"Listening to an interview on Fresh Air with an author turned book store owner. She's asked if she ever buys books online. "Of course not" she says "and neither should you!" Terry asked "Well what if you don't have the book I want?" She says "I will order it for you." Seriously? You will order it for me? Sounded like Office Space. "So you physically take the design specs to the engineers?" "Well no, my Secretary does...""
The post generated a good amount of traffic about whether e-books were good or not, small bookstores vs. big bookstores and the importance of value added customer service.
This is fascinating to me because none of that was my point. I love small independent book shops. When I lived in Somerville, MA a favorite place to visit was an old used bookstore. They added real value with knowledgeable clerks and small touches like being surprised to find a book I never would have bought, but it was on the shelf next to the one I came to find. All of these and other points were lifted up by folks in defense of the book store owner in the story.
However, that completely missed my point. The point was the ridiculous notion that for some reason a person should go to a bookstore to have them order a book they don't have. This notion that one would go to order a book from a bookstore hearkens back to days when only a book store would have the catalog from the publisher. They held the keys, the knowledge and the credit to get a book shipped. It is a quaint notion and a completely outdated one.
Why in 2013 would anyone need someone to order them a book? I can do that on my phone faster and probably cheaper than they can. While I value the ambiance their store provides and I will frequent their shop the need for an intermediary to order the book is ridiculous. If they don't have the book that I want I don't need them to order it, and neither do you.
It reminded me of the 90s movie Office Space. In which a couple of "consultants" (reallly just downsizing experts both named "Bob") are interviewing a character Tom. Basically, he does nothing and they figure this out. But he argues he is needed because he has "people skills."
His ranting and raving of course shows Tom has no real people skills. But he wants to hold onto his job even though he provides basically no service. Just like the author turned book store owner in the interview arguing we shouldn't order books online. Why? So she can order them online for us? I hope she has a better business model than that.
So why does this matter to me and why should it to you? Well the first part is, if you do something that basically someone else can do for themselves, you better watch out. Your job is not long for the world.
The second is this is essentially the same argument the church made before Luther and often still tries to make. "You need us to get to God. You can't do it on your own." Luther blew this up in his day and the revolution we are seeing in the rise of the "nones" demonstrates it today. People have figured it out, they don't need church to give them God. If that is our business model, we are toast.
So what value do you add? What service do you provide? What do you create? Why should anyone come to your shop, office or church?
For the church, the danger in this is that we try to become a service provider for peoples needs. Felt-need Bible study, small groups so people can have like-minded friends, sunday school that is essentially free daycare, worship that is simply entertainment and not proclamation. That is a false value added.
What I hope we offer is a connection to God with real community and an invitation to discipleship. Small groups that center on prayer and mutual support. Worship and preaching that proclaim both Law and Gospel. A people sent in service and proclamation of God's word of hope to a broken and sinful world. The outside voice that speaks the truth of the Gospel saying "Christ is given, broken FOR YOU." And having heard that word a charge to "go and do likewise." Real community, real service, real discipleship. That is the value of what I hope we offer.
That is something you can't order off Amazon.