Christian Retailing

Year in Review: Reflecting on the year that was Print Email
Written by Leslie Santamaria   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 11:48 AM America/New_York

Looking back on the significant events and substantial sales of 2014

Looking back on the year just gone can  jog the memory and help us see the big picture of all the news that made up the Christian products industry this year. In many ways, it can also serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in these uncertain times.

Have a read of what happened in the categories we’ve chosen for this issue, then come back next month for even more reflections on the year that was.

As a reader of Christian Retailing, let us know what you think. Did we pick the most significant happenings in the industry or what would you have done differently? Respond by Facebook, Twitter or email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

BIBLES // Translations added, new sales heights reached


MEVBible-LargeLogo-300Two publishers introduced new Scripture translations in 2014. Passio, an imprint of Charisma House, launched the Modern English Version (MEV) in 2014 with three initial products: the MEV SpiritLed Woman Bible, the MEV Thinline Reference Bibles and the KJV/MEV Parallel Bible. The MEV is a close translation in the King James tradition that aims to maintain the beauty of the past while providing fresh clarity to today’s readers.

Newly formed BroadStreet Publishing also launched a new translation, which was developed under the leadership of linguist, missionary and author Dr. Brian Simmons. The Passion Translation Bible incorporates the ancient Aramaic scripture in addition to the Greek and Hebrew. By referencing the language in which Jesus actually taught, the translation is meant to capture the original emotive intent of the words. Seven of the Bible’s books have been released so far.

Content has grown increasingly visual in the last several years, and the Bible category is no exception. The use of full color abounded in new Bibles last year. For instance, color made a splash when Thomas Nelson released a study Bible in the New King James Version, the NKJV Study Bible: Full-Color Edition. Bible-land photos, graphics, text boxes and headings pop in full color on its pages, which include the complete study system of the original NKJV Study Bible. Tyndale House Publishers also used the whole palette by adding full-color images to daily readings in the One-Year Bible Illustrated Edition, available in the New Living Translation (NLT) and the New International Version (NIV).

Navigational tools also were increasingly used, and thematic material often accompanied the Scripture text for greater reader engagement.

Bible titles also were recognized for reaching exceptional heights in numbers of units sold.

It’s rare even for a book to achieve the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) Diamond Award for sales exceeding 10 million copies but even rarer for a Bible. However, two Bibles from Tyndale House Publishers joined this elite club in 2014. The Living Bible received a Quadruple Diamond Award, while the New Living Translation Bible received a Triple Diamond Award. In addition, Crossway’s ESV Study Bible in the English Standard Version topped 1 million units sold, receiving ECPA’s Platinum Award.

New products in 2014 included Thomas Nelson’s The Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible from Phil Robertson and his pastor-son, Al Robertson, as Duck Dynasty family not only gain fame, but also a platform from which to speak to America.

Another major Thomas Nelson release offered advanced navigational help. Compass: The Study Bible for Navigating Your Life is based on The Voice translation, developed by the Ecclesia Bible Society and includes the publisher’s best-selling God’s Promises. With in-text notes comprised of historical, theological and devotional thoughts, Compass is designed to help readers find answers and apply Scripture as a guide to their daily lives. Compass remained on the ECPA’s Bible best-seller list for several months.

From Abingdon Press, The Step Stone Bible aims to help readers understand the historical and cultural contexts of the passages. The full text of the Common English Bible plus extensive sidebar articles are meant to provide a full Bible-reading experience without the reader’s need of an additional reference book.

Historical context also figures prominently in Thomas Nelson’s The Modern Life Study Bible, which released early in the year. With more than 2,400 articles explaining the biblical people, places and themes, this NKJV is designed to connect the people and stories of the Bible with the challenges and opportunities of today.

Zondervan’s NIV First-Century Study Bible includes articles that explain the background of Bible times and pose thoughtful questions to draw readers into a fresh understanding of God’s Word.

