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How to draw readers to God’s Word Print Email
Written by Lindsay Williams   
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 04:04 PM America/New_York

Five ways publishers are getting creative to attract consumers to new Bibles

Few binding options were available when Bibles first were produced en masse, but today, readers of God’s Word have the luxury of having hundreds of Bibles from which to choose. With technology comes an abundance of options—and fierce competition for Bible publishers to create products that stand out from the crowd. Moreover, the large number of choices can leave the consumer feeling overwhelmed when attempting to make a purchase.

As a result of these factors, Bible publishers have been forced to take a closer look at the needs of their consumers and get extremely creative. 

“Our focus is on finding ways we can decrease the confusion in the Bible section at retail, lower the barrier to entry for readers to engage in a meaningful, life-changing way with Scripture, and facilitate their telling others about what they are discovering,” said Blaine Smith, associate publisher of Bibles at Tyndale House Publishers. “The issue is not about what Bible or Bible translation a person reads. The real issue is encouraging them to read their Bible regularly, sincerely and with a seeking heart so they can experience the abundant life God has in store for each of His children.”

Crossway-WomensDevotionalBibleThis year seems to be one of ingenuity for Bible publishers as they gear up for some unique releases. While there always will be high demand for text Bibles, five primary trends already seem to be emerging based on the new specialty releases planned for 2014. 

Forthcoming titles will boast full-color design, increased functionality, issue-focused content, practical application and an emphasis on trusted brands. The customer wins with 2014’s new offerings.


One of the top trends to come this year is the full-color interior. While a rainbow of leather and faux leather bindings recently have become popular, especially feminine palettes, Bibles will get a boost from the inside out this year. 

“We are seeing sales of masculine and traditional binding designs increase, with feminine and colorful bindings still holding strong,” said Dylan Hillhouse, vice president of Bible group marketing for HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “We are seeing that accessible, trustworthy translations are still the best-selling translations, and we are seeing strong consumer demand for colorful Bible interiors.”

Thomas Nelson’s NKJV Full Color Study Bible will help fill this gap when it releases in October. The New King James Version (NKJV) edition will maintain the multitude of helpful study notes users appreciate in the current edition of this Bible—which has sold more than 1.3 million copies to date—but it will now be available in vivid four-color, providing an attractive interior and an organized, color-coded experience.

Hendrickson-NIVVideoBibleWhen Nelson’s NKJV Full Color Study Bible releases, its biggest competition will be Holman Bibles’ (B&H Publishing Group) Holman Study Bible: NKJV Edition, which debuted last October. It’s currently the only full-color NKJV study Bible available and was modeled after the 2011 ECPA Christian Book Award-winning HCSB Study Bible.

Tyndale’s One Year Bible Illustrated Edition, which also releases in October, will offer a stimulating visual experience for those seeking a daily Bible option. Available in the New Living Translation (NLT) and New International Version (NIV), this edition will spotlight one full-color image each day to supplement the 365 guided Scripture passages that help readers journey through God’s Word in a year’s time.

While four-color editions may be more expensive to produce, they provide the consumer with an easier and enjoyable way to soak in Scripture. In addition to seeing an array of colorful interior offerings, leathersoft options in charcoal, mint, teal, light pink, silver, sky blue and chocolate will be available this year.

Bibles are now a reflection of personal style. Combining various types of cover materials also makes a statement with an assortment of leathers, canvas and fabric. By mixing and matching patterns and adding embellishments like buttons and snaps, publishers are creating unique products that match an array of tastes.Publishers are offering new floral designs and new patterns reflecting fashion trends such as polka dots, paisleys, stripes and chevrons. As for bonded leather, standard blacks, browns and maroons continue to be the traditional colors buyers value most.

Crossway’s Executive Director of Sales Anthony Gosling noted how much purchasing a Bible may reflect the customer’s personality.

HolmanBibles-TheStudyBibleForWomen“We continue to develop a wide range of finishes and designs that reflect the individuality of the Bible purchaser, from simple classic finishes for the more conservative to lively and bright designs for the younger reader and top quality, high-end leathers and papers for the discerning, professional and thoughtful gift-buying readers.”

To that end, with gift buyers in mind, this June Crossway will release The Psalms in the English Standard Version (ESV). Each psalm is presented in a large readable font on high-quality paper in a clean, aesthetically pleasing single-column layout. The Psalms will debut in a top-grain, rich black leather and a two-tone brown and walnut combination.

