In the wake of last month's attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., untold numbers of people around the world have looked to their sacred scriptures for solace and meaning. Many of them say the world now feels like a different place. But in the American religion publishing industry, at least one thing remains constant--demand for the Christian Bible is strong and even growing in some categories and markets.
A Return to Roots
More than a dozen different Bible versions make an alphabet soup of translations offering a variety of reading levels and language styles. Yet the King James Version, the oldest of the English-language translations, completed in 1611, remains among the most popular. As the favored Bible of many Catholics and Southern Baptists--two of the largest denominations in the United States--and of African-American Christians, it has always been a good seller. "There has always been a crowd that has stayed with the King James, and there will always be a place for that elegant, holy feeling when you read the word of God in a way that sounds reverent," says John Thompson, v-p of marketing for Broadman & Holman. But Thompson--like several other Bible publishers--also sees a recent spike in King James, or KJV, Bibles, possibly driven by first-time buyers from beyond its traditional markets. Thompson believes that is being driven by Gen-Xers: "They are saying, 'I don't want to rely on [a recent translation]. I want to get back to the real deal.' " Tim Jordan, Thomas Nelson's marketing director for Nelson Bibles, says: "Maybe people who were introduced to the Bible with one of the simpler translations are now mature enough to move on."
Whatever the reason, at Broadman & Holman the KJV remains a top seller. The house recently returned to print the 1981 KJV Master Study Bible (Aug. 2001), with updated notes but retaining the original 17th-century text. Also back in print is the Holman Family Bible: King James Version --a standard Bible with pages for family landmarks like births, marriages and deaths--which has been around so long B&H cannot pinpoint the original date of publication. Thompson says both Bibles were returned to print because of high consumer demand. "I think people want a legacy," he says.
The New Beside the Old
But there is also a practical reason for the reissue of older versions. In recent seasons, B&H has spent less on developing new Bible products to better focus on the completion of its own translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, begun in 1984. "We are cutting back on the amount of product we license from other Bible publishers," Thompson says. "That is an expense to us. We are looking to see how we can keep our revenue up on other products for which there is a demand, like the King James, and at the same time, try to hit the whole spectrum of Bible needs." Currently, B&H has published the HCSB in the Experiencing the Word New Testament (Jan. 2001), Experiencing the Word Through the Gospels (Jan. 2000) and Experiencing the Word New Testament (July 2001), all edited by Henry Blackaby. Also new in this translation is the HCSB Share Jesus Without Fear Bible (Aug. 2001) and its teen Bible counterpart, the Share Jesus Without Fear TruthQuest Edition New Testament (Aug. 2001). B&H hopes to have the HCSB completed and published by January 2004.
At Thomas Nelson, both old and new Bible translations are also hot sellers. The New King James Version, a 1982 update that did away with some of the original's archaic language while keeping its literary sentence structure, is featured in many of Nelson's new Bible offerings. Among these titles are the Woman's Life Bible (Mar. 2001) and Reflections from the Heart of God Devotional Bible for Women (Sept. 2001) with "heartfelt reflections" by Nanette Kinkade, wife of painter Thomas Kinkade. The Soul Care Bible (July 2001) is crafted specifically for Christian counselors and their patients, and The Maxwell Leadership Bible (Mar. 2001) is for church and business leaders. These Bibles also attest to Nelson's belief that the niche Bible market is still going strong, though fewer new products are in the pipeline. That, says Tim Jordan, is in response to booksellers' feedback that they are running out of shelf space for ever more Bibles and that their customers often become confused at the vastness of their choices. The need to be more selective has driven Nelson back to some of its most perennial Bible titles to offer them in the NKJV for the first time, rather than coming out with new niche editions. These include The Extreme Teen Bible (Oct. 2000), The Extreme Word Bible (Mar. 2001), the Precious Moments Grandmother's Precious Baby Bible (Sept. 2001) and the newly repackaged Spirit-Filled Life Bible for Students (Sept. 2001).