The trend of pairing thematic content with full translations was evident in many 2014 Bibles. The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible from Reformation Heritage Books includes articles about the faith as written by Reformers, Puritans and modern theologians in the Reformed tradition.

Hendrickson’s The Ministry Essentials Bible-NIV incorporates writings from well-known contemporary Christian leaders to equip those leading ministries with practical tools for Christian leadership.

Two offerings targeted to women also include topical selections. From Zondervan, Fulfilled: The NIV Devotional Bible for the Single Woman offers inspiring writings from Christian women who understand the unique joys and challenges of the single life. From Holman Bibles, The Study Bible for Women threads commentaries, word studies and articles on biblical womanhood throughout the text of the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation to promote specialized study and inspire mentorship.

Publishers offered a plethora of digital Bibles as well. However, according to 2014’s The State of the Bible report from the American Bible Society and Barna Group, a solid majority of Bible readers—84%—still prefer to read the Scriptures in print. Even 81% of millennials expressed a preference for print when it comes to Bible reading.

BOOKS // Megabrands thrive alongside relationship and end-times books


AgentsOfTheApocalypseDenominational publisher Nazarene Publishing House restructured after nearly closing its doors, while others, including Moody Publishers and Abingdon Press, cut back on the number of titles released. But B&H Publishing Group, Barbour Publishing, Worthy Publishing and Baker Publishing Group all expanded by adding imprints and acquiring lines. Literary agent Steve Laube took over Marcher Lord Press and renamed the sci-fi and fantasy house Enclave Publishing.

Book trends included a persisting strategy to build power brands, titles that tackled tough cultural issues and the release of a particularly bountiful crop of books aimed at strengthening marriages.

Thom S. Rainer’s I Am a Church Member (B&H Books) continued to top the CBA best-sellers list more than a year after the book’s release. His follow-up book, also from B&H, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, made a strong impact as well, reaching as high as No. 2 on the CBA Top 50.

Jonathan Cahn’s The Mystery of the Shemitah (FrontLine/Charisma House) released in September, took the top spot on the ECPA nonfiction list in November, and at press time, had already been on the New York Times best-seller list for eight weeks. Cahn picked up sales for his 2012 novel with FrontLine, The Harbinger, as his new release came out. The Harbinger has now sold more than 1.7 million copies in total.

At press time, pastor David Jeremiah’s Agents of the Apocalypse (Tyndale) topped the New York Times Religion best-sellers list just above The Shemitah.

Crossway’s Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung won ECPA’s Christian Book of the Year award as well as a Top Shelf design award.

The Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame cranked out a boatload of new titles for Howard Books. Among the releases were unPHILtered by the clan’s patriarch, Phil Robertson; The Women of Duck Commander by several of the Robertson women; Good Call by Jase Robertson; and a book for teens, Live Original, by Sadie Robertson, who also won media attention on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. The brand shows no sign of abatement.

A longtime brand, Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, celebrated its 10-year anniversary and hit the 10 million mark in units sold. Even a decade later, the book that launched the line held the No. 1 slot on the ECPA nonfiction list for half the year and stayed within the top four slots the remaining months. Thomas Nelson marked the anniversary with an expanded edition.  

Financial expert Dave Ramsey—whose four New York Times best-sellers have sold more than 7 million copies combined—added to his product line with The Legacy Journey and Smart Money, Smart Kids, written with his daughter, Rachel Cruze (both Ramsey Press/Thomas Nelson).

In conjunction with the publication of Dr. James Dobson’s Your Legacy (FaithWords), hundreds of thousands worldwide viewed his Building a Family Legacy simulcast at more than 7,000 locations. Multiple books are being released.

A major rollout for Thomas Nelson late in the year was New York Times best-selling author Lysa TerKeurst’s The Best Yes, along with a study guide and DVD. The product line addressed a felt need, helping busy women make wise decisions.

Billy Graham’s devotional Hope for Each Day (Thomas Nelson) and Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan) reached the 1 million mark in units sold.

