Is it time to bury Cokesbury?

Several years ago, Rachel received a Cokesbury gift card as a gift. She still has the card.

[Cokesbury is the “official” place for United Methodists to buy church curriculum, supplies, and many other “Christian Store” products.  In years past, Cokesbury’s profits funded the pensions for United Methodist Clergy.]

Rachel still has her gift card because we live 2 hours from the nearest Cokesbury store and their gift cards cannot be used online. Every year we go to Annual Conference, and Cokesbury always brings a large display and selection of books and supplies to Annual Conference.

You can’t use a Cokesbury gift card at an Annual Conference Cokesbury, either.

A month or so ago, I called Cokesbury because I was having trouble navigating their website in trying to find some particular worship supplies.  When I told the customer service representative that I had been trying to find something on the website but to no avail, she replied with a chuckle and then said, “Oh, you can’t find things on the website!”

In the 1990s, when I was pastoring small churches outside Waco, my practice was to call and order things from Cokesbury.  But wait!  For a couple of years we were strongly encouraged NOT to order by phone, but to drive to Fort Worth’s Cokesbury store for purchases. Why?  Because, apparently, Cokesbury pitted phone sales against store sales, and was threatening to close the Fort Worth store for lack of business.

Maybe it is time to let Cokesbury die.  It represents too well the United Methodist Church’s decline, and epitomizes the difficulty with which we might accept change and move into the future able to win disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (this is our mission statement as a denomination).

33 thoughts on “Is it time to bury Cokesbury?

  1. sigh…you may be right Steve. I just put an order for my newest book study into an independent book store. Same 20%, and it is run and owned by a good friend of mine. I might be able to do better with Amazon, but would rather support an independent. Last year I did a book study during Lent and Cokesbury NEVER delivered the books. Said they were back ordered and we never got them. Even after calling and checking up.

    Cokesbury can be nice to have, but actually their A.C. displays are lame and often don’t have much I want to read.

  2. I used my gift card online. Or maybe I called it in and used it, but you’re right about the website.

    I don’t have problems with the stores, but I’m 2 hours away so I rarely make it over there. When you compare the whole thing to Lifeway it comes off as an amateur operation.

  3. steve, you can send me that card & I’ll go and get y’all whatever books ya want & mail them to you.

    i like our nashville store, but all you say is true with the whole competition. cokesbury.com is pretty much useless as a user experience goes as well. it needed updating when it was first rolled out. i don’t want to kill cokesbury (cause the idea of only having lifeway spooks me) but it needs help.

    • I tend to agree with you. I LIKE the Cokesbury stores I have been in. However, like much of the general church, or even the AC level, it seems sometimes that the churches exist to serve the other entity, rather than the other way around.

  4. I don’t advocate a burial before a demise. Cokesbury still breathes.

    Still, it’s good to ask if that retail outlet serves a vital purpose in this advancing technology when more of us read on line (or, on Kindle) that hold book in hand. When “church supplies” are not the exlusive market that they once were. Especially, when religious texts are a LOT easier to find, both new and used.

    Change the *system* – that is, the Church? Yes. We must, unless we choose to specialize in funerals.

    Along a similar thought, does anyone know why Conference offices resist the economy and efficiency of establishing electronic funds transfers for things like gifts? Apportionments?

  5. We’ll keep using Cokebury. Unfortunately, our local Lifeway store is really, really lame. Poor selection (they won’t carry certain authors they deem “unchristian”) and very poor service.

    Cokebury, even with it’s faults, is 1000 times better.

  6. Dear Steve,
    I’m Susan Salley, the Director of Marketing at UMPH. I know you have had some frustrations with Cokesbury. I wanted to let you know about changes that have been made to address what you experienced – and some upcoming upgrades to improve our service.
    The online world is moving faster than ever before and it is a challenge to keep our service up to date. It’s a challenge we are working to meet everyday.
    Your irritation with the gift card is understandable – we felt the constraints too. About a year ago, we updated Cokesbury.com to redeem cards both online and over the phone. You can also check your card balance online. It was an essential improvement since so many Cokesbury customers, like you, are far from a brick and mortar store.
    We’ve also changed the way we recognize success with our sales teams. With different ways to shop Cokesbury – all of whom want to be your favorite way to shop – this caused some competition. About three years ago, we reorganized our Cokesbury staff. Now we recognize our teams by region. In your area of Texas, the phone staff, stores and sales reps who serve customers and congregations work as one team and are rewarded together when the sales for your region grow.
    Change is constant. By late spring, when you visit cokesbury.com, you’ll see a stream-lined ordering process, guest ordering for those who don’t want to use an id or password, side by side product comparisons, quick estimates on tax and shipping cost before check out and online account management. We’ll also have an updated look and a showcase of active promotions. Of course, then there will be a new set of updates to make and we’ve already begun plans for the next phase of work.
    We are competing with many other providers to be part of your ministry – we know you have choices. I hope the next time you visit a store, call the 800 number, shop online or stop into an event, you’ll have a better experience. For today, can we help replace Rachel’s gift card? If you find that it doesn’t work online now, please let me know and we will replace it with a new card so that you can both try out the new process.
    Happy New Year,
    Susan

    • Susan,

      Thank you! I would much rather Cokesbury survive, even thrive, and am happy to hear of changes.