Gosling also notes that a larger group of consumers are interested in high-end products made with superior quality materials. These Bibles generally carry a higher price point, but the loyal group of consumers who purchase Bibles for gifts or who make specialty Bibles a centerpiece of their home, are willing to pay higher prices for better quality.

“There is growth in readers who want high-end quality to physically express the value they place upon the Word of God for themselves or as a social gift,” he explained.

Research continues to be a key part of Bible publishers’ planning initiatives and marketing strategies, as it has become the key to determining what colors and designs consumers will gravitate toward each year. Publishers have to rely on the expertise of their design and editorial teams now more than ever in order to produce fashion-forward covers and relevant content. 

“We put forth a lot of effort to engage customers with not only new ideas, but cover designs as well,” said B&H Bible Marketing Manager Tim Jordan, adding that recommendations from others continue to shape consumer buying habits. “When a Bible comes with a friend or pastor’s stamp of approval, then [consumers are] much more open to making a purchase. Another key factor is that customers actually find a Bible in their local store, giving them a chance to hold it in their hands. Bibles are a very personal, meaningful and long-term purchase.”


ThomasNelson-NKJVStudyBibleFullColorAlong with color and personalized design, consumers are looking for Bibles that are user friendly. In addition to producing Bibles that are easy to navigate, thanks to thoughtfully placed study notes and organized appendices, publishers are thinking out of the box when planning new products.

Hendrickson Publishers will release a brand-new multisensory Bible product this month with the NIV Video Bible, which provides a complete narration of the Old and New Testaments on DVD. With more than 70 hours of audio on one DVD, the NIV Video Bible allows users to view their selected reading passages in a variety of ways to suit their preferred method of study. Passages can be played in a single chapter, a single book or in a weekly version that comes accompanied by a daily Bible reading guide.

For those who like to take notes inside their Bible, Barbour Publishing will release a KJV Journaling Bible in July that provides much wider margins with lined journaling space running along the perimeter of each page. The title will be available in a two-piece, stitched flexible binding and bonded leather.

HarperCollins’ Hillhouse believes that practical functionality is always something Bible publishers should be considering when planning new product lines. 

“At HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Bibles continue to be published beginning with the question, ‘How do we remove barriers for people to read and understand God’s Word?’ This translates into many different formats and, hopefully, meets our target market right where they are,” he said. 


While design and functionality of Bibles are definitely attractive components for consumers browsing the aisles of Christian retail stores, content is still king. That’s why niche Bibles consistently perform well.

Zondervan-BloodandStoneBibles catering to a consumer’s interests also grab attention and draw readers into the gospel story more quickly. Take Zondervan’s new biblically based graphic novel, for instance. Blood & Stone is aimed at men in the 18-35 age category who feel displaced by Christianity. Available in June, Blood & Stone’s gripping visuals will appeal to comic book and graphic novel fans. With plans to expand this into a full line if the title performs well, this innovative Bible product could lead to a following all its own if marketed and merchandised properly. 

Zondervan is targeting a different group with this month’s release God’s Word for Gardeners. This special Bible will allow those who enjoy gardening to connect Scripture with their love of nature.

Other Bible releases this year will target those involved in church leadership. Hendrickson’s Fire Bible will be available in the ESV in June, continuing the tradition of the Life in the Spirit Study Bible, and providing a tool to help Pentecostal pastors and lay leaders preach and teach. 

In addition, Hendrickson will release The Ministry Essentials Bible in September in an NIV edition. This Bible is a definitive teaching tool for those in leadership and aimed at parachurch leaders, missionaries and other laypeople with practical wisdom from some of today’s best-known Christian leaders, including Bill Hybels, Billy Graham, Francis Chan and John and Nancy Ortberg.

When tailored to meet a consumer in the season of life they are currently navigating, Bibles can become sources of survival. For example, Tyndale’s The Life Recovery Bible, the No. 1-selling Scripture edition for those struggling with addictions, will release in KJV for the first time in November. The traditional King James edition is expected to open doors for those organizations and individuals dedicated to this translation, but who desire the extensive, applicable study aids The Life Recovery Bible provides.

Bibles aimed specifically at men or women also will continue to prove effective. For the first time, B&H is publishing a women’s study Bible. The Study Bible for Women, which released last month, utilizes the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translation and includes reputable notes and resources from trained authors. General Editor Dorothy Kelley Patterson is a professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Managing Editor Rhonda Harrington Kelley of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is an adjunct professor of women’s ministry. Patterson and Kelley also are wives of the presidents of their respective seminaries.

“This is truly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever prepared for women and by women,” Jordan said. “We’re very excited about its ministry impact.”

