The Information Superhighway to Heaven
“It’s quite a different world for Christian publishers than it was even just a few years ago,” Barbour Publishing President and CEO Tim Martins says.
Uhrichsville, Ohio-based Barbour began in 1981 as a small remainder-seller of other publishers’ excess stock, known as Book Bargains, and evolved into a publisher that has shipped more than 100 million books in its 25 years in business. Now, it’s developing supplemental methods of getting its inspirational books to an ever-growing readership by leading the faithful online.
One of the biggest challenges Barbour and other Christian publishers are facing is the consolidation of the sales channels—the big-box mentality of larger booksellers dominating the retail market. Martins, a 19-year Barbour veteran who took over the reigns in 1999 when founder Hugh Barbour retired, says the growing market share from sales by larger-sized retailers makes it a very difficult environment for independent retailers, which has historically been the mainstay for Christian publishers.
With the backing of a growing number of Christian bookstores in the 1980s, Barbour—known as Barbour & Company before opting for its current name—had its first big hits: Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest,” and Barbour’s first original title, “The Bible Promise Book.” The two remain on Barbour’s best-selling backlist.
As larger retailers like Barnes and Nobel and Borders began to dominate the retail side of the business in recent years, the religious book publishing category began to reach a far more mainstream audience. Despite the increased attention on the genre, book publishers, like Barbour, began to see more attention being paid to fewer titles at the detriment of their backlists, Martins says.
“[Big-box retailers] have opened up the world of inspiration bookselling in the last decade. It’s a phenomenon. ‘Left Behind,’ ‘The Prayer of Jabez’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ don’t happen without the technology and the big boxes,” he says. “There are more people exposed to Christian books today than ever in history. At the same time, from a publisher’s standpoint, we want to insulate ourselves.”