Five Proposals for the Bookshop

January 7, 2019

Dear Trustees,

Here are Five Proposals for the Bookshop. Please respond to them as fully and frankly as you are able.

A. Embrace Broad Stock Selection

I PROPOSE: having sorted through perhaps ten thousand books, and been surprised, delighted, and only occasionally perturbed by the wealth of different perspectives, that we intentionally embrace a generous philosophy of what Karen Swallow Prior calls ‘promiscuous reading’ – by which she means nothing to do with sexual immorality, but rather reading widely. “It seems to me to be an entirely negative, not to mention ineffective, strategy to shield children from reality rather than actively expose them to the sort of truth that emerges organically from the give-and-take of weighing and reckoning competing ideas against one another. Discovering truth is a process that occurs over time, more fully with each idea or book that gets added to the equation. Sure, many of the books I read in my youth filled my head with silly notions and downright lies that I mistook for truth, but only until I read something else that exposed the lie for what it was”.

I cherish the memory of my first visit to the shop, when we were taken downstairs to see the books in the basement, and Peter Gray was putting John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, which accuses (most of?) the modern charismatic movement of being counterfeit, next to Jim Goll’s The Coming Prophetic Revolution, an exhortation to modern charismatics to ‘seize your prophetic destiny’. And I was struck by the beautiful potential of a Christian bookshop to be a catalyst for Christian unity. Those two authors would never speak in the same church or at the same conference, but their books could sit peacefully side-by-side in a shop that was committed to serving the whole church in the city regardless of particular distinctives.

Explicitly and deliberately rejecting the assumption that a Christian bookshop should necessarily agree with every book we sell also frees us from the impossible task of making sure that nothing disagreeable slips onto our shelves. @PB, I’m afraid I have to tell you, that in spite of your conviction that you would rather the shop not sell Bilquis Sheikh’s book ‘I Dared To Call Him Father’, not only have I found three copies in the basements downstairs, but even when I scanned the new books on the shelves in the main shop immediately after you left, I found that there was actually a copy that had been on the shelves on your watch! – published together with another biography, in a 2-in-1 volume that said on the first bookcase of Biographies as you come in! All I mean to show in mentioning this is how difficult it is to keep away the books we dislike!

Instead of worrying about the boundaries of what bad books we don’t keep in stock, our main focus should instead be on intentionally stocking as many excellent books as we can, as well as generally cultivating a confident faith that in the power of God’s truth to overcome all manner of errors, and therefore in the long-term good of cultivating a love of reading and learning by encouraging people to read, whether or not we specifically approve of their short-term reading choices.

B. Sell Online Through Amazon

I PROPOSE: that we Sell On Amazon some but not all of our stock, and have those books Fulfilled By Amazon (ie. stored at an Amazon warehouse and sent from there).

((To clarify, there are three options with Selling Online: 1. we could set up our own online shop on our own website, and send books from our shop to whoever buys them (this would be my second preference); or 2. we could sell through Amazon’s marketplace (thus making our stock easily accessible to the millions of people who shop on Amazon, rather than just the very few who know our website exists) – but then we have to be able to respond very swiftly to orders as they come in; or 3. we could sell through Amazon’s marketplace and have them Fulfilled By Amazon. Or, of course, we could not bother with online sales.))

If we are going to bother with online sales, I suggest that we do so using all the resources Amazon can give us, starting with just about two hundred books, and then when we are confident we understand the system, that we aim to send almost all (keeping those key Christian classics that we particularly want to have in house for our Borrowing Club) second-hand barcoded books to be Fulfilled By Amazon.

Peter Gray asks “what is the main advantage of going this route?” 1. We have too many books in the shop (or not enough space available for books, however you want to look at it). And ideally we want to encourage even more donations as we seek to raise Tree of Life’s profile. But this is foolish if we are already out of space. 2. By outsourcing the wearysome labour of packaging and posting online orders, we can learn how to effectively and profitably sell online (marketing to build a customer base, and learning how to stock and price successfully) without being hindered by the knowledge that succeeding at building custom is only going to overwhelm us with orders that we don’t have the team or time to respond to.

John says: “If we’re going to get trustees’ agreement to books going to Amazon here are some questions that will need an answer first…” 1. copy of contract

Amazon Services Europe Business Solutions Agreement

See Also - Selling Policies and Seller Code of Conduct - List of All Policies - Help Page

  1. cost per month

£25/month for Pro Seller Account (means no-charge per item, instead of £0.75 – ie. it is worthwhile iff one is selling 34 or more items per month).

  1. all costs

Selling on Amazon Selling On Amazon Subscription Fee: Pro £25/month; Individual Free Per-Item Fee: Pro Free; Individual £0.75/item Referral Fee: 15% Closing Fee: £0.50 Refund Administration Fee: 20%

Fulfilment By Amazon (FBA) FBA services & fees FBA Pricing Fulfilment (ie. postage) fee (dependent on size – I think perhaps £1.72 for a paperback book)+ Storage fee (per cubic foot per month – I think perhaps £0.02/month for a paperback book)

  1. how to terminate If you type ‘cancel account’ in the Help of your Seller Account, it gives you the option to “Request Account Closure”, explaining “Closing your account is permanent and cannot be undone. When your account is closed, you will not have any access to your account, order and inventory records, or transaction records. This will have no effect on your Amazon buying account.” Also, “After downgrading or closing your account, any eligible reimbursements will be transferred to your account. This usually takes about 3-5 working days.”

