Under widespread quarantine orders and other restrictions surrounding the novel coronavirus known as Covid-19, Christian publishers are forging ahead with new books, while retailers are launching innovative initiatives. The entire bookselling industry is struggling to acclimate to the rapid changes brought on by the pandemic, but religion presses and retailers alike are focusing on digital sales.
Several religion houses are reducing e-book prices, launching social media campaigns, and offering special programming—all geared toward supporting readers with messages of hope and bolstering sales in a disrupted marketplace. Tyndale House is inviting churches and small groups to create online Bible book clubs using its Immerse: The Bible Reading Experience website. Several free resources are already available online, including reading plans, podcasts, videos, discussion questions, and leader guides, while Tyndale books and e-books are also available at reduced rates.
“In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tyndale is open for business and committed to serving readers by making products available that will minister to people’s spiritual needs,” Jeff Johnson, president of Tyndale, wrote in a letter to customers and publishing partners on March 20.
He noted that customer deliveries will continue operating on a regular schedule for as long as possible, and that the publisher is allowing businesses to direct 10% of their orders on Tyndale.com and NavPress.com to the account of a local library or bookstore. The offer is available until April 15, 2020. “We encourage consumers to continue to support these important members of your community,” Johnson wrote. “We know they will be impacted significantly in the weeks ahead.”
B&H Publishing’s "stay on the same page, by reading the same pages" initiative focuses on reading books as a way for churches to stay connected despite Covid-19 social distancing and quarantines. Congregations and small groups can access select titles for a bulk price of $5 each, along with free online discussion guides.
Chalice Press is offering a free 85-page special e-book, Finding Courage in Challenging Times, which features excerpts from several Chalice titles, including Sustaining Hope in an Unjust World, Help & Hope, For Such a Time as This, Dessert First, Another Way, and When Kids Ask Hard Questions. Publisher Brad Lyons said the book “provides resources from nine different authors, each using their own approach, that we hope will equip readers to take a breath, then buckle down for the challenges that await us, reassured by our faith.” Chalice is sharing the book with its subscribers and advertising it on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to offering 30% off and free shipping on all other Chalice titles.
The Good Book Company is publishing a drop-in title, Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox, on April 6. Lennox, who is professor of mathematics emeritus at the University of Oxford, addresses the uncertainty left behind in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak and explores how a Christian worldview can offer comfort, support, and hope, according to the publisher. The book will be available in paperback and e-book editions.
Authors, Retailers Make Adjustments
Christian authors are also upping their outreach efforts through virtual readings and other events related to their titles. Matthew Paul Turner, author of When I Pray for You (WaterBrook, 2019), is holding weekly Facebook Live story times and prayer sessions. Bestselling author Max Lucado launched a new YouTube channel dedicated to coronavirus-related spiritual help, while Robert J. Morgan, author of 100 Bible Verses that Made America (Thomas Nelson, out now) is posting daily one-minute sermons called “Verses vs. the Virus” on his social media platforms.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread layoffs in the general bookselling industry, and Christian retailers are no exception. Bob Munce, who leads both the Munce marketing group and the Christian Retail Association (CRA), tells PW that stores in several areas have been put on mandatory shutdown. “Some retailers have had to let staff go so they could apply for unemployment,” he says.
Stores that remain open are adapting daily to the disruptions of Covid-19 via drive-through orders, home deliveries, and online ordering incentives, according to Munce. “Although foot traffic is down, stores have been very creative,” he said.
Notwithstanding, Christian retailers are reporting a 30%-50% sales drop over last year’s sales, according to Munce. Vicki Geist, owner of the Cedar Springs Christian Store in Knoxville, Tenn., told PW business had been very slow for two weeks, culminating in the mandatory closure of all local non-essential businesses on Monday. Geist’s employees are now off for two weeks, “but we will see what we are supposed to do when we reach that deadline,” she said. “I am not sure that anyone knows if life will be back to normal by then. My guess is that it won't and we really won't need our employees back at work for a few months.”
In addition to putting orders on hold, vendors are extending extra dating on bills to help Christian stores weather the crisis, according to Geist. Also lending a helping a hand, the Munce Group and the CRA are offering retailers flexible in-home dates on their spring catalogs as well as “daily encouragement and hope,” Munce said. “It will take an industrywide effort to get through this unprecedented event.”