Other notable nonfiction releases included Before Amen by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson); You Can, You Will by Joel Osteen (FaithWords); and Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey (Zondervan).

In fiction, Barbour’s Wanda E. Brunstetter—branded as the “Amish Country’s Most Beloved Storyteller”—saw her total sales surpass 8 million copies.

Popular novelists making the ECPA fiction top 10 also included Beverly Lewis, whose books hit No. 1 four times with three different titles; Francine Rivers; Joel C. Rosenberg; and Karen Kingsbury, whose publisher, Howard Books, released Angels Walking and The Family of Jesus, a fictional view of six members of Jesus’ family.

America’s culture wars entered Christian stores with the release of pro-gay books such as God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines (Convergent). Released concurrently with Vines’ book was Michael Brown’s Can You Be Gay and Christian? (FrontLine/Charisma House), which takes an opposing view and seeks to equip believers to interact with Christ’s love with those who identify as LGBT.

As this debate and the similar discussion on the definition of marriage raged, publishers responded with books supporting the biblical view of marriage, written by familiar authors such Gary Chapman, Matt Chandler, Tony and Lauren Dungy, Gary Thomas, and Daryl and Tracy Strawberry.

DVDs // Surprising box-office results define big releases


GodsNotDeadTheMovieOpening-weekend numbers of several faith-based movies surprised the industry elite, and major Hollywood names laced the credits of films released this year.

Opening-weekend box office for dark-horse film God’s Not Dead raked in a record-breaking $9.2 million from a limited release in only 780 theaters. The low-budget indie film caught the attention of multiple high-profile media outlets with Entertainment Weekly calling it the “biggest surprise” of the weekend and USA Today adding, “God’s Not Dead is a box-office winner.” The unexpected success of the movie continued when the film released on DVD where it remains a big seller at retail. A sequel is in the works for 2015.

Following the unprecedented success of The Bible miniseries, fans and critics alike were eagerly awaiting Son of God, 2014’s major theatrical release from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Drawing comparisons to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, Son of God spawned a nationwide tour, music compilation and small group curriculum.

Although it didn’t fare as well with critics who claimed it was biblically inaccurate, the major motion picture adaptation of Noah, with Russell Crowe as the lead, was also one of the most anticipated films of the year. While the mainstream release was not as warmly received as expected, such a large-scale, high-budget film continues to reiterate Hollywood’s interest in the evangelical community.

Starring well-known actress Patricia Heaton, Mom’s Night Out quickly became one of the most lauded releases of 2014 with relatable characters, hilarious dialogue and a real-life storyline. Finding Normal, a made-for-TV romantic comedy that originally premiered on the UP Network, also released on DVD to critical acclaim, thanks to Candace Cameron Bure’s starring role, further solidifying her position as a favorite actress in family-friendly films.

Musical ambition proved a popular theme across a variety of releases. Starring James Denton and AJ Michalka, Grace Unplugged featured original music and saw wide support from the Christian music industry. Ragamuffin paid tribute to the late Rich Mullins in an indie organic film that took viewers inside the singer-songwriter’s humble lifestyle and music career. Through Word Films, California rock band Switchfoot released its first documentary, Fading West, chronicling the making of the band’s latest album and the lives of the band members. Integrity artist Kari Jobe released a full-length live DVD, Majestic, which proved to be one of the most elegant and worshipful offerings of the year.

Fans of the Hallmark Channel original When Calls the Heart, inspired by the best-selling books by Janette Oke and starring Lori Loughlin, were thrilled when the first season became available on DVD. The boxed set includes all of the Hallmark episodes as well the pilot movie and exclusive interviews with Oke and Michael Landon Jr., executive producer. A modern-day Little House on the Prairie, the heartwarming series explores tried-and-true themes of faith and family.

Heaven Is for Real, based on the book by the same name and the real-life story of Colton Burpo’s trip to the other side, piqued curiosity with an all-star cast, including Academy Award nominee and Emmy-winning actor Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly.

