From keepsake to connection Print
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 11:48 AM America/New_York

Family Bibles go from the coffee table to the dining room

A family Bible used to be an oversized, thick version of God’s Word handed down with each successive generation recording information about the family's history inside it. But new family Bibles are no longer just basic text editions recording births, deaths, baptisms, confirmations and marriages—and often collecting dust on bookshelves.

             The subcategory now offers a variety of features—including color illustrations, drawings and art, children's stories and pictures as well as expanded notes and records sections—all designed to encourage family members to read the Scriptures together. 

            “We believe the family Bible market is trending toward family engagement—not coffee-table fixtures,” Zondervan Senior Vice President and Publisher for Bibles Chip Brown told Christian Retailing. “The Bible is most powerful when it is opened and read—and never more so than when it is read with children.”

             One of several publishers that offer 40-plus different family Bibles, Zondervan currently

has three in its line—Family Bible, Family Keepsake Bible and The Family Reading Bible—all in the New International Version (NIV) and retailing from $29.99-$49.99.

             Thomas Nelson presently offers two— Painter of Light Thomas Kinkade’s Lighting the Way Home Family Bible, NKJV and Family Bible: KJV Edition, published as a commemorative edition marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (KJV).

            “Family Bibles tend to be steady sellers year round with spikes around key gift-giving holidays such as Christmas, Mothers/Fathers Day and Easter," said Gary Davidson, senior vice president and Bible group publisher at Nelson.

            Family Bibles account for less than 1% of every Bible purchased in Christian retail outlets, according to sales data from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). Zondervan's Family Bible, Duo-Tone burgundy was the best-selling family Bible during the past two years.

            According to ECPA sales data for 2010, Nelson had the highest market share of the subcategory (36%), followed by Zondervan (24%), Oxford University Press (17%), B&H Publishing Group (10%) and Fireside Catholic Bibles (3%).

            Nelson's newest family edition, Family Bible: KJV Edition retails for $99.99. More than 2,000 units were shipped on its release in October. More than 1,000 units have been ordered and shipped in December and January, “indicating a strong consumer response to the premium keepsake quality of this heirloom Bible for gift-giving,” Davidson said.

            Nelson's Family Bible: KJV Edition comes in handcrafted leather, and features 32 full-color, fine-art masterpieces and a 32-page children's section with easy-to-read stories and illustrations. It also includes a special offer from The History Channel Club and a bound-in, 24-page full-color historical booklet in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV.


            Karmen Kelly, buyer and owner of The Bible House in Searcy, Ark., told Christian Retailing that she had to backorder Nelson’s Family Bible at Christmastime.

            “I ran out of stock twice even though it's an expensive Bible,” Kelly said. “I ended up bringing more after Christmas. I called some customers after Christmas who said, 'Thanks for calling. I still want it.' We are continuing to sell it well this year. It's quality. When you compare it to other Bibles on the shelf, it's hard to turn that one down.”

            The Bible House has sold 30 copies of the Family Bible. “Nelson did a Bible that was similar to it years ago,” Kelly said. “Mom and dad said they sold hundreds and hundreds of them when they owned the store. Nelson quit making it. I'm so glad they started to do it again. It's one of our good sellers.”

            In business for more than 37 years and located 45 minutes from Little Rock, Ark., the 4,000-square-foot Bible House—which carries hundreds of SKUs in Bibles—has seen a surge in family Bibles.

            “We've had an upswing of families looking for them,” Kelly said. “For a while, they didn't sell well. We carried maybe two to three family Bibles three years ago, but now we carry at least 10 different styles from five to six publishers. We've had a return for people looking for traditional Bibles with record-keeping pages in the front. They're willing to pay more for family Bibles.

            “It started building over the last two to three years,” she added. “I can' keep enough of them in stock. My customers asked me, 'Is there another nicer one available? Is this all you have to offer?' For a while, nobody wanted family Bibles. Now, they're a real popular item.”

            Besides Zondervan’s The Family Reading Bible and Nelson's Family Bible, the Bible House carries the KJV Cornerstone Family Bible and Holman Family Bible Deluxe Edition (both Holman Bible Publishers/B&H Publishing Group), as well as Spanish and Catholic family Bibles. Other family Bibles in the market include the ESV Illustrated Family Bible-ESV (Crossway) and the Family Faith & Values Bible Heritage Edition, KJV (National Publishing Company).

