|Selling the Scriptures|
|Written by DEONNE LINDSEY|
|Tuesday, 08 October 2013 10:12 AM America/New_York|
Big names and brands still draw consumers even as value editions fill a niche
Big names and brands continue to be drawing cards for many consumers, with brand awareness driving Bible shoppers into stores.
Publishers are also now recognizing the opportunity to provide retailers with options within each brand’s niche and adding more translations that match reader affiliations within successful brand lines. One major factor is the new relationship between Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, paving the way for cross-pollination of new translations with best-selling brands.
Another overarching trend is the response to younger readers who want to understand the Bible for themselves from the ground up, rather than relying on any one teacher. Publishers are providing more and more Bible editions that offer a variety of approaches, all centered on providing a cultural and historical context for the Scriptures.
The Christian products industry also continues to keep an eye on digital vs. print. For the time being at least, digital seems to be the best way for many readers to sample new or different translations without committing to an expensive print edition. And with digital formats slow to provide navigation options that feel natural for studying across multiple books, publishers still see a desire for print products and offering extras in that format.
The apostle Paul told young Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth. With the flurry of study Bibles releasing or about to release, there are many options for students of God’s Word to do just that.
While study Bibles have been a mainstay of every translation through the years, new formats and translations available in already successful editions are being added to the mix. Among them, Thomas Nelson recently released The King James Study Bible with updates and added features, including fresh page design, eight revised in-text maps and charts, an enhanced concordance with added Hebrew and Greek word studies and indexes of Christ and the Gospels, Paul and his letters, and Bible prophecy.
Other recent and future offerings in the King James Version (KJV) include the Chronological Life Application Study Bible (October) and the Life Application Study Bible (April 2014), both from Tyndale House Publishers.
When the Common English Bible (CEB) from Abingdon Press came out two years ago, the translation was admittedly in its infancy at retail, but now, the publisher is focusing on building its list.
“With the CEB Study Bible, we feel like it meets many needs, but particularly those being expressed by Gen Xers who are really interested in learning for themselves,” said Sonua Bohannon, senior marketing manager for Abingdon Press. “They want to know the historical and cultural presentation of Scripture, and this Bible is uniquely positioned to serve them. People really want to read and interpret for themselves, not just be told something and that’s really at the heart of the study Bible we’ve created.”
The new study Bible was created by a team of 75 scholars with that core need in mind.
Another key Bible project just released in September is the Gospel Transformation Bible (ESV). It’s a project Dane Ortlund, Crossway’s senior vice president of Bible publishing, called Crossway’s “most significant Bible release in several years.” Centered on the goal of helping believers see how Christ is the point of the whole Bible, passage by passage, the accompanying notes highlight God’s redemptive purposes unfolding through history.
“No other study Bible is intended to give believers a grace ‘lens’ for reading the entire Bible,” Ortlund said. “In essence, our hope is for the Gospel Transformation Bible to help people unlearn the various wrong ways of reading the Bible that burden and deaden. We want to help people see the life-giving nature of the Word of God as a word of grace.”
Several other publishers also noted seeing more of a desire, particularly among younger purchasers, for notes that help them make sense of the context of Scripture passages. In response, a number of study Bibles are being created that add notes to not only help readers understand concepts or word choices, but also the larger cultural and historical context of the original text.
One example is The Modern Life Study Bible in the New King James Version (NKJV) from Thomas Nelson, released last month. With more than 2,400 short articles and 66 biographies, it is designed to help users understand key principles presented in their original context and apply them around concepts like justice, community and cultural differences.
Responding to younger readers and changes taking place in digital technology seems to be on the mind of virtually every Bible publisher this year.
“Sometimes the more things change, the more at some level they stay the same,” said Tim Jordan, marketing manager for Bible reference and church supplies at B&H Publishing Group. “Consumers are slowly being trained to want to interact with books in all kinds of formats and any kind of mobile device. As generations keep moving through, more and more are migrating in that direction, but not as quickly as some people want to believe.”
Jordan thinks that the still-clunky navigation available on many digital formats continues to lead many readers to prefer printed matter for more in-depth study.
“Publishers are trying to find the best ways to marry [print and digital] and move in the direction of having them feel like the same experience. Every six months some new technology emerges that allows us to think in a new direction. Right now, though, there’s still huge demand for both [formats]. We’re just not seeing as significant and fast a migration as with trade books.”
