here for all businesses.
You can go the way of B&N and simply manage your decline. Or you can go the way of USA Today and preserve your core while attempting to stimulate progress.
What is the core of the church that must never change? The message of the gospel; a defined new community in Christ; worship and the sacraments; the Great Commission, and the cultural commission inherent within it.
What must change? Methods, strategies and forms of communication.
USA Today is not in the newspaper business. It’s in the news business. They are realizing that this means they don’t have to live, and eventually die, with the newspaper.
Similarly, the church is not in the business of the hymns of Fanny Crosby, age-graded adult Sunday School, door-to-door leaflet campaigns or the King James Version of the Bible.
We are in the business of worship, community, discipleship, evangelism and the Bible itself.
Many argue that it’s God’s church and it isn’t our job to rethink it. What do you think?