Holy sales stats! How did religion book publishing roll up revenue numbers markedly ahead of other publishing categories last year, up 7.8% over 2022 according to the Association of American Publishers StatShot report? PW called on CEOs and senior sales executives at eight religion and spirituality houses to ask what's driving the numbers up (Top answer: Bibles!), how the first quarter of 2024 turned out (the same as last year or better), and what they see ahead (All good!). In fact, early indications are that religion book sales are once again outperforming the market in general.

"It's a different day, and a good day," says Doug Lockhart senior v-p for sales and marketing for HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Despite ongoing challenges such as the rising cost of printing, Lockhart sees an "opportunity for more growth. When you look at Christian trade books versus all of trade, you've got almost a 9% to 10% gap between Christian publishing and trade publishing."

So far this year, HCCP, which does not publicly report revenue by individual divisions such as Nelson or Zondervan, is tracking on or above that 7.8%. (In its last two quarterly reports, News Corp, parent company of HCCP parent HarperCollins, has reported that Christian publishing continues to perform very well). Three areas lead the way with increases in "the low double digits" says Lockhart. He cites Bibles, Bible studies, and academic titles.

Lockhart is not surprised by the all-things-Bible boom. He noted Google Analytics showed searches for words such as "Bible," "Bible studies" and "Bible resources" are up 13% over 2023. Why? "There's a lot of angst in the world today and people are looking for answers. Everything from the Ukraine War to the Hamas-Israel war to the challenges people have in everyday life" prompts people to ask deep questions and to seek spiritual health, says Lockhart.

Lockhart claims HCCP holds a 42% market share in Bible publishing. Bible-adjacent titles such as Savannah Guthries' Mostly What God Does: Reflections on Seeking and Finding His Love Everywhere and Lysa TerKeurst's Clear Mind, Peaceful Heart: 50 Devotions for Sleeping Well in a World Full of Worry (both from Nelson) have been in the top 25 on Circana' Bookscan's nonfiction hardcover bestseller list since launching in this winter. Still to come, the first title for HCCP by Jennie Allen, whose book with WaterBrook, Find Your People, was the 2023 ECPA Christian Book of the Year.

Baker Publishing Getting Bible Bump

When Jesse Myers stepped into the role of president and CEO role at Baker Publishing Group in April 2023, he told PW he was concerned about the economy, inflation, and "the balkanization of our society." All those challenges remain today. Yet, he now says, "Despite all those things, 2023 was a good year for us and we expect 2024 to be pretty good, too. Revenue was up over the same period last year by 9% in January and February, 5% in March and 11% in April."

Here, too, Bible topics are driving the gains. "Even though Baker is not a Bible publisher, we do publish Bible studies and books that help people read the Bible and these are on a tear right now." says Myers. Author and podcaster Tara-Leigh Cobble's The Bible Recap (Bethany imprint, 2020) continues to lead BPG's sales. The company is expanding Coble's reach with a two-year, eight-book series of Bible studies called The Bible Recap Knowing Jesus series. Knowing Jesus as King: A 10-Session Study on the Gospel of Matthew, released in April, is the first of this year's look at the Gospels while 2025 titles will focus on New Testament books.

Nonfiction Leading the Way at IVP

At IVP, president and CEO Terumi Echols sees revenue for the first quarter running about the same as last year, albeit with a shift from fiction to nonfiction titles leading the pack, particularly in Bibles and Bible studies. "I think with everything that's going on in the world, people just want to make sense of everything. They are looking for stability and God is a place of stability for them."

Echols points to a 2016 title that is still their best seller in 2024 at more than a million copies, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. She says the appeal is that people want to understand each other and to connect again after the isolation of the Covid pandemic and the polarizing politics of today. Their second top seller now is a Bible she calls uniquely poetic, First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament by Ojibwe storyteller Terry Wildman. And she has high hopes for the upcoming August release of The New Testament in Color: A Multiethnic Bible Commentary Edited by E. McCaulley, J.H. Ok, O. Padilla & A. Peeler (IVP Academic) and the fall release of the first of two volumes by Walter Strickland, Swing Low: A History of Black Christianity in the United States.

In January, IVP announced it had received a $1.25-million-dollar, five-year Lilly Endowment Grant to create resources for the discipleship of families and children. "It's going to be fantastic," Echols says, citing plans for "a multimedia content approach in teaching spiritual practices. It will include video, audio, an app, archives, and a library, too." Also coming up: IVP Español expanding with six more titles in Spanish, both original and translated; IVP Kids will also move from four books a year to six; continuing to expand the number of podcasts.