Zondervan's Bible division is splitting its focus between the old and the new. The house recently became the commercial licensee for the Good News Translation, completed in 1966 by the American Bible Society and updated with gender-inclusive language in 1992. About 133 million copies of the GNT Bible have been sold, but most of those were in the direct-to-church market. Zondervan thinks the general market is ripe for such a basic translation, says John Sawyer, the house's v-p of Bible marketing. "The Good News Translation kept coming up as one of the top translations in people's minds" in Zondervan's market research, he says. "We thought we could reach people approaching the Bible for the first time" by offering The Holy Bible (GNT) and a retro-design version of Good News for Modern Man, the volume that sold 12 million copies for the ABS since its original publication in 1966, complete with the original line drawing illustrations, both released last month. Also available in the GNT is My Book. --God: The GodSpeaks Bible (July 2001), based on an anonymous private donor's nationwide billboard evangelism campaign. My Book. also has a Web site (www.GodSpeaks.org). Zondervan hopes the GNT will take them further into the Catholic market, a fairly new one for them, with The Holy Bible: Catholic Edition (Aug. 2001). Zondervan has The Catholic Women's Devotional Bible in the New Revised Standard Version, released last September and patterned on the publisher's two-million-selling Women's Devotional Bible (1991). So far, the Catholic version is selling well--45,000 units have moved since its publication, 5,000 more than were projected to sell in its first six months.
At the same time it promotes new translations, Zondervan is also increasing the number of its Bibles available in the KJV. Sawyer estimates it is responsible for 20% to 25% of Bible sales in the Christian Booksellers Association market. But Sawyer also sees readers outside the traditional KJV markets finding their way to the King James for the first time. The turn of the millennium made people think about spirituality, Sawyer says, and many of those people turned to the traditional: "I think the King James is in a resurgence because of our desire to embrace things that give us comfort." In the KJV line, Zondervan offers The KJV Reference Bible (Mar. 2000) and plans The KJV Study Bible for April 2002.
Zondervan is the exclusive licensee of the popular New International Version, which continues to hold the top spot on the CBA Bible bestsellers list. The house also sees the niche and devotional markets going strong and has a number of new NIV products, including the Encouragement Bible (Feb. 2001), for people suffering sadness or loss, the Life Promises Bible (April 2001), with readings for a whole year, and the Women of Faith Study Bible (Nov. 2001), based on the national Women of Faith events held in stadiums and other large venues.
Reaching the Young
The kids' Bible market has been hot for several seasons, and, since children grow up to be teenagers, the teen Bible market is also still very active. Some publishers are adding to their already long list of children's and teen Bible titles while others are entering that market for the first time.
Zonderkidz, long a stalwart in youth Bibles, is demonstrating its belief in yet another niche market--teenage girls--with its promotion of the Young Women of Faith Bible (Sept. 2001) beside its older sister in Zondervan's adult market. Kathy Bieber, director of marketing for ZonderKidz, says pairing an adult Bible with a teen Bible in an effort to get users to sit down and read or study together represents a new direction for Zondervan. "These are pioneering products that I think make a lot of sense," she says. "I hope we are going to see more Bible products like this in the future." Bieber says she, too, is seeing a growing demand for the easier-to-read Bible translations at the same time the KJV is holding its ground. ZonderKidz recently took its Adventure Bible (1989)--its most popular children's Bible to date--and repackaged it as the Holy Bible (KJV): Kids' Study Bible (June 2001). Bieber says this move was a direct response to demand from KJV readers for a more traditional format for the Adventure Bible, which was already available in the New International Readers Version and the NIV. "It was more important to them that this Bible say Holy Bible on the cover than Adventure Bible," Bieber notes. This product has also taken ZonderKidz into new terrain--the Catholic children's market. It is a segment the publisher plans to cultivate with more titles, including a Catholic Bible for children in the GNT by spring 2003.
Starburst marks a first with its The Bible for Teens (Oct.), not a complete Bible but an overview of the Christian sacred text. That will be followed by a number of titles that break the Good Book down into smaller chunks, beginning with The Bible for Teens: Revelation (Apr. 2002). The series is based on Starburst's popular adult series, the Bible: God's Word for the Biblically Inept (beginning in 1998) which includes 13 titles and offers a simplified explanation book by book and verse by verse. Starburst's v-p of marketing, Sharon Robie, says the boomlet in teen Bibles is driven by an unprecedented hunger among young people for Bibles and Bible products. "I think it is a result of Columbine and all of the school shootings," she says. "I think kids--and everyone--have seen so much trauma that they want something bigger than themselves."
Thomas Nelson looks to more modern, easy-to-read translations and the Internet to form bonds with the younger Bible-reading public and will focus marketing efforts behind the New Century Version, a third-grade reading level translation originally bought by Word (now W Publishing) before it was acquired by Nelson in 1987 but most often used by Tommy Nelson, the house's children's division. The Extreme Teen Bible (Sept. 2001) and KidsBible.com (Mar. 2001) are both being offered in the NCV, and the latter title marks the first time Nelson has launched a book and a companion, noncommercial Web site. The site's goal is to be a study tool that will plug young users into the scriptures by sending them back to their Bibles for games and answers to questions. This pairing is seen as a necessary step to grab and hold the attention of today's techno-savvy kids, says Jordan.
