Keeping the Faith
It wasn’t too long ago—about three to four decades—that bookstore chains made no room on their shelves for religious publications. Out of necessity, religious bookstores were conceived, says Rolf Zettersten, publisher of Time Warner Faith, Nashville, Tenn.
Times are much different now. Religious books line the shelves of major outlets like Barnes & Noble and Borders, and can be ordered online with just one click. And some large publishers that previously saw religious publishing as a niche market have created religious imprints of their own. Texts representing everything from Judaism and Christianity to Muslim and Hindu are more accessible than ever and frequently top best-seller lists.
With that accessibility comes new challenges and new trends—some resembling those of secular publishing and some not. Here, both Judaic and Christian publishers reflect on the obstacles they face in the book business today, as well as the trends they observe and how they are handling it all.
A BOOK SALE BATTLE
Probably one of the most distinguishing challenges for religious publishing that has been lingering for some time would be price point, according to Zettersten, who was with Christian publisher Thomas Nelson when Time Warner pursued him to start Warner Faith five years ago. Zettersten says religious books are traditionally priced lower than secular books, with hardcovers still experiencing a $20 barrier.
“In fact, the very popular title ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ by Rick Warren is sold for $20,” he says. “If this book had been published by general trade it would go for $24. It’s just always been this way. For many years, booksellers claimed religious books had to have those lower price points, and it’s never changed.”
What can make matters worse in the book-sale battle are returns and the wrestle for shelf space. For Stuart Matlins, publisher of Jewish Lights and Skylight Paths publishing, Woodstock, Vt., dealing with returns is a major hindrance.