A Few Thoughts on Lifeway’s Announcement

Earlier today, Lifeway announced that they are closing all of their retail locations by the end of 2019 and will be pivoting to an entirely digital platform.  This is very disappointing news, in my opinion.  While I don’t agree with Lifeway on everything (Sho Baraka is amazing, for one thing), they provided access to a variety of helpful resources.  Just in general, the demise of any brick-and-mortar book retailer is a bad thing for our society, as well.  Since different people are already throwing in their thoughts, I’ll add a few of mine in:

  • There are many people who will lose their jobs because of this change. While I don’t want to make this very political, the rise of institutions such as Amazon and how technology displaces jobs is a critical issue that us as Christians need to think about from a perspective of Faith-based Ethics.

 

  • Lifeway’s bread and butter haven’t been as much the retail stores as it has been the development of resources and products. I’ve seen some people talk about how those elements won’t be affected by the store closures.  That’s true in some sense, but a large part of how Lifeway distributes its resources is through its physical storefronts.  That will be impacted, and it will be interesting to see how much of their storefront revenue for Lifeway developed products transfers to its online storefront.

 

  • Finally, some theologically Liberal voices have been celebrating Lifeway’s demise. Their basic argument is something along the lines of “Progressive voices were suppressed by Lifeway’s dominance in this field, so Lifeway’s pulling back will not suppress voices.”

 

  • First, these voices were not suppressed in any meaningful sense of the word.  No author is born with a birthright to any specific retail space or market placement.  The idea that Lifeway carrying specific products that aligned with its institutional values and the values of its consumers suppressed Liberal voices is ludicrous.

 

  • Second, the reason that Progressive voices don’t have as many books with the distribution of other content is because there isn’t widespread demand for theologically Liberal content.  As some pointed out on Twitter, there aren’t exactly theologically progressive bookstores thriving out there.  Additionally, there is this very weird assumption that your typical Lifeway consumer is in the market for Progressive content.  If Theologically Liberal voices can’t get the sales and distribution they want without access to Lifeway, I don’t think getting into Lifeway is going to fix that.  Basically, theological progressives are just whiny that mainline Protestantism is dying and Lifeway is a scapegoat for their lack of appeal.  If you doubt that, let’s see how many Unitarian bookstores pop up in the near future.