Abingdon’s Bohannon agreed.
“One trend we’re really thinking about is mobility,” she said. The CEB is available already on YouVersion, a format that lets readers try out the translation risk-free and provides the publisher a chance to get feedback from and communicate with readers. Abingdon is also working on a Bible app for next spring.
“When it comes to print, we’re putting our energy into the extra material that creates a unique reading experience and sets these products apart from what users have with a mobile experience,” Bohannon said.
While scholarly reliability has always been and continues to be a factor for study Bible notes, at least one publisher is finding new ways to make that scholarship more relevant to readers.
“For the first time, basically, in our history, we’re publishing a study Bible for women,” said B&H’s Jordan. “It seems kind of crazy that we’ve yet to publish one for [them]. We really wanted to publish a resource that would transcend age and draw women into the Scriptures, as deep as they want to go into the Word of God.”
That’s what drove B&H to assemble a group of nine women academically trained in the original languages of the Bible to create The Study Bible for Women (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
“I don’t think it’s going to intimidate people,” he said. “It’s going to surprise them as they open it and move through it. All the features built in are unique from that perspective: The commentary notes are comprehensive, the pages are smartly designed, easy to get into and beautiful. It’s great for a new believer because you can just put your foot in the water a bit, or if you’re someone who has walked with the Lord your whole life, you can dive in deeper.”
The new Bible is the third in a series of resources for women that include the Old and New Testament volumes of the Women’s Evangelical Commentary. The Bible includes free digital access to the New Testament commentary with purchase.
In March, B&H is planning to release a mother’s edition of the Holman Study Bible in NKJV and KJV. Features including a four-color presentation page, LeatherTouch cover imprinted with Prov. 31:30 and extra features boost gift-giving appeal.
“[One] trend we’ve noticed is all about well-known Bible teachers, preachers and theologians attaching their names to a Bible,” said Rick Brown, publisher, Hendrickson Publishers. “They have years of personal notes and thoughts on the Scriptures, and people want to know what they are, so we’re seeing more that those with big platforms and years of teaching experience are sought after as candidates for study Bibles.”
One example is The Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) by David Jeremiah, who has six New York Times best-sellers and who reaches an audience of more than 10 million listeners weekly through his broadcasts. Worthy Publishing releases his new Bible Nov. 26.
Features like study notes, full-page articles and sidebars with word studies and historical insights, as well as geographical and archaeological information are drawn from more than 40 years of his teaching. Another feature that makes the project stand out is links to additional online resources, including original video of Jeremiah introducing each book of the Bible.
Among the other well-known names with a recent project is Stephen Arterburn, author of many best-selling books, including Every Man’s Battle, and host of “New Life Live.” His The 7 Minute Marriage Solution Devotional Bible came to stores in September. Based on the principles in the The 7 Minute Marriage Solution trade book, the Bible offers 260 devotionals designed to be read by couples in seven-minute segments.
The devotional trend also seems to extend to not just well-known authors and teachers, but also to cherished brands with a reputation for reliability.
Among the upcoming projects slated to release is The Daily Walk Bible, released last month from Tyndale. It draws from Walk Thru the Bible’s Daily Walk magazine and combines an interest in going deeper using key insights with a devotional thought for each day. The Daily Walk Bible is available in the New Living Translation (NLT) and New International Version (NIV) translations. Tyndale also released in October a new NKJV edition of its best-seller The One Year Chronological Bible.
One of Zondervan’s fall offerings is a union of six best-selling NIV resources. The NIV Essentials Study Bible is set to release this month and draws from sources such as the NIV Study Bible, the NIV Student Bible and the NIV Quest Study Bible. The project combines elements from study notes and maps to illustrations and articles to offer different ways to view the Scriptures.
Well-known names and brands also are trending outside study Bibles, and publishers are finding ways to provide content of interest to the followers of authors and ministries, as well as tap into their built-in readerships to promote the Bibles.
For example, The NIV Life Journey Bible offers notes based on life principles developed by John Townsend and Henry Cloud, best-selling authors of How People Grow and Boundaries. Published last year, a new pink and brown Duo-Tone edition will be available from Zondervan in January.
A November Zondervan release, The NIV Ragamuffin Bible, which was inspired by Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel, draws on quotes, devotions and reflections from Manning’s writings. Manning, who died in April, wrote nearly 20 books centered on grace.