  2. cost of getting books back if we terminate. £0.60 per item “Typically, return requests take 10 to 14 business days to pick, pack and dispatch.”

  3. who owns the books when sent. We do. It just costs us 60p per item to have them returned.

  4. cost of sending. Dependent on quantity: “Select your own carrier to ship your product to our Fulfilment Centres or benefit from the ‘Partnered Carrier Programme’ in which Amazon has negotiated competitive rates with partner carriers.”

C. Start Borrowing Club

I PROPOSE: that the Bookshop establish a Borrowing Club, with the aim that in the fulness of time it will be the (or at least a) primary point of financial income and missional impact of the Bookshop. With a cost of (say) £5/month, which could (say) include one free coffee per month, and which would allow a person to borrow (say) 5 books/month. With (say) an aim to persuade 200 people to sign up in our 200th year.

D. Be Tech-Positive

I PROPOSE: that the Bookshop embrace an early-adoption positivity towards technology, cultivating a can-do culture in which we learn to help each other learn to learn.

John Greaves has sensibly expressed some doubts about the long-term worthwhileness of my attempts at hacking together a custom-made PointOfSale system. I am very glad for all doubts to be explicitly expressed, so that they can be engaged with. But I absolutely believe that if anyone is going to run a worthwhile bookshop or library – or any learning resource in the twenty-first century – then it is absolutely vital to have confidence to embrace the possibilities (and, yes, challenges) offered by technology.

Since being asked by Peter Gray to become the Book Coordinator, I have gone from knowing nothing about computer coding to teaching myself enough of the Python computer language to put together a book-scanning app that has allowed us for the first time to have a full list of the books we have in stock (and has saved us from wasting a day at the start of the year adding up their values!) I have learnt enough Javascript to put together the front-end of a potential PointOfSale system. And I have learnt how to use the Git version control system to keep repositories of my projects open-source on GitLab, so there is no chance of all work being lost without backup. Some of this has to do with the fact that I turn out to be quite suited to a little computer coding. But much of it has to do with how easily accessible computer coding has become, even compared to just five years ago.

I absolutely don’t want to create a situation where I’m inventing funny little programs that only I can understand. But I absolutely do want to create a culture where as a community we are creating funny little programs that we all (or at least several of us) can understand. And I have actively connected with the Kingdom Code movement of Christian technologists, and have been talking to their main leader about what might be involved in starting a Kingdom Code group in Liverpool.

E. Reward Profit-Making Bookselling

I PROPOSE: that the Bookshop be structured as a talent-rewarding (cf. Matt. 25:14ff.) Business that rewards wise risk-taking faith, rather than merely a risk-averse Charity that allows one to bury talents in the ground without suffering the consequences which help distinguish active faith from unbelieving passivity.

I suggest that I be given a share in the profits of Tree of Life Bookshop. Not a fixed per-hour salary, but a motivational sliding share in the book-related profits. Something like this: 0% of the first £500 profit/month, 10% of the second £500/month, 20% of the third, … , up to 100% of the tenth £500/month; after which all profit goes towards multiplying (‘Tree of Life’?) missional bookshops in other places.

If the profit of the Bookshop continues roughly as it has (bookshop profits in 2017 were <£9000 over the course of the year, so on average ~£750/month), then all that would be lost to me by the charity would be a trivial £25/month. But if the profits of the Bookshop were to increase tenfold, as I believe is possible, then sharing in the reward, up to a maximum modest salary of £30k per annum, will help protect me from the temptation to bitterness and resentment. And it will help me focus. If I meet someone who is sympathetic to my vision for prayer and books and Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God, I won’t need to wrestle with the question of whether they might support me personally as a missionary as well as supporting the Bookshop through subscribing to the Borrowing Club, – and if not both, then which one? – but I can straightforwardly focus on persuading them to support the Bookshop, relaxed in the confidence that as the Bookshop prospers, so will I. And it means that when the time comes for me to move on to other things, there will be a salary to employ someone to replace me.

I am not demanding this, I am merely recommending it. I am a second-generation faith-missionary and I believe strongly in the benefits of cultivating cultures of unpaid volunteers stepping out in faith-filled mission without knowing where the money will come from. But I am aware that those benefits can come with weaknesses. I also know from experience that different faith-missions work differently. The approach of OMF, the mission my parents have worked with for my whole life, is very different (funds are centrally-administrated, needs are only privately shared; to that of YWAM (no centralized funding, needs are very publicly shared; eg. ), with whom I worked for seven years.

I have talked to John briefly about this (though haven’t, I think, articulated so precisely my suggestion), and he has talked a little of the Liverpool Fellowships’ culture of faith-mission. But I would like to hear from the Trustees as a whole.

Your partner in the gospel,

Peter Prescott

Bookshop Coordinator