Faith-based houses reached a ready audience in June when they highlighted social justice titles and resources on anti-racism and social justice titles as outcries against police brutality and discrimination dominated the streets and the headlines. Several publishers saw noteworthy jumps in sales on relevant titles, both new and old, and the ECPA drew record online audiences for events. Even so, they remained mindful of the sobering context.
“While we mourn the reason our books on anti-racism have sold so well this summer, we are glad we had resources available in the crucial moments when readers sought out books to help them understand the immense undertaking of eradicating racism in America," said Brad Lyons, president and publisher of Chalice Press.
“Our June launch, The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and Ourselves!) Embrace Our Differences by Carolyn Helsel, far exceeded our opening expectations because of the protests and dinner-table discussions." Lyons said. "Our online event for The ABCs of Diversity was the most successful we’ve had, with more than one hundred participants, and other online events focusing on anti-racism doubled and tripled past event attendance. Our backlist has fared well, too. In one month, we moved a year’s worth of backlist titles, such as Healing Racial Divides: Finding Strength in Our Diversity by Terrell Carter and Anxious to Talk about It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully about Racism by Helsel, which both released in 2018)."
Tyndale’s title Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race by NFL star Benjamin Watson, which was released in 2016, sold approximately 150 softcover copies in May. But the spotlight in June—including the author’s appearances on FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC—prompted sales of more than 3,000 copies in the month, according to the publisher.
InterVarsity Press’ Faithful Justice campaign, offering a free e-book to each person from a select list of titles as well as discounted prices on those books during June, led to the most sales ever at ivpress.com, which offers direct-to-consumer online sales, said Justin Paul Lawrence, senior director of sales and marketing. "We have always had a lot of faith and justice titles," Lawrence added. "We asked the question in marketing, ‘How an we be agents of reconciliation in a broken and divided world?’"
"We came up with an all-star list of about 25 titles that people could choose from for their e-book. The demand broke our server. It was a massive success, and led to more than 33,000 book downloads being given away,” said Lawrence, noting that the house also committed to paying royalties to the authors on the free books.
This essentially free trial of IVP's catalog also pushed up sales for several titles that had been humming quietly on the backlist. Lawrence cited, among other books, White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to be White by Daniel Hill as an example. "It came out in fall 2017, and the first year sales were 15,000. Then it was moving along at 1,000 a month last year. This June, we sold 8,000 copies." He added: "Sheila Wise Rowe’s Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience came out in early January and we were hopeful then that it would have a long tail. Now she has already tripled first year projections. Sales for Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah were up tenfold after the e-book giveaway."
“We thought it would be something nice for our friends—the community of people who shop with us, our normal customers—but it brought us so many new people as well,” said Lawrence. And the end of the campaign is by no means the end of upcoming titles relevant to social justice; on July 21, IVP will publish Compassion (&) Conviction: The AND Campaign’s Guide to Faithful Civic Engagement, by Jason Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler.
At 1517 Media, “books by black thought leaders writing on faith and social justice saw a large jump in sales in the weeks following the tragic murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed," said publicist Mallory Hayes. While 1517 Media did not provide exact sales numbers, average weekly sales more than doubled for several titles compared to the period between January 1 and May 24.
The numbers for Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan, which focuses on racial equality and justice in mainline Christianity, jumped 234% in June The bump for Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color by Khristi Lauren Adams, a book centered on the resilient, hopeful stories of girls of color, was 130%. And classic titles also drew attention: average weekly sales for Martin Luther King Jr’s Strength to Love, which features short, meditative pieces reflecting King’s commitment to justice and to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual conversion, rose 184%, she said.
The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, which collaborated with multiple publishers on a 140-title Christian book list on Racial Justice, also held webinars relevant to the civic unrest. Their June 11 event on Christian publishing and racial justice had twice as many attendees as others in their Virtual Summit Series this past spring, according to marketing manager Sheri Toomb.
Next up at the ECPA are several lists of Christian books by authors of color in various categories. So far, ECPA members have submitted "well over 1,000 titles for us to include,” Toomb said. More diversity and inclusion initiatives include online sessions during the annual “Publishing University," which will be a virtual event in September.
While resource lists and webinars can be valuable tools for civic engagement for publishers and the public, these are not necessarily the impetus for book sales. At B&H, which has 13 titles among the 140 titles on the ECPA resource list, publisher Devin Maddox observed: “I do not think customer behavior is being driven by internal conversations we are having as an industry. Rather, I think the public’s interests are shifting to content that speaks to their lived experiences. I would correlate recent sales trends with our authors speaking to relevant issues of the day.”
As Lyons at Chalice pointed out, the need to address these subjects won’t end when the streets fall quiet. “We believe our diverse catalog will speak to everybody, regardless of where they are on their individual journey, who wants to create a just, equitable America," he said.