The first movie to be adapted from one of Max Lucado’s books, The Christmas Candle, pointed to the fact that authors remain one of the best resources for filmmakers. This and similar titles provided a fantastic opportunity for retailers to bundle DVD releases with the novels that inspired them.

For the kids, VeggieTales continues to dominate sales. Beauty and the Beet and Celery Night Fever were two of the new titles that released this year. In addition, the Veggies made their debut with all-new episodes exclusive to Netflix with the animated series VeggieTales in the House.

While not billed as a “Christian film,” The Giver was heavily marketed to church groups and Christian tastemakers for its faith-based themes. Although some compared “the giver,” played by Jeff Bridges, to God, the film, based on the award-winning novel by Lois Lowry, received mixed reviews in the faith community. It released to DVD just in time for the holiday season and is available at retail.

INDUSTRY NEWS // Hachette-Amazon battle impacts sales, Obamacare victory celebrated


SupremeCourt-CreditUpstateNYerOne of the biggest stories of the news year was Hachette’s brutal battle with Amazon over e-book pricing, sales and distribution. The dispute was finally resolved toward the end of the year, but not until after authors took sides.

At Christian retail, Parable Christian Stores discontinued their e-book sales because of low demand as its customers used the in-store pick-up option more.

The industry celebrated as Hobby Lobby and sister chain Mardel came out a 5-4 victor in their Affordable Care Act contraceptive case at the Supreme Court.

There were also plenty of acquisitions and moves—location and personnel—in the industry. B&H Publishing Group took on select Standard Publishing titles, while Worthy acquired iconic brand Ideals and launched the Inspired imprint under the care of Pamela Clements, formerly of Abingdon Press. Baker acquired Regal Books from Gospel Light, which opted to focus more on curriculum. Baker Publishing Group ended 24 years as the North American distributor for Cambridge Bibles as Baker refocused on original works.

United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) moved to a different location in Nashville, while LifeWay Christian Resources considered whether to sell its prime property in the city.

News Corp acquired Harlequin and subsequently Heartsong Presents—which was started by Barbour Publishing—was shut down.

Jerry B. Jenkins shuttered the Christian Writers Guild in November. Jenkins has owned and operated the guild for 14 years. Dave Sheets, former guild president, and Rebeca Seitz, CEO of Spirit of Naples, have formed the nonprofit BelieversTrust to fill the void.

Early in the year, Amazon Publishing launched a new Christian imprint named Waterfall Press. Debt-ridden WinePress Publishing closed in March, but former owner Athena Dean launched Redemption Press, a new subsidy publisher.

Dave Thornton was named Gospel Light’s CEO after Bill Greig III left leadership there and relaunched with his wife, Rhonni. Steve Cobb retired from WaterBrook Multnomah, while Moody Publishers named Paul Santhouse its new vice president of publishing. Neil Alexander also announced his forthcoming retirement at UMPH. Don Pape became publisher at NavPress, whose titles are now distributed by Tyndale. In retail, Family Christian Stores also introduced its new president/CEO, Chuck Bengochea, who hails from the food industry.

At the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, which celebrated its 40th anniversary, Baker Publishing Group President Dwight Baker, was installed to serve as chair for the next term.

CBA is reworking its summer show in partnership with Arrowhead Conferences and Events. Possible locations were announced beyond Orlando in 2016.

Baker Book House celebrated 75 years in its recently renovated store. Several Christian retailers, including the longtime Christian Book & Gift in Rochester, Minnesota, closed their doors, as another Minnesota store—Bethany Book & Gift—marked 75 years in business. Send The Light Distribution marked 40 years serving the industry, and Harvest House Publishers entered its 40th year.

Author Mark Driscoll caused a stir, apologized for mistakes amid plagiarism claims and admitted to “manipulating” the book best-seller system. This was only one of the Mars Hill pastor’s issues that came to the fore, as he resigned from his church.

