Market Focus: Saving Religious Books
Maybe divine intervention will reverse the profit slide for religious book publishers. But industry experts believe it also would be prudent to consider scaling back on titles, reducing returns, making intelligent use of data, investing in digital opportunities and otherwise adapting business models for future success. “One of the biggest things impacting at least our segment is our perspective of the business that we’re in,” says Michael Linder, who at the time of this interview was senior vice president of strategy and new business development at Zondervan of Grand Rapids, Mich. “There are some religious publishers who are going to see themselves in the business of evangelism, and … they’re running their business more as a ministry, relying on God’s grace to drive their business—as opposed to, perhaps, God’s grace and good publishing business practices.”
Best-Sellers Begat Attention
In a nation where more than half of the population belongs to a religion, and most Americans boast biblical first names, Mark Kuyper, president and CEO of the Phoenix-based nonprofit trade organization Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, believes that Zondervan’s “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren and Tyndale House Publishers’ “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins opened the doors to mounting interest in Christian literature.
“I think that made people in New York houses and certainly in Christian houses, as well, really begin to get a much better picture of just how enormous the potential market for Christian resources is,” he says.
So, suddenly, there was a bit of a religious title glut, says Michael Norris, lead trade book publishing analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Simba Information. “To hear some publishers and retailers tell it, book lovers more or less stopped looking for religious titles as soon as the interest in the blockbusters started to fall off,” he says.