|Written by Staff
|Friday, 12 December 2008 10:03 AM America/New_York
A steady category is boosted by high-tech trends
With new titles released in fall and early winter, the start of the new year is a peak time for sales of devotionals as many readers resolve to spend more time in the Scriptures. But publishers of this perennial, steady-selling category are now adopting contemporary formats, with some, such as e-books or MP3, even becoming common.
“Some of our most successful electronic initiatives include our devotionals,” said Jon Farrar, acquisitions director for nonfiction and software at Tyndale House Publishers, which has experimented with the book The One Year Devotions for Men (2001) by including a CD-ROM of its electronic edition at the back of the book. The title has undergone nine printings for a total of 100,000 copies. “It resulted in more sales for the printed devotional, and that devotional became one of our best-selling electronic books.”
Tyndale is now publishing the majority of its “One Year” devotionals in a format suitable for iPods, cell phones and e-book readers.
Amazon.com’s Kindle wireless reading device has spurred a sales race not only with new releases but also with backlist titles. In August, the Kindle edition of 52 Fun Family Devotions: Exploring and Discovering God’s Word by Mike and Amy Nappa reached No. 2 on Amazon’s inspirational chart, though Augsburg Books (Augsburg Fortress) published the book in 1994.
E-formats, rather than taking over the book kingdom, at least in the devotional category, may be expanding readership. Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Baker Books/Baker Publishing Group), noted in a recent interview with multimedia publisher David Crumm at www.ReadtheSpirit.com that “prayer books will always be in print form. Basically, devotional material tends to be something you want to clutch and touch and that feels friendly.”
Classic devotional writers—including Oswald Chambers, A.J. Russell and A.W. Tozer—remain in demand. Some classics “have been updated and formatted for the 21st century, but they still have staying power,” said Steve Bond, editorial director for Holman Bible Publishers, a division of B&H Publishing Group.
Westminster John Knox Press will release in January Daily Devotions With William Barclay ($19.95), a collection of Barclay’s insights on the New Testament arranged in a year’s worth of readings.
Corrie ten Boom’s writings still influence millions, and a new Zondervan product recently debuted 40 never-before-published devotions. The Holocaust survivor wrote the meditations in I Stand at the Door and Knock ($14.99, August) for broadcast on Trans World Radio in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Consumers are also seeing page-a-day formats and even shorter one-minute readings proliferating to appeal to those who want to integrate Bible reading into their already overscheduled agendas, Bond said.
Dana Niesluchowski, project manager for Livingstone Corp.—which produces and markets Bibles, books and curriculum, working with clients such as Howard Books, Tyndale House Publishers and Thomas Nelson—oversees the preparation of devotionals and specialty Bibles.
“Consumers are definitely looking for something short, something that can be read during breakfast,” she said. “Time is always the issue. People want to read, but there are so many demands already. Devotionals need to be practical, life-related and tied (to) Scripture.”
Each of Barbour Publishing’s “One Minute Meditations” journals ($14.97 each) is promoted as “an on-the-go devotional journal … with timeless spiritual insights in one minute flat.” The compilation books range from Frances J. Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved and Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest to the lighter God Is in the Small Stuff from Bruce & Stan’s “Small Stuff” series.
B&H Publishing Group, which has a line of “One Minute Bibles” for niche groups, is this year producing the One Minute Bible Day by Day: A Year of Readings ($14.99, B&H Books, Jan. 1) and iStand: A One Minute Bible for Students ($17.99, Holman Bible Publishers, October), designed for high school and college students. The iStand Bible provides readings from every book of the Bible in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation and has several features to prompt students to make God-honoring choices in life situations.
Rapid reads from Bible teacher Beth Moore have been created from several of her books, including When Godly People Do Ungodly Things and Praying God’s Word. The resulting devotionals titled “A Quick Word With Beth Moore” ($9.99, B&H Books/B&H Publishing Group, March) capture in small nuggets her insights from the original works.
Tyndale estimates that more than 4 million “One Year” devotionals have been sold since the brand originated 21 years ago, but new presentations and variations still keep readers engaged. One related, innovative product is the The One Year Yellow Ribbon Devotional by Carol McGlothlin and Brenda Pace ($14.99, October), wives of military officers who aim to inspire others to pray for the country and the armed forces.
Retailers can take advantage of free One Year Bible display units from Tyndale, which Jeff Smith, the company’s Bible marketing director, said produced “tremendous results for one national account last year.”
Livingstone’s Niesluchowski, who has worked on various one-year products, said she believes that one-year books and Bibles are popular because “they appeal to two felt needs—the desire to read through the entire Bible and a Bible-reading or devotional plan.”
“People don’t know the Bible, but they know they should know more,” Farrar said. “Devotionals generally break the Bible into manageable pieces that can be read in a short time and provide something to carry them into their day.”
And—in a rather sideways manner—digital formats are actually helping combat such illiteracy.
“Obviously people don’t know the Bible as much as they did in the past,” Farrar said. “Primarily that’s because our culture provides so many enticing alternatives, from television to iPods to surfing the Internet to checking the latest news on smart phones.”