Tragedy struck when Myles Munroe and his wife, Ruth, died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. Charles Capps, a pioneering author for Harrison House, died at age 80. Harvest House author John Weldon left behind an abundance of apologetics books, and Chick-fil-A founder and author Truett Cathy rewarded many with his business and philanthropy legacy.

MUSIC // Hip-Hop comes to the fore in big music year


Lecrae-132814.o backgroundOne of the biggest surprises of 2014 came when Reach Records released Lecrae’s Anomaly (New Day Christian Distributors) in September. Selling 88,000 units in the first week, Anomaly landed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making the hip-hop artist only one of five Christian artists ever to top the chart.

Hip-hop was also popular in terms of collaborations. Everyone from For King & Country to Tenth Avenue North and Moriah Peters invited rap artists to contribute to their new albums, indicating Lecrae and artists like KB, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee and Flame are in high demand.

In the worship genre, “Oceans” became Hillsong United’s first No. 1 at radio and the most-talked-about song of 2014 as it swept the K-LOVE Fan Awards in June and the Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards in October, propelling sales of Zion (Capitol Christian Music Group).

Singer-songwriter Ellie Holcomb—daughter of renowned producer Brown Bannister—beat the odds when she won the New Artist of the Year Dove Award. Holcomb is only the second independent artist ever to win this award. And her debut album, As Sure as the Sun (Full Heart Music), was entirely funded by fans.

Alternative pop-rock outfit Family Force 5 also earned its first No. 1 at AC/CHR radio with “Let It Be Love” from Time Stands Still (Word).

GMA also celebrated 50 years as an organization that “brings together all kinds of music,” Executive Director Jackie Patillo said.

Jars of Clay (Gray Matters) celebrated two decades in Christian music, although they don’t define their music as “Christian,” while TobyMac’s Gotee Records commemorated 20 years with an anniversary album featuring songs from its stable of artists. Moreover, Relient K celebrated a decade since the release of the band’s landmark record, MmHmm (Gotee), with a special tour.

Remix albums released from three heavy-hitters: Amy Grant, TobyMac and Mandisa, who won two GRAMMY Awards, as did Tye Tribbett.

Michael W. Smith released three albums as part of a new label deal with Capitol Christian Music Group—Sovereign, Hymns (a Cracker Barrel exclusive) and The Spirit of Christmas, which saw Smith collaborating with the biggest names in country music. Battistelli, Crowder, Tomlin, Andrew Peterson and Rhett Walker Band also debuted on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell released her debut solo effort, Help, to critical acclaim on My Block/eOne.

Digital-single sales continued to skyrocket with Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God” and “Our God” certified Platinum, and singles from Mandisa (“Good Morning”), Jamie Grace (“Hold Me,” featuring TobyMac), Francesca Battistelli (“Free to Be Me”), Britt Nicole (“Gold”) and Tomlin (“Indescribable,” “Amazing Grace,” “I Will Follow,” “I Will Rise” and “Whom Shall I Fear”) all were certified Gold. Furthermore, MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” became the first single in the Christian genre to receive RIAA Double-Platinum certification.

Christian music was featured prominently in TV and film throughout 2014, including songs from The Afters, KJ-52, For King & Country and more garnering airplay on shows ranging from ESPN’s Monday Night Football to Dancing With the Stars. Needtobreathe appeared on Ellen, The Late Show with David Letterman and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Switchfoot performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Chris Tomlin and Crowder debuted new music on Fox & Friends, and several artists, including Jobe and Building 429, appeared on Huckabee.

Jason Crabb announced a new agreement with Provident Label Group, which will have the predominantly Southern gospel singer releasing his next studio album with a historically pop label. The Gaither Vocal Band released a fresh collection with an all-new lineup, while fans bid adieu to Audrey Assad as she released her final worship EP earlier this year, moving out of Christian music and into indie pop. Anberlin also called it quits, giving fans one last chance to see the group on tour before disbanding.