Last month's joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature drew 10,000 scholars, a record number. The strong turnout was attributed to the Philadelphia location and a more extensive educational program.
Although academic publishers such as Eerdmans, Harper San Francisco, Fortress, Westminster John Knox, Oxford and Continuum continue to form the core of the exhibitors, more general trade-oriented houses have been attending the conference in recent years. One first-time exhibitor this year was Inner Traditions/Bear & Co., which was there offering its extensive selection of titles on Mary Magdalene and other books on what it calls "alternative Christianity" (can you say Da Vinci Code?).
Inner Traditions special sales manager Nick McDougal said that after a slow first day, business picked up and the company will return to the show in 2006. "Although final sales didn't turn out to be what we usually like to see for a show we'll do on a regular basis, we are definitely looking to go back next year. We feel the meeting has a lot of potential as a place to expose our books as course material, and to contact potential authors," McDougal said. With contemporary pagan studies a rising field in religion (several sessions were devoted to it), the press might find a new market for other books on related topics under its various imprints.
In all, about 145 publishers attended AAR/SBL, where conference-goers can purchase books at discounts of 30%—70%. In addition to often-substantial sales, the meeting offers publishers the opportunity to lobby for course adoptions, meet with authors and scout for new projects. As was true at last year's meeting in San Antonio, Tex., books on religion and politics, as well as pop culture, were plentiful, and the standard hot sellers in biblical studies and religion reference also rang up healthy sales.
[For more on the conference, see the latest issue of "Religion Book Line" at www.publishersweekly.com/rbl.]