      I’ll check into Rachel’s gift card, and let you know.

      Rachel and I were talking about this on the way home from Fort Worth today, where we stopped at the Cokesbury store, had a great experience there, and placed an order. We would both rather shop Cokesbury than anywhere else. Even Amazon. Thanks for the efforts to want the same from that side.

      • AMEN!! I’m proud of the difference you two are making in the Cokesbury world. Your Father-In-Law said you two are welcome in Overland Park anytime, and we’ll happily drive you two to our nearby Cokesbury store to shop!! P.S. United Methodist Church of the Resurrection tried to open Cokebury as our campus bookstore — but there were issues which is unfortunate. Cathy

  7. Steve, look at that you got the head honchos at Cokesbury to reply to you. This must say something about Cokesbury’s efforts to move digital.

    This is good of them.

  8. I’m glad you got a reply Steve, but the irony is that here it is a few minutes (here) from 2010 and Cokesbury is just now making the changes needed to survive in the digital/internet world?
    How much of that is due to Cokesbury assumption that the UM church will always use their service so why make changes? It’s only when everyone begins to jump ship they respond.
    I’m not pointing fingers at Cokesbury as much as pointing out its a systemic problem within the UM church. For decades the church operated as if people will always come because they always have. And so we find ourselves playing catch up with such ill conceived notions as the “Re-think” church campaign.

  9. Steve,
    I am sorry for your difficulty in using the gift card. You might remember that I am on the UMP Board, and have great interest in, and yes, great hopes for its future. To be sure, we have struggled to keep up with the staggering pace of change in the technological transformations of the past few years. When you are charged with doing all the church asks us to do WITHOUT the benefit of any capital investment through from the General Church via apportionments, in an economy that is struggling, and in an age where print media in general continues to decrease, EVERY publishing house would struggle to keep up.
    We publish special language resources for use of the global church, and in effect, subsidize that ministry. We supply worship resources for churches devastated by disasters. We develop special ministry resources like BIG and expend tremendous economic resources on a woefully inadequate revenue margin.
    I assure you the UMP leadership team is as creative and dedicated as any you could find. They are committed to doing everything possible to maximize the productivity, utility, and availability of the Publishing House to serve the church in the best possible way.
    If you continue to have difficulty with Rachel’s card please let me know and I will see what I can do to help!

    • Thanks, Eric!

      Thanks to Susan’s reply (above), we have learned that Rachel’s gift card IS now usable online. We are grateful for this.

      I appreciate what you’ve shared. Having been involved recently in more and more conference and jurisdictional things, I certainly respect what you tell us about the UMPH Board.

      I still think that the issues Cokesbury (and the UMPH) face, and the limits upon the way they are faced, are structural issues, at least in part. I also still believe these are not unrelated or unanalogous for many of the issues the UMC as a whole currently faces.

      I don’t want to bury Cokesbury. I want it to become the best online source for curriculum and supplies. I don’t want the denomination I’m a proud part of to continue sloughing members in the US, either; but I have come to realize we’ll have to think and act much differently in the future if we are to change these things in ways that make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

  10. I still have a $25.00 Macy’s gift card that I got in 2008. If you’re a NYTimes reader, you’ll have seen a recent article explaining issues at various retailers with gift cards–not a “special” issue at Cokesbury. P.S., I’m WAY less than a 2 hour drive to several Macy’s outlets.

    I’m grateful for a retailer (like Cokesbury) that invests in creating orginal content and not just in making money from the efforts of others (like Amazon) by way of retail bells/whistles. Sometimes it is a question of what you want to invest in.

  11. Would it be heretical to suggest that Cokesbury partner with someone – like Amazon – who does specialize in the hardware/software/internet interface so that they can in turn put their energy into what they specialize in.

    • As a member of the UMPH leadership team I have followed this conversation over the past few days with great interest. We were happy to respond that the service issues that so frustrated Steve and Rachel had been addressed months ago. We also recognize that the fact that those changes were largely unrecognized is a huge issue. We get it.

      And, Richard, it is NOT heretical to suggest that Cokesbury partner. It’s smart. We are in active conversation with partners that will provide warehousing and distribution of digital content to multiple e-book platforms, thereby allowing us to publish and distribute simutaneously in multiple formats and channels. This partnership is real and it’s coming very soon.

      Did you know The Book of Discipline is available on Kindle? Last week, we promoted the success of our new fiction line with a week of free Kindle downloads for our best-selling title (over 7450 downloads in a week by the way — not too shabby). We have invested in new, state-of-the-art digital asset management systems here at the publishing house and have completely changed our acquisition, work-flow and delivery processes.

