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Year of the Bible: Foundations for life Print Email
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Friday, 10 June 2011 04:51 PM America/New_York

Developing a passion for God’s Word in young readers


Children’s Bibles are one of the trickier subcategories for publishers and retailers alike, who have to balance multiple factors from price point and presentation to in-store placement to find their sweet spot.


Crossway_Grow-BibleBut there are rewards for those that take on the challenge—children’s Bibles in their broadest definition accounted for 18% of all Bibles sales in the first quarter of 2011, according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s (ECPA) data tracking.

With 22% of the market for that period, Thomas Nelson has sold more than 14.5 million Precious Moments Bibles, featuring Sam Butcher’s iconic teardrop-faced children, in the last 30 years. “Children’s Bibles have grown every year and are a significant part of our children’s product line,” said the company’s vice president and publisher, Bibles, Gary Davidson.

Five publishers accounted for 82% of the first-quarter ECPA market, with Zondervan leading (36%), then Tyndale House Publishers, NavPress and B&H Publishing Group following Nelson. Others active in the market include Crossway, David C. Cook, Concordia Publishing House and Baker Publishing Group.

The children’s Bible grouping can be a bit “blurry,” noted Ryan Dunham, senior vice president of sales and marketing for David C. Cook. “What we call children’s Bibles are for the most part Bible storybooks” that simplify the Scriptures for non- or early readers.



NavPress_MyFirstMessageTrue children’s Bibles, using the full text of translations, really only start at around age 6 “when they are beginning to read on their own and want to carry a Bible that looks more like their parents,’ ” said Annette Bourland, senior vice president and publisher at Zonderkidz, the children’s divison of Zondervan. Children’s Bibles of this type made up 7% of first-quarter Bibles sales, reported the ECPA, with an average price point of $20.51. 

 Zondervan’s focus for ages 6-10 is its New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), a third grade reading level edition of the New International Version (NIV).  Naturally, as Bourland observed, “a translation children can easily read and understand is one of the most important ingredients.” 

 While components like visuals and additional content are important in helping foster children’s love for God’s Word, “the editorial philosophy should always be to draw the child into the Bible text” itself, Bourland added.

Her emphasis was echoed by Davidson, whose company also publishes the International Children’s Bible (ICB) at a third-grade level. “A Bible kids can read and understand is most important for kids to take God’s Word to heart, as well as application to the child’s life, interactivity with the scriptures, comprehension level of the material.”

“If you don’t help kids get the message of Scripture, it doesn’t matter how great other features are,” said Jeffrey Smith, director of marketing, Bibles for Tyndale House Publishers, whose New Living Translation (NLT) has featured in editions like the Kid’s Life Application Bible.

However, Davidson also noted the importance of “packaging to help catch their interest,” pointing to the company’s success with its sparkly Princess Bible, now being followed by a series of sequin-covered releases. 

“We research trends from other industries and then reflect kids’ tastes into the look of our Bibles,” he added. “It is important that kids not be embarrassed to carry a Bible and the cooler it looks, it might just inspire kids to spend quality time reading God’s Word.”


ThomasNelson_SequinBibleThough youngsters are the eventual recipients, parents and grandparents are the typical purchasers of children’s Bibles, which, therefore, have to be created with adult interests in mind, too. “You are selling to the adult (the payer) and the end user (the kid),” said Shawn Kuhn, vice president of P&K Bookstores.

Having two “consumers” can create a tension in meeting different demographics, noted Dunham. “We most definitely take this into consideration,” said Bourland of Zonderkidz, “but we have found that the more fun and engaging we make the Bible for kids, the more excited parents are about purchasing it for their child.”

 “Adults are the primary audience so that affects how we market our product,” observed Kris Wallen, vice president of ministry services for NavPress, publisher of My First Message, which has sold 80,000 copies since its 2007 release. “We want to reach the primary audience.” For those adults who typically do the buying, price point and quality are also important, added Dunham.

Parents may also be looking for a connection with the translation they use.  Or the reverse—since acquiring the God’s Word Translation in 2008, Baker Publishing Group has heard from parents who “continue reading God’s Word for Boys and God’s Word for Girls after they put their children to bed,” said Publicity Manager Deonne Beron.

Publishers have not surprisingly seen success with Bibles that tie in to existing popular children’s brands like Precious Moments. In addition, Zondervan brought out the VeggieTales Bible in the NIV and is prepping The Berenstain Bears Holy Bible in the NIrV for an April release. Both Zondervan and Nelson have produced princess-themed Bibles.

Stand-alone editions have done well, too. Notable among them have been NLT Bibles from Tyndale, which recently became the first to use QR codes, in the iShine Bible, to link young readers to additional online content. Zondervan’s biggest achievers include NIrV and NIV editions of the Adventure Bible—third-highest seller in the ECPA list—and the 2:52 Boys Bible and The Faithgirlz! Bible. Gender-specific Bibles are proving particularly strong for ages 9-12, Bourland said.



Zonderkidz_BerenstainBearsBibleIn-store, frontliner knowledge about the options and features is important. “It’s all about engaging customers and asking the right questions,” said Smith. “Asking who the Bible is for and suggesting the one that features the note sets for the unique needs of the child.” Shelf-talkers that direct shoppers the right way when staff is not available are helpful, too, added Dunham.

Endcap promotions and face-out positioning help parents see “an age range of products,” advised Davidson, who pointed out that “many families have more than one child, and being able to give them choices for their purchases that are similar is helpful.”

Children’s Bibles need to be in the main Bible department, but well defined in their own section, “otherwise they tend to get lost in the sea of adult Bibles,” said Bourland. She also suggested organizing by translation and featuring different titles at key buying seasons, such as back-to-school and Christmas.

With the high volume of gift purchases among children’s Bible sales in mind, Jim Stropnik, marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House—with more than a century of publishing in the subcategory—observed: “I’ve seen some success with cross-selling alongside some of the gift items, which can result in an increase in the size of the customer’s purchase.”

Kuhn, for whom children’s and youth Bibles are “a growing segment of the Bible business,” observed that “they do well in their own sections.”