For the Time-Pressed and Newbies
At Tyndale House, the focus is on newer translations, especially its own New Living Translation, which debuted five years ago. New in this line is The Promise Bible (Sept. 2001), which highlights scriptural encouragement. There are now more than 150 Tyndale products in the NLT line, which Jeffrey Smith, marketing manager for Bibles, says the house will continue adding to. "People today just don't speak with the same idioms and terminology as they did 30 years ago," he says. "We are really finding that people are longing for fresher language that is reflective of their times." Another trend at Tyndale is breaking up the Bible into ever smaller chunks for easy study. "It is the lifestyle influence," Smith says. "Our consumers are really being squeezed for time." To relieve that squeeze, the house offers The One Year Bible: Fifteenth Anniversary Edition (Sept. 2001), an update of the four-million-selling original of the same title, with three reading plans that lead readers through the entire Bible in 15 minutes a day. That title will come in the NIV, the KJV and the NLT. For those even more crunched for time, there is The Two Year Bible (Sept. 2001), which requires only seven minutes a day and comes only in the NLT. For time-pressed kids, there is the One Year Bible for Children paraphrased by V. Gilbert Beers (Sept. 2001) and the highly portable Holy Bible Children's Personal Edition (Aug. 2001) in the NLT. Smith sees one other, somewhat alarming (for those of us of a certain age) trend--a spike in sales of large-print Bibles, due, he thinks, to the aging of the Baby Boomers.
|Updating Texts on Judaism|
|Although there were no major new translations of the entire Torah in 2001, next year Reform Judaism will get a new and thoroughly contemporary look at the first book of the Bible with The Book of Genesis: A Contemporary View by W. Gunther Plaut and Chaim Stern (UAHC Press, May 2002). Stern's translation is gender sensitive, and Plaut's commentary incorporates the rapidly expanding literature of feminist Torah scholarship. |
There also are some notable new commentaries on the Torah. A major event for Conservative Jews in particular and serious Jewish readers in general is the publication of Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (Oct.), a new commentary for the Conservative movement, 10 years in the making and the first new Conservative commentary in more than 70 years. Etz Hayim was done under the auspices of the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in partnership with the Jewish Publication Society, the nonprofit publisher for all major movements within Judaism. A complex and significant work, Etz Hayim ("Tree of Life") is intended for liturgical use as well as study. Bestselling writers Chaim Potok and Harold S. Kushner, both ordained rabbis, edited two of the interpretive commentaries; the work is based on a contemporary 1985 JPS translation, reflects current scholarship and archeology, and incorporates for the first time the perspective of female rabbis and scholars in an institutional and authoritative commentary.
"It really is a modern person's view of the texts," says Ellen Frankel, CEO and editor-in-chief at JPS. "It may spark conversation within the Conservative laity about approaches to the Bible they may not have been aware of or thought of." The work was a production challenge as well as an editorial one, involving typesetters on three continents and eight different elements of content to coordinate on a page. An initial print run of 100,000 sold 78,000 before marketing to the trade had even begun. "That was pretty incredible," Frankel says.
Richard Elliott Friedman, author of the bestselling Who Wrote the Bible? (Harper San Francisco, 1997), offers Commentary on the Torah (HSF, Mar. 2001), another work that reflects modern research and scholarship as well as traditional sensibility. Friedman's own translation and his commentary, rather than the more typical collection of different viewpoints, has won praise across theological lines. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson crafts an approachable commentary with "American attitude" in The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Visions and Dreams (Contemporary Books, Aug.). A foreword by Jack Miles, author of the bestselling God: A Biography (Knopf) observes that Artson "sees Torah as a treasure that no longer belongs exclusively to Israel." Artson's commentary offers three different perspectives, or "takes," on each of the 50 Torah portions that make up the liturgical cycle. In the Hasidic tradition, Living Waters--The Mei HaShiloach: A Commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza, edited and translated by Betsalel Philip Edwards (Jason Aronson, March), is the collected teachings on the Torah by the 19th-century Hasidic master.
