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Finding hope in God's Word Print Email
Written by DeWayne Hamby   
Monday, 08 December 2008 01:52 PM America/New_York

New releases, creative marketing spur Bible sales growth 'in uncertain times'

Christian retailers and publishers are putting their hopes in the Bible to help reverse downward sales trends in a foundering economy. 

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG)—which analyzes trends in publishing—reported earlier this year a steady market gain in the Bibles category in the last few years and estimated that sales from Bibles, testaments, hymnals and prayer books reached $795.2 million in 2007. BISG predicted that the market would generate $823.5 million in sales this year.


Some publishers have seen the renewed interest in Bibles firsthand. Crossway Books & Bibles, which released the ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible Oct. 15, sold out its first print run of 100,000. The company sold a third of a 50,000 second printing within two weeks and had plans for a third 60,000 copies, Crossway officials said. 

Meanwhile, Zondervan saw strong sales from the NIV Study Bible, the Archaeological Study Bible and NIV Life Application Study Bible partly due to the company’s push to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the New International Version (NIV) translation.

Zondervan also reported strong turnout for its celebratory the “Bible Across America” nationwide tour that has invited thousands of people to hand write one verse of the world’s most widely read contemporary English translation of the Bible.

These developments come on top of strong sales for Thomas Nelson’s The Word of Promise: New Testament Audio Bible and Zondervan’s Inspired By…The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible.

Reports place the country “in the midst of the weakest spending environment that the U.S. economy has faced in 17 years; we’re seeing tens of thousands who want to invest in tools to better understand the hope and promises of God’s Word,” said Justin Taylor, managing editor of the ESV Study Bible. “In uncertain times, it seems people are looking to the certainty of the Bible.” 

Crossway cited positive responses from retailers like Mark Traphagen, online sales manager for Westminster Bookstore in Philadelphia—who reported record-breaking sales and called the ESV Study Bible “by far the fastest selling new product in the history of our store.”

Dylan Hillhouse, Bible buyer for Mardel Christian & Education stores, added that “early results indicate that this is going to be a very key item for Mardel this Christmas season.”

Sheryl Hairer, Bible buyer for Anchor Room Christian Bookstore in Fort Wayne, Ind., told Christian Retailing that the ESV Study Bible was “very popular” among her customers, although she hadn’t noticed an upward trend in Bible sales.

Hairer said she anticipated good sales from Thomas Nelson’s Chronological Study Bible and Tyndale House Publishers’ NLT (New Living Translation) Study Bible during the holiday season. 

Brian Scharp, vice president of Bible marketing for Zondervan, said he had seen Bibles sales grow, but that trend had not translated to retailers because the growth had taken place in the digital segment.

“Bible consumption … is going in an upward direction, but so much of it looks different that it’s causing confusion as to what’s going on in the category,” Scharp told Christian Retailing. “Traffic is down for a lot of retailers.”

During the first month of the NIV tour—which launched at Zondervan’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., Sept. 30—a team of four driving a 42-foot recreational vehicle logged more than 7,000 miles and gathered 6,000 handwritten verses, visiting 33 cities in 22 states in a variety of settings, including churches, bookstores, conventions, community events and colleges.

“I have been overwhelmed at how touched and blessed thousands of people have been by this project,” said Zondervan President and CEO Moe Girkins. “The fact that thousands of people have come out to wait in line and contribute a verse, in some cases driving hundreds of miles, is evidence of the impact the NIV Bible has had on their lives.”

Scharp said Zondervan intended to publish the handwritten edition next fall.

Meanwhile, Tyndale has received positive buzz about its NLT Study Bible, which launched this fall. President and CEO Mark Taylor told Christian Retailing that the Bible had received “strong placement in both CBA and ABA channels, and early users are raving about it.” But despite the “great start,” Tyndale’s Bible sales were generally “flat,” he added.

“Bible sales have been flat for the industry as a whole, and the list of Bible choices for consumers gets longer every day,” Taylor said. “That’s good for consumers, but frustrating for the publishers.”

Zonderkidz will release The VeggieTales Bible in February. Aimed at children 8 and under, the full-text NIV Bible will feature 32 color pictorial pages with a VeggieTales-retelling of eight Bible stories as well as a “Veggie Values” feature—in which Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber show kids how to find themes such as forgiveness, trusting in God and being helpful.