Market Focus: Saving Religious Books
It may not be in religious book publishers’ self-interest right now to aid the ailing distribution channel, but it will be down the road.
“The problem with the blockbuster books is that they often can lead to price wars that a lot of retailers can’t win. And it’s actually something that the book industry is going to have to … face sooner or later,” he says. “… Because bookstores … have to sell books no matter what, because that’s their livelihood. But Wal-Mart doesn’t necessarily need to sell books. Costco doesn’t necessarily need to sell books. And if they’re the only ones left selling books, what kind of negotiating heft is a publisher going to have anymore when they talk with their channels? So … I really hope that publishers continue to value their smaller channels, even though they’re not moving the blockbuster books nationwide for them. But they’ve got to value them anyway, because it’s part of a book’s identity and it’s also part of the landscape that makes publishing part of culture.”
The future of this segment lies far beyond products, Linder says. Religious book publishers will need to be aggregators and disseminators of content for communities. But the content will have to be tailored to individuals’ needs and wants, he says.
To that end, Zondervan purchased a Facebook-like tool aimed at the Christian audience, OnTheCity.org. In it, for instance, individuals can create profiles, save Bible notes, coordinate their church groups and activities, and find out what publications Zondervan has to offer.
“I think it’s very unusual thinking, but I think it’s going to be a necessary move for most publishers over the next five years,” Linder says. “For religious publishers, it might be far easier to think of community than traditional or secular publishers, because we’re already selling to a community. That’s the church community.”