New research shows that storybook Bibles, board books, and children’s devotionals are among the most popular books on the market in religion today, and Christian publishers are taking heed.
NPD BookScan presented a report at the 2016 Children’s Book Summit that revealed a compound annual growth rate of 4% in the children’s market from 2004-2015. (At the time the report was issued, BookScan was owned by Nielsen; in January, NPD Group acquired the research company.) Children’s religion book sales have jumped 22% from 2013-2016, according to BookScan (which tracks roughly 80% of print sales). The same report indicated that 11 of the top 20 bestselling religion titles from 2015-2016 were board books, while six were Bible storybooks.
Consequently, Christian publishers such as David C Cook are rapidly growing their children’s lists. Cook’s leading storybook Bible, The Action Bible (for ages 8–12), has sold nearly two million copies since its 2010 release, according to children’s publisher Catherine DeVries. Cook plans on expanding by using a “hub” product—such as The Action Bible—and creating ancillary products that stem from it. The publisher will release The Action Story Bible for ages 4–8 this fall, with corresponding Action Bible curriculum publishing over the next two years.
“We’re creating new hubs in addition to adding onto other hubs,” said DeVries. “We see incremental [sales] lifts of everything in the hub with each new product.”
Ancillary products may include combinations of DVDs, digital assets, Scripture memory cards, apps, children’s ministry resources, and Bible storybooks. New “hubs” for Cook will include Cold-Case Christianity for Kids (2016) by J. Warner Wallace (his second book in the series, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, will release in September) as well as The Good Book Program, which already includes an adult trade book, a trade book for kids, an eight-week curriculum for adults, a participant’s guide, and a DVD.
“We’ll use traditional means of marketing—print ads—but also utilize the digital space to capture the attention of kids, ministry leaders, and parents,” said Chriscynethia Floyd, v-p of sales and marketing at Cook.
Westminster John Knox, the original publishers of Alexander H. Key’s classic Escape to Witch Mountain in 1968, is adding children’s books back to its mix. It is planning to publish around 10 children’s books a year by 2019 through a soon-to-be-named new children’s book imprint.
“We’re looking at the long-term impacts of the continuing decline in mainline church membership—fewer clergy, fewer seminarians, fewer people in adult study groups,” said David Dobson, v-p of publishing and editorial director. “We need to find other markets, and children’s products seemed like a natural fit.”
WJK's first book, releasing on May 20, is a retelling of three New Testament parables in Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. The press is also slated to publish two more books by Sasso: For the Sake of Stories and The Story of And, in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
WJK will use email blasts, social media, print media, and church events to market its books to its network of mainline Protestants and progressive evangelicals, as well as the online discount retailer, The Thoughtful Christian.
“At first we expect a lot of direct sales to churches, pastors, and educators who already buy direct from us,” said Dobson. “Once we become established, we expect to see an increase in sales through Amazon, libraries, and independent bookstores.”
Tyndale Kids began ramping up its children's acquisitions last fall due to growing sales in the category, according to children’s publisher Linda Howard. “Kids today are being bombarded with so many negative and narcissistic messages,” she said. “We feel an increasing responsibility to push back against the noise and provide families with resources that have wholesome, biblical values.”
In late 2016, Tyndale Kids hired Kristi Gravemann and Nancy Clausen as marketing directors; their team is participating in more conferences such as Moms of Pre-Schoolers the Children’s Pastor’s Conference. Additionally, the publisher is partnering with Christian bookstores such as Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Mich., on signings and in-store events. Tyndale Kids has also launched a direct-to-consumer website offering special pricing, free shipping, and other perks.
Tyndale is also making a push into the general market with creative new formats, such as the Bouncy Bible Buddies series, a toy-and-book-in-one product that can be sold at toy stores as well as bookstores. The animal-shaped books feature a handle at the top that can be used to carry it and to "bounce" the cover up and down.
“We are actively pursuing options to reach places where we are under-represented or not represented at all,” said Howard. This includes specialty/gift shops, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores.
Lead Tyndale Kids titles include Your Magnificent Chooser by John Ortburg (Mar.) and The Wonder of the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (Sept.). Also this fall, Tyndale Kids will release The Delusion, a YA novel by Laura Gallier, as part of a new plan to target middle grade and teen readers.
Harvest House, which recently launched its Harvest Kids imprint, has hired a new acquisitions editor, Kyle Hatfield, and is boosting its children’s and tween output. Its new picture book series on women of the Bible, Called and Courageous Girls, will launch in September with A Brave Big Sister: A Bible Story About Miriam.
Harvest Kids has created the Baby Believer board book series which will launch, in October, with First Bible Basics: A Counting Primer. Through the Bible One Rhyme at a Time by Jim and Elizabeth George also releases in October.
“We are roaring into the fall with 11 children’s books releasing where we usually have six to eight,” said Barb Sherrill, executive v-p and publisher at Harvest Kids. “Marketing our children’s products starts with adults—whether it’s parents, grandparents, church leaders, [or] librarians."
The publisher is using a variety of ways to reach consumers, including advertising, free online content, and retail promotions. Christian retail “has been and continues to be tremendously supportive,” said Sherrill, who noted that general market retailers have gotten behind some key releases.
The number of new children’s book imprints emerging in the religion space is an optimistic sign for publishers. Even houses that are not expanding are encouraged by the market.
“There has been an exciting flurry of growth with Christian children’s publishing,” said Annette Bourland, senior v-p of publishing at Zonderkidz. “We are not currently increasing output, but we are being very strategic with brands, partners, and formats.”
Sherrill of Harvest Kids acknowledged that it is a challenge to get children’s products noticed in the current retail environment, especially with the closure of Family Christian Stores. “And yet, the climate feels invigorating,” she said. “We’re poised to see new, creative books come to market in the months and years ahead. No matter which house we’re from, we all want excellent Christian books and products available to children.”