In one day, Zondeervan doubles its normal shipment of Bibles. In one week, another publisher ships its entire inventory of the Koran. Meanwhile, booksellers watch their Islamic titles fly off the shelves. No doubt about it--the September 11 terrorist attacks have had a powerful impact on sales of certain religion titles.
"The attacks will certainly have a greater impact on Bible sales than a recession would," Joan Begitschke of Tyndale House predicted a few days after the tragedy. Her prediction proved correct: On September 21 alone, Bible giant Zondervan shipped $1 million worth of Bibles, double its normal volume for the day, while Family Christian Stores posted a 28% increase in Bible sales for the third week of September. What's more, every store in the 350-unit FCS chain sold out of its books on Islam. On one day alone--September 17--sales of prophecy titles increased 80%, in a category that had been down 28%. The chain also posted double-digit increases in sales of spiritual guides, philosophical titles and patriotic product, and significant increases in books on comparative religion.
Kazi Publications, an Islamic publisher and distributor in Chicago, hired two temps to keep up with the demand for the Koran and for Suzanne Haneef's What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims (Kazi, 1996). Normally, the publisher sells about 5,000 copies of each title in a year, but Kazi received orders for that many in the two-week period following the attacks. Kazi president Liaquat Ali credits the media and national leaders in part for the increase in interest: "After a while, the media began to cover Islam very well," Ali says "They did a fantastic job, and this has been good for Muslim people." Islamic bookseller and wholesaler Halalco, located in Falls Church, Va., also reported a "marked increase" in sales of the Koran and general books on Islam. "People have been coming in and asking what Islam is all about," says president Mabeen Chiba. "We're also selling a lot of books on the relationship of Islam with other religions, mainly Christianity."
Gospel Supply House in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was "swamped" on the Friday following the terrorist attacks, but not with Bible buyers, owner Rich Thomason says, adding that prophecy books were hot. The following week, though, Bible sales soared, tallying a 40% increase over August figures; Tim LaHaye's Prophecy Study Bible (AMG, 2000) was the single most requested title, says manager Kerry Shipp. "We're also selling anything remotely patriotic we can get our hands on," he adds.
The same goes for Hackman's Bible Book Store in Whitehall, Pa., where patriotic and Islamic titles "flew off the shelves," says owner Joe Hackman, adding that Bibles have been selling better than usual. Not so in Raleigh, N.C., where Irven and Joanna Hicks's Sign of the Fish hasn't experienced any increase in Bible sales. "You won't see that in this part of the South, where everybody owns more Bibles than they read," says Joanna. "But there's been a surge of interest in Islam, and we're selling anything with a flag printed on it. There's a patriotic passion that hasn't been there in a long time."
After the Sales Boom, What?
Despite the recent surge in sales, the U.S. economy still teeters on the brink of full-blown recession--a situation that may be exacerbated by the events of September 11. It's not surprising, then, that publishers and booksellers alike are still wondering if Bible sales will retain their long-held reputation for being recession-proof. Some believe publishing has changed so significantly since the last major recession that the best they can hope for is that Bibles will hold their own for a while.
At Zondervan, where Bible sales have historically improved during difficult economic times, executive v-p of sales Cris Doornbos says sales have increased slightly in the past nine months, but no more than would be expected of the world's largest Bible publisher. If a recession comes, any industrywide leveling off or decrease could be attributed to a variety of factors, he believes: a new crop of investors, an increase in consumer debt and an overall drop in consumer confidence. "The result could be consumers staying away from retail shopping trips altogether," he adds.
Zondervan's two main competitors--Thomas Nelson and Tyndale House--have also continued to see growth, which they attribute to refined product lines and a shift in marketing strategy rather than the recent economic downturn. Craig Featherstone, senior v-p of marketing for Bibles at Thomas Nelson, says it's too early to predict what will happen if the economy worsens. "Bible sales have been growing for us because we focused more on felt need in our products. Some moral issues, like the breakdown of the family, have been buoyed up by financial prosperity, but once you have an economic decline you remove that security. That can create a substantial spiritual hunger that will be reflected in increased Bible reading."