"New" also is the buzzword at NavPress, the publishing arm of a parachurch organization, the Navigators. It offers only one Bible title, the enormously successful paraphrase The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, which debuted with the first five books of the Bible in 1997. To date, eight The Message products have sold seven million copies, and NavPress hopes to build on the brand with The Message: The Old Testament Books of Moses (Oct. 2001). The full The Message Bible is slated to release in July 2002. Amy Slivka, NavPress's marketing and publicity manager, says she thinks consumers are hungry for the simpler Bible translations like Peterson's because of the vital tool they can be for people picking up the Bible for the first time. "The whole premise of The Message is as a come-along Bible," she says. "You can read along with your King James and say, 'Oh, that's what that means.' "
The traditional reigns at Westminster John Knox Press, the trade arm of the Presbyterian Publishing Corp., with the debut of The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Luke (July 2001) with commentary by the Scottish professor William Barclay, who died in 1978 and was noted for his ability to make New Testament scholarship accessible to broad audiences. It will be followed by the books of Mark (Oct. 2001), John in two volumes (Oct. and Nov.) and two volumes of Matthew (Nov.) The series is based on Barclay's popular The Daily Study Bible, published in 1953, and has been updated in the NRSV translation. The original version has sold more than 10 million copies for WJK and represents about 15% of the house's sales in a year. WJK hopes to build on that success with the new series and plans to release several more volumes from the New Testament, including Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, John 1-3, Jude, Hebrews and Galatians, all in 2002, with 2003 bringing the publication of the rest. The format is six to eight Bible verses followed by commentary from Barclay. Like Smith at Tyndale, Chris Conver, director of product management and communications for WJK, says, breaking the scriptures into small, easily digestible bites is something today's time-pressed reader wants. "Our parents' generation made the commitment til death do us part," he says. "But our generation makes the commitment til I lose interest. We tend to approach matters of faith the same way we approach everything else--you need to hook me in quick because I gotta move on."
Some general trade houses are also seeing more interest in traditional translations. Andrew Corbin, an editor in Doubleday's religion division, says the Jerusalem Bible, originally published by the house in 1966, was supposed to be replaced by the updated, gender-inclusive New Jerusalem Bible, debuted by Doubleday in 1986. But the older translation was brought back into print last year because of consumer demand. "I think that is indicative of the fact that when people think of the Bible, they think of tradition," Corbin says. "Churches have gone through so much change in the last decades--going to church now is so much different than it was. But the Bible you read is the one thing you can keep the same." Still, demand for the NJB is also high, and Doubleday will release The New Jerusalem Bible: Saints Devotional Edition, edited by Bert Ghezzi (May 2002). In addition, work on Doubleday's Anchor Bible series continues with Hebrews (May 2001), Habakkuk (Aug. 2001), 1 Kings (Oct. 2001) and Isaiah 40-55 (Apr. 2002). Other houses have new titles featuring Bible portions, notably Penguin Putnam's Opening to You: Zen Inspired Translations of the Psalms with comments from Norman Fischer (Feb. 2002).
Debuts and New Projects
A couple of new Bible translations are in the works or just making their debuts. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, recently unveiled its English Standard Version and released The Holy Bible: English Standard Version last month. This version is described as a word-for-word literal translation that took three years to complete. The Vatican recently announced it has commissioned a revision of the Bible to include material found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 (no date has been set for completion). The International Bible Society has published its revision of La Bible du Semeur (Sept. 2001) for markets in 18 French-speaking African countries. The translation is similar to the NIV, which the society owns and licenses. In reference Bibles, World Bible Publishers has obtained the rights to publish the fourth edition of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (Sept. 2001), and Kirkbride is working on the same Bible's fifth edition. Zondervan has Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance (Sept. 2001), a re-examination of the old scholarly standard on the KJV that took 20 years to complete.
With the increasing popularity of simplified and chopped-up Bibles, do publishers run the risk of watering down the Word? "You've always got that tension," says WJK's Conver. "But there is something about the Bible. God is working through it to such an extent that even when we mess it up" it somehow manages to maintain its integrity. Nelson's Jordan says the way publishers can keep from diluting the power of the scriptures is to ask themselves, "Are we honoring God?" with proposed new Bibles.
And what of this new role for the Internet, not as a commercial venue, but as a study aid? Is Thomas Nelson's foray into this area a one-time thing for the company or might it be developed further? What about other publishers? Tyndale's Smith says the house is increasingly looking to technology to enhance its Bible products and recently partnered with Parsons Technology to develop more electronic products. "Today's people are doing everything electronically," he says, including reading their Bible. WJK's Conver thinks this use of the Internet is the coming wave. He envisions the Web as the place for things like instant translation of the Bible into other languages, or perhaps as a venue for small faith communities to craft and build their own Bible studies. "Using the Internet for search-and-find is only the first level," he says. "If you can do surgery over the Internet, what might the parallel be for Bible use?"