Echols describes the past two years as "a season of change and in some ways disruption. We've been going back and looking at the foundational ways in which we do business and trying to upgrade and find efficiencies. "It's really trying to figure out better ways to do more with less and really trying to care for people as a part of the process," she says.

David C. Cook Succeeding with New Ways to Reach Readers

At David C. Cook, revenue climbed 24% in 2023 over 2022 with most of the action in their Easter titles, The Tale of Three Trees (up 33%), The Easter Storybook (up 37.2 %), and the Action Bible portfolio of illustrated children's Bible titles. This began in 2010 and now includes The Action Bible: Faith in Action, first released in 2023. This version is broken up into themes, with hundreds of QR codes sprinkled throughout to lead young readers to games and deeper interaction with the content, says CEO Bill Reeves.

Bibles and Bible studies are "through the roof," these days, says Reeves, noting that David C Cook was created 149 years ago to produce Sunday School materials. Even though studies show church attendance dwindling, Reeves says, "People are still gathering to study God's word. But they don't want to do it in a suit and tie on Sunday at 11 a.m. They want to wear their flip-flops and study with their friends. Consequently, Cook is planning a big initiative to bring out small group study guides aimed at individuals in 2025 along with their church-buy curriculum.

This demand is no surprise to Reeves who has spent 37 years dealing with faith-based products. "When the economy tanks or there is chaos in the world like wars or Sept. 11, faith products spike. Now, the challenge is to rise above the noise with the Christian message." he says. This requires publishers to fight what he calls "cultural headwinds." He points to the loss of Christian bookstores and to online obstacles such as algorithms he says downplay Christian content on sites such as X and Facebook and social media getting clogged with highly charged comments on politics and social issues.

Reeves says their work-around to reach their market includes highlighting evergreen titles on the company's mammoth backlist along with the newer titles in their catalog and working with retailers to make shelf space for them. For example, Francis Chan's 2008 book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God sold millions for David C Cook so they are bringing it forward again. He also predicts a pop of attention for their suite of titles that accompanied The Chosen now that Disney is streaming the online film series that dramatizes New Testament characters and Jesus's story.

Tyndale Consolidating Last Year's Big Gains

At Tyndale, where they are celebrating that Beth Moore's memoir, All My Knotted Up Life, was just named ECPA Christian Book of the Year, CEO Scott Mathews says, "We are relatively flat compared to 2023, but last year we saw a nice pop in revenue, it was a strong year and we are holding the level."

Their first quarter's biggest books show "one of the fun things about publishing—the depth and breadth of the line," says Mathews. He highlights: a book about parenting, Raising Mentally Strong Kids by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen and child psychologist Dr. Charles Fay; a visual exploration of the Bible in The Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines from Tyndale imprint Hendrickson Publishing; and an apologetics book that Mathews says gives him "hope about the resurgence of the church," The Deconstruction of Christianity: What It Is, Why It's Destructive, And How to Respond. by Alisa Childers and Tim Barnett.

The challenges ahead include the tsunami of AI-driven self-publishing titles. But Mathews says, "Every day something new launches and you have to learn the role of the next new technology." What can they count on? The Bible, of course.

This fall, Tyndale launches the Go Bible for kids drawn from their "flagship" New Living Translation. It will have an application orientation, offering a lot of features meant to pull kids into the scripture with breakouts on how to study, what to know to grow, and what they should be doing. "It speaks to the Bible's transformational aspect. The major conduit will be the churches but we'll sell to parents and grandparents," he says.

Tyndale is also looking to bring more titles into the international marketplace in Europe and South America. "The U.S. market is still the bulk of our sales, but the world outside represents the vast majority— 90%— of believers. With that in mind, this fall they will offer Spanish and Portuguese editions of their Filament Bible, which allows readers to scan any print page for a link to videos, interactive maps, study notes, devotionals, and more,

Broadleaf Benefitting from Media Attention

Evangelical houses are not the only religion publishers with numbers looking up. Broadleaf, which leans to a mainline or progressive Christian perspective, saw a 16% increase in revenue this winter compared to the first quarter of 2023. Publishing director Andrew DeYoung says media attention to the authors addressing hot topics boosted sales for books such as NPR interviewing Scholar Bradley Onishi, author of Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism--And What Comes Next, released in January 2023. He's banking that this subject will still be front burner this fall when two more titles come out before the fraught presidential election: The Violent Take It by Force: The Christian Movement That Is Threatening Our Democracy by Matthew D. Taylor (Sept.) and How to End Christian Nationalism (Oct.), a guidebook by Amanda Tyler, one of the organizers of Christians Against Christian Nationalism.

