Market Focus: Saving Religious Books
In 2007, the $80-million company’s e-book sales totaled $20,000, and in 2008, that figure jumped to more than $100,000. “At some point, we’re going to have enough nickels to make it worthwhile,” Johnson
Along those lines, under the brand name Symtio, Zondervan makes e-books from various religious publishers available through brick-and-mortar retailers. In stores, consumers can peruse plastic cards—similar in appearance to credit cards, but about twice the size—each bearing information about a particular title. After purchasing a card, consumers go home and download the digital book with a code from the card at the Symtio Web site.
In fall 2008, Tyndale broke into the global mobile market, and now, other religious publishers are doing the same.
Still others are offering providing expanded, searchable content online that provides enhancements beyond print versions, Kuyper says. For instance, Good News/Crossway of Wheaton, Ill., debuted its Internet “ESV Study Bible” in November 2008, which includes options such as audio accompaniment, study guides positioned to the right of the text and key theme outlines.
Zondervan is exploring providing downloadable Bible “slices,” Linder says. Consumers who want a specific chapter or verse will be able to find it through its service.
Johnson adds that traditional growth areas still will produce bounty. “We continue to see strong acquisition competition for good properties,” he says. Another advantage is that a broader array of channels carries religious titles versus the distribution that mainstream titles enjoy.
Even so, Johnson says he would like to see The New York Times start to poll Christian booksellers for its best-seller list. Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty says the newspaper doesn’t disclose its methodology in granular detail, but the methodology is regularly updated to reflect the changing marketplace.
Norris believes that during the next five years, e-books will not be the savior that many publishers believe they will be. Wal-Mart still will hold sway and independent bookstores—well, he hopes they stick around.