Market Focus: Saving Religious Books
Probably the biggest problem the religious book publishing industry is facing is the changing retail environment, which is being exacerbated by the recession and the rise of free Web content, Norris believes.
Big-box retailers are winning the convenience and price battle, which is hurting the independent bookstores. That’s also occurring because cash-strapped consumers continue to buy paperbacks, he says.
Additionally, “ministry accounts are struggling due to decreased donations,” Johnson says of direct sales.
“Returns are coming back faster, retailers and consumers are more cautious about buying, and there’s increased bad debt due to shaky customers,” Johnson adds.
With that burden to bear, industry insiders say religious book publishers need more than the grace of God to survive this recession. They need to adapt.
“We’re seeing publishers pulling back on the number of titles that they are releasing,” Johnson notes. “I’d say the reason behind that is that we went through, … as the general book industry [did], quite an expansion at the end of the 20th century. And now … more and more books aren’t getting their chance to even be viable.”
Tyndale took a look at its title count a few years ago and reduced releases from 120 a year to 100 annually.
But finding the perfect balance is more complex than just publishing fewer titles. Marketing analytics and digital printing strategies are replacing gut instincts for determining initial print runs and reprints. To reduce the number of returns, publishers are building out marketing forecasting models and, sometimes, forgoing that second printing.
Johnson says data reveal when products won’t cover development costs, so titles that will only sell 2,000 to 4,000 units can be left behind, considering their sales wouldn’t even cover printing costs.