DeYoung also sees buyers reaching for March 2024 books that take a positive approach. He points to Bruce Reyes-Chow's Everything Good About God is True: Choosing Faith (March) and Debie Thomas's A Faith of Many Rooms: Inhabiting a More Spacious Christianity. "They are both devout but in divisive times, when there is so much talking about deconstructing faith or bad theology, they are speaking to the things that are positive and life-giving about the Christian faith." Christine Valters Paintner's A Different Kind of Fast: Feeding Our True Hungers in Lent, proposed that instead of giving up little luxuries, believers might give up on worry or busyness ruling our days, he says. "Easter has come and gone and it's still selling."

DeYoung also tells PW that Beaming Books, the children's house under the same 1517 Media umbrella as Broadleaf, has an illustrated storybook Bible, The Just Love Story Bible, in the works with authors Jacqui Lewis, the pastor at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, and Shannon Daley-Harris, associate dean at Auburn Theological Seminary.

Refocusing Paying Off for Liturgical Press

Catholic publisher Liturgical Press turned the tough times of the pandemic years into a time for change and refocusing internally on improving infrastructure, addressing internal inefficiencies, and boosting digital marketing. Now it's paying off. "Our fiscal year runs July through June so we are nearing the end of the fiscal year and year over year our sales are up a couple of percentage points over last year," says marketing director Tara Durheim, who declined to give specific totals.

"We have had a lot of success with our seasonal resources such as Come to Me, All of You: Stations of the Cross in the Voice of Christ, by Amy Ekeh," a special content editor at Liturgical Press. "We see that small prayer groups and Bible study groups are always looking for new ways to approach praying the stations of the cross." Also popular is a booklet of the meditations and talks that Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe gave at a synod in Rome last October where Pope Francis appointed him to be spiritual guide to the church leaders at the gathering. "His talks are about friendship and unity, what it means to live at a time when we have differing versions of what the future of the church looks like, and how we talk about our differences so we, as a church, can move together."

Conservative Catholic critics of Pope Francis are a loud voice in the USA, but Liturgical Press is trying to bridge the "toxic polarization," says Durheim. Liturgical Press is a postulate of the Benedictine community in Minnesota and its charge is to provide resources to enrich conversation and reflection. Although their primary markets are Catholic institutions, they are seeing growth with their direct-to-consumer sales, online events, and webinars. Durheim says, "Increasingly, our program is developing to reach individual buyers with our prayer and spirituality resources, especially if people are not necessarily tied to a specific parish home," says Durheim. "A big initiative for 2024 will be more creation of video content highlighting authors and our resources."

Inner Traditions Sales Remain Strong

Maria Loftus, sales director for Inner Traditions, the mind-body-spirit house with a worldwide range—from astrology to witchcraft— has one word for how first-quarter revenue compares to the same period in years past — "Wow!"

"We surpassed our high watermark of 2019 in 2023, and already this quarter, we are forecasting another year of growth. Our retail trade channels are up 15% over last year," Loftus says, pointing to sales to independent stores, chains, in the U.S. and abroad, and stepping up engagement with readers through author talks and events. "In the last five years, we have gone from doing 60 books a year to 125 this year. Our Spanish program has grown substantially from two titles a season to 12 coming out this year," Loftus says.

Among their top books now is An Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey by Peter Levine, founder of the somatic experiencing approach to therapy. Published in April, it's already their top-shipped item in 2024. Another bestseller appeals to the fascination for ancient mysteries with the proposal that the Egyptian pyramids are actually a sonic energy source — Giza: The Tesla Connection: Acoustical Science and the Harvesting of Clean Energy by Christopher Dunn. Two of their books among the top five bestseller for the winter quarter are from their backlist—The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra (2003) for the sacred sexuality audience and Tuning the Human Biofield (2021) for those interested in "cutting-edge alternative therapies," says Loftus.

Looking ahead to fall, Loftus foresees a big audience for a book on palliative care for dying people, Psychedelic Medicine at the End of Life: Dying without Fear (Nov.) by Richard Miller, a clinical psychologist and host of the syndicated talk radio show, Mind Body Health & Politics.