Charisma Media is bringing to market the most modern translation produced in the spirit of the KJV in 30 years. The word-for-word Modern English Version (MEV) translation accurately communicates while “maintaining reverence” for the Scriptures by capitalizing references for God.
“To Bible readers who value biblical truth, the MEV literally translates God’s Word in a way that preserves the message, but remains readable for today’s world,” said Tessie DeVore, executive vice president of Charisma House. “And because of this, we anticipate that the MEV will have broad ecumenical and consumer acceptance.”
Editors of the MEV represent institutions such as the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Oral Roberts University, Westminster Theological Seminary and Yale University. Stanley M. Horton, who has a doctor of theology degree and is overseeing the translation, believes it is “second to none.”
Other Bible lines are expanding with new translations.
“[Another] trend we’ve noticed is new translations being added to pre-existing Bible lines,” said Hendrickson’s Brown. “We see this especially with the Zondervan-Nelson merge. Products like the MacArthur Study Bible and the Spiritual Life Bible are now being offered in the NIV. But it’s happening with other publishers as well. Hendrickson has a few Bibles in the works that we’re adding new translations to, to expand the line.”
A sister project to the A.W. Tozer Bible, Hendrickson’s The Pursuit of God Bible is one example. Already offered in the KJV, it is being made available in the NIV as well.
The MacArthur Study Bible by John MacArthur, pastor and best-selling author, will be available in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and NIV as new relationships have made new translations possible. Along with a revised and updated NKJV edition, Thomas Nelson released these new Bibles last month.
Another significant trend Jordan sees is “Bibles aimed at different people groups,” he said. “For us at B&H, the goal behind those is to take the Scriptures and direct them to an audience where there can be a penetration of the truth in a way that’s relevant to their specific needs. I think a lot of publishers have wrestled with how to take this complicated thing and make it more accessible. It’s like an ocean and we’re just trying to come alongside the reader and provide them a way to get into it.”
Zondervan is directing its NIV Celebrate Recovery Bible to those in recovery. Releasing in March, it draws from the eight principles of the Celebrate Recovery program.
Another spring release, the Everyday Matters Bible for Women was released last year in hardcover, but a less-expensive edition is planned for this year.
“Last year when we published the original version in hardcover, it was to fill a need in the women’s market,” said Hendrickson’s Meg Lynch, marketing director. “There weren’t many four-color Bibles for women that had helpful articles interspersed throughout the Bible. This year, we’re releasing the same Bible, but in paperback as a more economical option. Bibles are getting so expensive and we want to offer churches and stores lower-priced editions so they can buy in bulk for church groups and women’s Bible studies—without breaking the budget.”
Among other spring offerings for specific audiences are Fulfilled: The NIV Devotional Bible for the Single Woman and the NIV God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, both releasing in March 2014 from Zondervan.
Such trends also indicate that the shelf life for Bibles is shorter than it would have been even 15 years ago, but the focus now is how to speak to the needs of niche audiences in a way that they find relevant and engaging. While some of these Bibles reach higher price points, many are finding simple but durable hardcover or paper bindings the way to go.
The trend toward less expensive Bibles is something Lynch notes across the board, with the Fire Bible also being re-released in paperback. This, move, along with making available to retailers mail-ready sampler booklets for several versions gives Hendrickson a way to get through some of the barriers to Bible purchasing.
Publishers also are looking for new ways to help everyone from new believers to those who want to find new ways to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures. One October release, The Wayfinding Bible (Tyndale), takes three different approaches to Bible reading, with a Fly Over Route, Direct Route and Scenic Route, depending on the level of detail desired.
Compass, a new release from Thomas Nelson, uses The Voice translation along with Bible-reading helps to find answers to readers’ questions and help them apply Scripture to their lives. Included are book introductions; devotional, cultural, historical, and theological in-text notes; and God’s Promises.
Aside from samplers, both digital and in print, publishers take a minimalist approach to promoting new Bible brands, recognizing that the best way to promote is to simply produce tools that retailers have asked for to make features clear, and that direct customers to the best combination of translation, size, style and features to meet their particular needs.
Jordan said that B&H has focused on creating packaging that uses colors to clearly indicate translation and that stays away from choices like shrink-wrapping, favoring boxes that allow customers to flip through a Bible at will.
“Some retailers have their own Bible buying guide that walks frontliners or customers through simple questions, and that’s helpful, but many times those aren’t executed well if they’re done from the perspective of just one publisher’s line,” he said.