At the end of August, Crossway will launch the Women’s Devotional Bible, a product rich in resources to help women become deeply rooted in the Word.

The fastest-growing Bible for men today, Every Man’s Bible, will be available in the NIV and the second-edition NLT from Tyndale beginning in April. It includes thousands of notes on topics for men, designed to encourage readers’ deeper relationships with Christ as they understand what the Scriptures have to say about these issues. It will be available in four deluxe colors with a strong push at retail for Father’s Day.

With niche products, felt need becomes increasingly more important. If consumers fail to make a connection between Bible offerings at retail and their individual interests, needs, desires, season of life or personality, the purpose of niche products is lost. Bible titles, taglines and packaging copy must adequately convey the product’s benefits to the reader. It’s also important for catalog copy and promotional material from the retailer to accurately describe each Bible’s best resonating attributes.

“Recognizing and communicating the specific felt needs that meet the reader where they are at in their spiritual journey is such a big challenge,” Hillhouse said. “If felt need is not communicated effectively, then the consumer decision is likely to be made based on looks and price instead of what content actually fits them best.”


Publishers are finding that consumers want a Bible that reaches them and aligns with their interests and tastes, but also that they desire the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about Scripture versus simply reading a scholar’s or respected thought-leader’s viewpoint. Several titles releasing this year allow readers to form their own interpretations of Scripture through the use of discussion questions, innovative notes and study aids that give them space to process doctrines on their own.

“Today’s Bible reader is discerning and can identify what is truly helpful from that which is faddish,” Gosling said. “Readers are trending toward those that offer a faithful, consistent and reliable text with carefully prepared, scholarly, yet relevant notes to assist in study and devotional reading.”

Echoing Gosling’s line of thinking, Jordan added: “People want to guard against cultural agendas and read for themselves the timeless truths of Scripture. Bible buyers most certainly want to understand what they’re reading, but they must be able to trust the translation and content of the Bible—reading for themselves, in teaching and equipping their children and in ministry use.”

Zondervan’s NIV Cultural Background Study Bible (August) is perhaps the best example of a new Bible that allows readers the freedom to ask questions and come to their own conclusions. Aimed at post-Christian millennials, this Bible is suited for the skeptical reader. The Bible invites Generation Y to experience the Scriptures through asking intelligent questions instead of reading peripheral commentary with straightforward answers.

“The forthcoming NIV Cultural Background Study Bible meets a growing desire for consumers to have contextual study notes which illuminate what is happening at that time, without telling [readers] how that should apply to today,” said Hillhouse. “Instead, some interesting discussion points are raised, and the reader is encouraged to go deeper on their own to come to a final conclusion. In today’s world, people want to gather information to help them make an informed decision, instead of being told what to believe, and this new study Bible helps them do just that.”

The Cultural Background Study Bible comes on the heels of three recently released study Bibles from HarperCollins that follow in the same vein: Modern Life Study Bible, Essentials Study Bible and Integrated Study Bible.


It comes as no surprise that trusted brands and translations continue to be best sellers. Many publishers are building on the success of their most well-respected authors and best-performing brands to expand lines and give consumers more choices in regards to translation, cover designs and updated editions. 

In September, the No. 1-selling study Bible, The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) from Tyndale, will be available in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation for the first time. When the new LASB releases this fall, that will mean this proven performer will be available in five of the six top translations (NLT, NIV, NKJV, KJV, HCSB and New American Standard Bible).

October’s NIV Maxwell Leadership Bible from Thomas Nelson will explore the connection between leadership and the Scriptures. Led by John Maxwell’s commentary, this Bible will be available in the NIV for the first time.

The New Year already ushered in a big milestone for Crossway as the company celebrated the sale of its 1-millionth copy of the ESV Study Bible. This perennial best-seller leads the way for another special edition, the ESV Reader’s Bible, releasing in May. The new Bible will be formatted solely with narrative text, void of verse numbers and formatted for easy reading. 

The trusted King James Version will get a makeover when Passio, an imprint of Charisma House, launches its new word-for-word translation in August with the Modern English Version (MEV), the most modern translation of the KJV produced in 30 years. The first MEV products will include the Spiritual Warfare Bible, currently available in New King James, and a compact option with the MEV Thin Line Reference Bible

Overall, this year’s crop of Bibles is a reflection of evolving tastes and proof that while customers want a variety of options, it’s still imperative for retailers to make sure their selection is organized in such a way that the consumer can easily explore their options, finding their best fit in terms of content, translation, functionality and design.