      As for the assumption that we feel “the UMC will always use our services, so why make changes” — we know that our customers have options, options and more options. We don’t take them for granted. Consider, though, the VAST range of customer needs that we must meet — large churches with many resources, tiny churches that are struggling, internet-savvy pastors and educators who want it all digital, pastors who don’t own a PC let alone an e-reader — and the challenge of moving quickly forward, yet leaving no one behind. It’s a conversation we have, literally, every day. Anyone who wants to join that conversation in a constructive and creative way is WELCOME! We hosted a group of bloggers here this summer, particularly those who have been critical of us, and we listened and learned from every comment and observation.

      We are listening to, and learning from, this one, too.

      • There were free Kindle downloads from Cokesbury??? Like most UM pastors, I get a lot of promotional email and snail mail from Cokesbury but I learned about it here after it was too late. The changes cannot come soon enough.

      • While I applaud UMPH’s effort to experiment with a Kindle Edition of the Book of Discipline, have you actually seen it? I discovered it by accident a few months ago, was so excited that I immediately paid my $9.99, and only then discovered that it had zero formatting. For instance, the strings of periods in the table of contents wrap across multiple lines and there is no linking in the table of contents or the index. There aren’t even chapter markers! With no means of navigation as are found in most every Kindle book, there isn’t even a way to navigate to a paragraph number you already know except to do a search for that number.

        Frankly, it’s an embarrassment. If someone bought it on Kindle for iPhone/iPod Touch, which doesn’t yet have search capability, it would be %100 worthless. It is SO important to go digital (did I mention my excitement above?) and I am glad to see the UMPH sticking their toes in, but we have to do it RIGHT, too!

  12. Are you kidding me? Where else can you get books with outdated theology on back order at 30% above Amazon’s pricing? And who else will sell books by Abingdon on subjects no one is looking for but seminary professors and the students they prey upon?

  13. If Cokesbury had free Kindle downloads, why didn’t they promote it? I never got an email, and I thought I was on the mailing list.

    Cokesbury has lost a ton of seminarians, even though my seminary has a Cokesbury on campus, because the prices of our textbooks on Amazon are often a third less expensive. I refuse to buy all of my books on Amazon because I support Cokesbury, and hope it’s around to support me when I retire. However I do attempt to buy the more pricey textbooks at other web sites.

    What drives me crazy about Cokesbury’s web site is that you cannot change your billing address online. I’ve moved twice in the last four years and since I’ll be an itinerate pastor when I finish school, I’ll be moving regularly. I called Cokesbury to change my address but it never got changed.

    I am glad that Cokesbury is fast approaching 2005 technology. I hope they will realize it is 2010 and make a real effort to keep up.

    • I actually live directly next to a cokesbury store at Asbury Seminary and I think I’ve been inside 3 times (including orientation) in my first semester there. It’s an adequate book store, but not a place I’d EVER go if it was out of the way. I enjoy the Lifeway atmosphere and didn’t realize they were Baptist till I read an article published by one of the Lifeway bigwigs. I’d love it if going to Cokesbury meant going to a cool store (with better books) instead of going because it’s the place you’re supposed to go.

    • For seminarians (and cokesbury stores at seminaries) wouldn’t it make sense for the stores to do re-sale like campus bookstores? I’d pay a little more for less hassle for sure, but not the ridiculous prices for new textbooks there.

  14. I think there was a misunderstanding. Hundreds of books published by Abingdon Press/UMPH are made available in Kindle editions through Amazon. Amazon is the only vendor for their own Kindle format so, like other publishers, we partner with them for this important format.

    • So is it too late to get these kindle versions of books? Do I just go to amazon and search for the BOD? Is there a list somewhere that shares all the Cokesbury books which are in Kindle format? Especially the free ones!

      • Not too late! Go to Amazon, to the Kindle department. You search by publisher. For new books and lots of classics, search Abingdon Press. For the official resources, search United Methodist Publishing House.

  15. How about a strategic closure and relaunch like we’ve done with some churches?

    I think there’s a need for a store for mainline Christianity, but perhaps it needs to start again from scratch.

    It might even make money that way!

  16. No it is not time to bury Cokesbury! As Christian Ed. Director at our church in Western Oklahoma I have to drive one hr. to the nearest store-sometimes I stop in when in OKC but other times I order online. I have never had any problems but if I did I would still order from them because at our church we make a point of using UM curriculum. Why would we want to patronize a LifeWay Bookstore? Their products do not represent our unique UM theology.

  17. “Did you know The Book of Discipline is available on Kindle?”

    The real question is: Why are we still SELLING our Book of Discipline?

    In an era when most organizations and governments have long since made their governance documents, laws, and regulations FREELY available online, we’re still keeping ours under wraps, available only to paying customers.

    Does anyone know if and when the entire Book of Discipline (formatted and searchable) will be available on the web? That’s a resolution we ought to pursue.

    • We still publish the Book of Resolutions for sale because Cokesbury representatives (Harriet Olson at the time) on the BOR Task Force had “concerns” about copyright and other issues. This for a book that sold 20,000 copies! We should put both books on the web. I do wonder how much of Cokesbury’s $700K profit this year was from increased sales of the Book of Discipline.

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