Christian Retailing

Christian publishers moving toward ‘digital revolution’ Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Monday, 08 December 2008 12:14 PM America/New_York

Publishing houses, retailers aim to meet ‘consumers’ desire’ for more electronic content

A growing number of Christian publishers are stepping up their digital emphasis, with Zondervan recently announcing significant moves to expand the company’s digital-content ventures.

Christian retailers, though, seem cautiously optimistic about the impact of the digital push.

“I’m excited about (the emphasis) because I want to be there,” Bruce Anderson— owner of Alpha & Omega Parable Christian Stores, which has three Rochester, N.Y., locations—told Christian Retailing. “Part of it is because I don’t want to be left behind by the digital revolution. We have to change as our customers change, and we must be on the forefront of the digital revolution.”


Zondervan announced in October that it would serve as the exclusive distributor of the Reader Digital Book by Sony to the Christian retail channel.

Introduced in 2006, the Sony Reader was the first product of its kind in the publishing industry. The second edition of the device was released in 2007, featuring expanded capabilities and features. Zondervan will sell individual Reader Digital Books to retailers and offer Zondervan’s content for the portable device, company officials said.

“The distribution of the Sony Reader is one more step in Zondervan’s effort to meet consumers’ desire for digital content,” Moe Girkins, Zondervan president and CEO, told Christian Retailing.

Also in October, Zondervan announced the acquisition of—the most popular Web site for reading and researching the Bible. 

In the coming months, Zondervan would expand BibleGateway’s user interface and add additional reference materials from Zondervan’s proprietary content and author resources as well as work in partnership with other content providers, company officials said.

Meanwhile, more than 400 Christian stores have signed up for Zondervan’s new Symtio initiative, which debuted in October.

Unveiled at the International Christian Retail Show in July, Symtio features credit-card-sized book tokens that can be purchased in Christian retail stores, which allow consumers to download audio versions of the titles at home.

Symtio was launched with about 150 audio titles and nearly 50 e-books from Zondervan and Baker Publishing Group, with discussions taking place about adding other publishers’ works, Zondervan officials said.

Thomas Nelson’s Vice President of the Internet Channel Bob Edington told Christian Retailing that the company was aggressively pursuing a digital emphasis.

“We’ve explored e-book technologies in the past and found them very hard for people to adopt,” he said. “But now with the introduction of the Kindle, Sony Reader and similar devices, we see great promise in the future of digital publishing, and have seen our Kindle e-book sales grow month after month.”

Edington noted that Nelson has more than 1,200 titles available or in process for the Kindle, and was currently working on an agreement to have its titles for the Sony Reader.

Tyndale House Publishers Director of Marketing Services Alan Huizenga said the company was “moving in a practical and balanced approached to digital publishing.”

Tyndale currently has around 260 titles for the Sony Reader and Kindle, Amazon’s portable digital reader as well as titles available in the Mobipocket, Palm, PDF and Microsoft Reader formats, he said. Huizenga noted that Kindle “has made the difference” in Tyndale’s e-publishing efforts.

“We believe that this is a growing area in our business and that the technology that is being developed will continue to make electronic books a viable area of revenue,” Huizenga told Christian Retailing

Dwight Baker, president of Baker Publishing Group, told Christian Retailing that the company did not have a strong digital emphasis per se.

“We aggressively pursue the publication of useful content; we have no prejudice on format,” he said. “The format depends on readers’ tastes, not the preferences of publishers.”

Baker has around 350 titles available on Kindle, with almost that same number of titles awaiting conversion to the format. Approximately 350 Baker titles were also awaiting conversion to the Sony Reader, company officials said.

Dan Rich, senior vice president and publisher for David C. Cook, said the company has around 100 titles in Kindle and it planned to have approximately 80 titles for Symtio.

“While I don’t see print going away, digital is the new delivery language for the multidimensional products we will be producing—print, electronic, interactive and multimedia,” he said.

Myron Detweiler, vice president of merchandising for Berean Christian Stores, told Christian Retailing that all of the chain’s 25 stores were scheduled to carry both Symtio and the Sony Reader.

Buz Fanning—owner of the Greatest Gift & Scripture Supply in Pueblo, Colo.—said his Parable store would also carry Symtio, but he was “on the fence” about carrying the Sony Reader.

Anderson of Alpha & Omega stores said he would carry both Symtio and the Sony Reader. “Hopefully, our customers will accept and embrace them,” he said.