Despite challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic, the religion and spirituality publishing industry saw sales move upward into the fall and many key players took steps to adapt to changes in the market. In addition to our top 10 most-read stories of 2021, PW is highlighting the big moments and major trends within the industry this year.
Though faced with global supply chain delays, sales for religion publishers were up over 14% through October for companies who report to to AAP’s StatShot program. An increased demand for Bibles may have helped bolster these sales at evangelical houses. PW spoke with several publishers that are working quickly to expand offerings of new translations and fresh perspectives of the Good Book. Tarot cards and creative oracle and divination decks packaged with guidebooks are increasingly popular for mind-body-spirit publishers, which reported impressive sales numbers for earlier releases in those categories. Children’s books are also moving the needle at many religion houses. Several faith-based publishers released their first children’s titles in 2021 to expand their mission and reach, with some launching new imprints dedicated to young readers. Additional areas of rapid growth for religion publishers include books on mindfulness as well as spiritual journals.
Christian booksellers reported a generally good year as well, with many telling PW that inventory shortages and staffing concerns have not slowed the sales of Bibles, books, and gifts at their stores. "This year has been really good. I look forward to 2022 not being any different," said Vicki Geist, who owns Cedar Springs Christian Store in Knoxville, Tenn.
Eight top executives from a range of Christian houses as well as Buddhist publisher Shambhala detailed how their businesses have fared since the onset of the pandemic, explaining a nimble, flexible, and hopeful approach to publishing in 2021. Successful strategies include the embrace of remote work, virtual events, and online marketing.
Tyndale had an eventful year. In addition to naming Scott Matthews as CEO and launching a health and wellness imprint, the independent press landed publishing agreements with bestselling author Beth Moore as well as former Lifeway president Thom Rainer in 2021.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s year included the launch of a new imprint, HarperChristian Resources, in a move to broaden its stake in the church curriculum and Bible study market. John Raymond, v-p and publisher of the new imprint, discussed its formation, goals, and potential impact during an interview with PW, saying: “We believe now is the time to make sure we focus on how to bring physical and digital formats together and really highlight video study and Bible study content for the 21st century.”
Notable personnel changes in the year include Jeff Crosby joining the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) as president and CEO. Crosby, previously IVP publisher, replaced Stan Jantz, who served as president and CEO of the ECPA since 2015. In the announcement of his new position, Crosby said he was looking forward “to serving our membership in the years to come as we seek to meet our industry’s challenges and seize opportunities to make Christian literature known throughout the world.”
Speaking to PW about his time with the association, Jantz told PW he’s most proud of its focus on diversity, including efforts to bring people of color to publishing events and highlighting books by diverse authors.
LaTasha Estelle and Shawn LeBar were named joint leaders of a dedicated independent sales force for HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus. The sales team works with both Christian-based independent retail accounts and general market, or ABA (American Booksellers Association) bookstores. Also at HCCP, Doug Lockhart was named to the new role of senior v-p for sales and centralized marketing.
Nelson Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Convergent, Zondervan, and Herald Press also created new roles and made new hires in 2021. And finally, David C Cook named former Wal-Mart executive John Aden to the role of CEO in October. Aden told PW his goals include bringing “the best of what I’ve learned throughout my career to an environment of real opportunity for generating rich content, finding ways to amplify that, and helping people grow closer to God.”
Giving voice to people of color
As publishers across the industry continue to invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives, several religion and spirituality publishers made strides in bringing forward new titles from BIPOC authors over the past year. We also spoke to smaller publishers within mainline Christian, Catholic, and spirituality areas about efforts to build a more inclusive staff and associated challenges, including tight budgets, small staffs, lack of attrition, and high competition for talent.
In addition to seeking diversity when it comes to staff and author pools, religion publishers are working to ensure that representations of people of color are accurate in books written by white authors. We spoke to several Christian fiction publishers about the use of sensitivity readers and other methods available for spotting bias and achieving authentic and responsible depictions of marginalized people.
Several agents of color who deal in the religion market discussed the increased interest in titles by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian authors and the work yet to be done when it comes to diversity in religion publishing. Jevon Bolden, founder and CEO of Embolden Media, shared her vision for a future that includes more diverse people across the entire industry—one we can all look forward to: “We still need the infrastructure and publishing teams that are passionate about forming authentic relationships between themselves and booksellers, book reviewers, the authors themselves, and the target readers especially,” she says. “We need teams that are diverse and speak the language of the diverse authors they serve and can help them translate and mold their ideas so decision-makers can give them the green lights they deserve. The audience is already there.”