Many devotionals, such as Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment: Morning & Evening Edition ($19.99, Thomas Nelson, September) or Rebecca St. James’ Pure: A 90-Day Devotional for the Mind, Body & Spirit ($13.99, FaithWords, September), have their inception in a well-known author or best-selling book.
B&H Publishing Group’s Bond asserts that the “popular author” aspect of the devotional category has strong appeal because of the visibility of the writers, whether authors, speakers or recording artists. “Beth Moore, Kay Arthur and Max Lucado are authors of some of the best-selling devotional books today,” he said.
Best-selling author and marriage therapist Gary Chapman’s Love as a Way of Life Devotional ($13.99, WaterBrook Press, October) features 90 readings from his book by the same name.
Joel Osteen has seen great success with his Daily Readings From Your Best Life Now (FaithWords, 2005). Adapting yet another of his best-sellers, Free Press recently released his Daily Readings From Become a Better You ($22, October).
Tying a devotional to a general-release movie has been successful for B&H Publishing Group. Imprint B&H Books released The Love Dare by Alex and Stephen Kendrick ($14.99) Sept. 26, the same day the movie Fireproof made its debut.
The movie’s plot about a couple on the verge of divorce introduces The Love Dare as the hopeful resolution to their conflict. The 40-day guided devotional experience, which the publisher describes as a book that will “lead your heart back to truly loving your spouse,” shot to No. 1 on the New York Times Paperback Advice list soon after its release.
Banking on past performance of similar products, Group Publishing and Standard Publishing aim to capture return buyers of specialty products.
For Group, the Tickled Pink Prayer Devotion ($5.99, July) is a new sibling to its well-received Chocolate Boutique Prayer Devotion.
“Women loved it,” said Group Executive Editor Amy Nappa of the 2006 chocolate-related product. “We were trying to help women experience time with God in a fresh and creative way, and that’s where the idea started.”
Rather than a book, the small Tickled Pink box might be classified as a gift. In the package of a devotional card, scriptures and five pink, tickle-inducing items—a spinning top, fan, feather, clay and an umbrella—women will discover “a brief, guided-devotion experience that breaks out of the normal routine of ‘read a verse, read an inspirational thought, read a prayer,’ ” Nappa said.
Standard’s youth mission journals—Anticipate, Experience and Reflect—were successful enough last year that the company decided to retool the concept for an older audience.
The company’s three new adult mission journals—Called, Challenged and Changed—include first-hand mission experiences for inspiration, a scriptural meditation and space for journaling and sketching. The journals released in November, retailing for $9.99 each.
Devotional products for kids, tweens and teens, as well as for families to use together, are appearing with continuing frequency. Parents say they want to help their children grow spiritually and are relying on such books as support and resources for their offspring’s faith training.
“We have strong demand for kids’ and teen devotionals, so parents are looking for tools that help them create a habit of daily reading in their kids,” Tyndale’s Farrar said. “It seems parents are looking for devotional content that is clearly age-appropriate.”
Family-oriented products are also in demand, said B&H’s Bond, though the scarcity of titles is related more to the difficulty of discerning exactly what parents want.
“Family-oriented Bibles and support materials may be guilty of always trying to hit everyone at every level in all situations, and end up completely missing the target,” Livingstone’s Niesluchowski said.
For men in the family, author Douglas Bond issues a challenge with Fathers & Sons: Hold Fast in a Broken World, his second volume of readings about culture, spiritual depth and leadership from P&R Publishing ($14.99, October).
Meanwhile, Nancy Guthrie combines dinnertime with devotions in the One Year of Dinner Table Devotions (and Discussion Starters), an October release from Tyndale House retailing for $14.99.
Parents can direct bedtime devotions for preschool and early elementary children with Sweet Dreams Princess and Goodnight Warrior, both by Sheila Walsh ($16.99 each, Thomas Nelson, October).
Melody Carlson’s True: A Teen Devotional ($11.99, Revell/Baker Publishing Group, October) is the first in a series, aiming to focus teen girls on the words of Christ in 90 readings.
At Christian Supply in Kent, Wash., devotionals sell well throughout the year. The store’s top sellers include the Chambers classic My Utmost for His Highest, Jesus Calling by missionary Sarah Young and titles by Beth Moore and Dennis Rainey.
“When customers come in and they’re looking for something but don’t find exactly what they want, a devotional often seems to work,” said Destry Creek, store manager. “Generally, devotionals make a good side-sell as a gift, too.”
Gary Weyel, formerly marketing communications strategist for The Parable Group, encourages frontliners to suggest devotionals, particularly value-priced titles, as an add-on when selling a Bible. Employees should learn the “talking points” (from publisher reps or catalogs) of a couple of titles among men’s, women’s and teen categories to be able to offer specific suggestions. And “mix it up,” Weyel said, cross-merchandising devotionals with Bibles for adults and with music for youth.
Tyndale’s Farrar is optimistic about the continued sales of devotional works.
“My prediction is daily devotional reading will see a resurgence in the next decade because electronic media—whether it’s an iPhone, cell phone, e-mail, RSS feed or iTunes subscriptions—are perfect tools for helping people create a habit of daily reading,” he said. “And, as interest in the habit of daily devotional reading increases, sales of the printed book will increase as well, as people generally become more aware of both the habit and the breadth of devotionals available.”