            “We try to meet the needs of everyone in the market, especially because the category has definitely picked up,” Kelly said. “We've seen a large increase in the last year. I expect that to continue. I think people are searching for a return to roots, family bonds and traditional values. The family Bible is something that is associated with that. It's like tracing your heritage.”

            Davidson said that Nelson has published approximately 100 different family Bibles since 1970, including King James and New King James editions, as well as Catholic and Spanish editions—with total sales exceeding 1 million units. Nelson's latest family Bible features presentation pages, an expanded family records section, illustrations and art, children's stories and pictures as well as notes and records areas.


            Nelson’s family Bibles have featured the artwork of Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Kinkade and Precious Moments artist Sam Butcher.

            “Traditionally, family Bibles are purchased as keepsakes or family heirlooms,” Davidson said. “The success of our Precious Moments family Bible and the Thomas Kinkade family Bible testifies to the enduring value of family Bibles. In the case of these two, the licensed artwork represents a biblical value that the customer wants to bring into their family, so that the heirloom value is enhanced by the spiritual character of the artwork or the artist. Both of these Bibles were published in numerous editions that served a full range of customer and markets.”

             Davidson added that family Bibles are “not a primary focus” for Nelson's Bible division. “Family Bibles are, by unit sales, a small percentage of our overall Bible sales—less than 2%,” he said. “What Thomas Nelson sees as being important is getting families together to read the Bible and encouraging them to put God’s Word into action together. … So, although at present we don’t offer a wide selection of the traditional, larger-sized family Bibles, I would still say that we’re focused on family in our Bibles.” 

            Brown said that Zondervan's Family Bible—first published in 1985—and Family Keepsake Bible fit the classic category of family Bibles. Both are large-format Bibles that include extensive family record sections with pages to record births, deaths, marriages and other family events.

            Published last July, The Family Reading Bible is “designed for much more active use than the standard family Bible,” he said. “Created to encourage families to read the Bible together, it features two reading paths that follow the narrative arc of God’s redemptive story. The short path is best for families with young children; the long path is a great fit for families with older children. Every reading includes questions and points of interest to promote family discussions.”

            Brown added that sales for The Family Reading Bible have been strong. “We believe family Bibles fit into two very different categories,” he said. “The first is the classic, coffee table Bible category. This category has not experienced much growth in recent years. The second category is the family devotional category. This is a growth area in the Christian market. Current Christian market trends indicate a clear shift toward emphasizing the importance of parents as spiritual leaders in the home.”


            The Family Reading Bible was field-tested with 43 families to ensure that the reading plans fit the needs of families with children at various ages and stages of spiritual development.

            “The Family Reading Bible was based directly on primary research with Christian parents,” Brown said. “We found that many Christian parents wanted to have family devotions, and thought they should be reading the Bible with their children, but were often unsure how to accomplish this.”
            Meanwhile, The Catholic Family Connections Bible, with the New American Bible translation, was published in March 2010 by Saint Mary’s Press as its first family Bible, according to company President and CEO John Vitek. 

            “We launched this Bible in response to customer requests to offer a family version of our best-selling Catholic Youth Bible, with nearly 2 million copies in print,” he told Christian Retailing. “We recognize that families are very busy with life, and reading the Bible is not necessarily a top-of-mind, first-order activity in Catholic homes.

            “Yet, parents want to feel connected, and they want their children to feel connected to family,  their faith, their community,” Vitek said. “So, we looked to build the Bible around these essential connection points, to provide a Bible that is practical and helpful in everyday life. … Catholic parents are looking for a Bible that gives them simple, easy-to-use, engaging material to help build a family practice of reading, studying and living out the teachings of the Bible and their Catholic faith.”

            Elsewhere, Tyndale House Publishers does not offer a family Bible with its New Living Translation, but that could change. “Tyndale is open to developing family Bibles, and may do so in the future,” Jeffrey Smith, director of marketing, Bibles, for Tyndale, told Christian Retailing.