Here is an excerpt from an article that was found in The New Yorker on December 18, 2006 about the business of publishing The Bible. If you want to read the entire article, there is a link at the bottom of the excerpt here.
ANNALS OF PUBLISHING
THE GOOD BOOK BUSINESS
Why publishers love the Bible.
by Daniel RadoshDECEMBER 18, 2006
In a sixth-floor conference room of an office building near Nashville International Airport, Rodney Hatfield’s BlackBerry buzzed with an incoming e-mail: “The Lord placed a vision on our hearts of a skaters’ Bible. We really love the N.K.J.V. and would love to use this version. Who can I talk to regarding this? We hope to pack the study Bible with testimonies from pros, devotions, skating tips, etc.”
Hatfield is the vice-president of marketing for the Bible division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and the N.K.J.V. (the New King James Version) is its best-selling translation. Thomas Nelson has a history stretching back to 1798, and, in the American market, it is by some measures the largest Christian publisher, the second-largest publisher of Bibles, and the ninth-largest publishing house of any kind. The e-mail was from a Florida skateboard ministry, and Hatfield read it impassively but not dismissively. After all, one of the company’s lead titles for the fall, “The Family Foundations Study Bible,” had its origins in a similarly unsolicited suggestion from an outsider. True, that source was more estimable (a major Christian retailer) and the idea less fanciful. But the general principle—that Scripture can be repackaged to meet the demands of an increasingly segmented market—is at the heart of the modern Bible-publishing industry.
The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year. Calculating how many Bibles are sold in the United States is a virtually impossible task, but a conservative estimate is that in 2005 Americans purchased some twenty-five million Bibles—twice as many as the most recent Harry Potter book. The amount spent annually on Bibles has been put at more than half a billion dollars.
In some ways, this should not be surprising. According to the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, forty-seven per cent of Americans read the Bible every week. But other research has found that ninety-one per cent of American households own at least one Bible—the average household owns four—which means that Bible publishers manage to sell twenty-five million copies a year of a book that almost everybody already has. Thomas Nelson’s Bible sales increased more than fifteen per cent last year, and such commercial possibilities have begun to attract mainstream publishers to an area dominated by a half-dozen Christian houses. Penguin published two new editions of the Bible this fall, and in July HarperSanFrancisco, part of HarperCollins, announced the creation of a Bible imprint. In June, Thomas Nelson, which last changed hands thirty-seven years ago, for $2.6 million, was purchased by a private investment firm for four hundred and seventy-three million dollars.
This is an intensely competitive business, and, despite the provenance of “The Family Foundations Study Bible,” publishers rarely rely on mere inspiration. Another new Nelson release, “The Grace for the Moment Daily Bible,” had a more typically strategic genesis: it is an extension of one of the publisher’s most popular brands, a series of devotional books by Max Lucado, a Texas minister whose many titles have sold nearly fifty million copies. Nelson has seventeen imprints in addition to the Nelson Bible Group, and when it has a popular writer like Lucado it will spin him off into as many different lines as possible. The “Daily Bible” features Scripture portions paired with short essays excerpted from other Lucado titles. In the absence of such ready-made material, Bible publishers formulate projects using classic market research. Every year, Nelson Bible executives analyze their product line for shortcomings, scrutinize the competition’s offerings, and talk with consumers, retailers, and pastors about their needs.
Nelson categorizes “Grace for the Moment” as an everyday-life Bible, whereas “Family Foundations” is a study Bible. The distinction points to one way in which publishers sell multiple copies of the Bible to the same customers. “They each have a different purpose,” Hatfield told me. “It’s kind of like a tool chest. All the tools are tools, but they’re designed for doing different things.” And there are distinctions within each category. There are study Bibles that focus on theology, on historical context, or on practical applications of Biblical teachings. There are devotional Bibles for new believers, couples, brides, and cowboys. On an air-plane recently, I saw a woman reading a surfers’ Bible very similar to the proposed skaters’ one. The variety is seemingly limitless. Nelson Bible Group’s 2006 catalogue lists more than a hundred titles.
“I almost liken it to what happened in radio,” Wayne Hastings, the publisher of Nelson’s Bible division, said. “Look at satellite radio—what is that, a hundred and seventy-eight stations? And it’s all niched. We’re doing the same thing in Bibles.” In this process, style is nearly as important as content. Bible publishers depend heavily on focus groups, surveys, and trend-spotting firms. For cover designs, they subscribe to fashion-industry color reports. Tim Jordan, a Bible marketing manager at B. & H. Publishing Group, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “It doesn’t have to be ‘a King James Bible in black bonded leather, and we might offer it to you in burgundy.’ In years past, that might have been O.K., but the game has changed.”
Bible publishing in the twenty-first century involves an intersection of faith and consumerism that is typical of contemporary American evangelicalism. Peter Thuesen, a religious historian and the author of “In Discordance with the Scriptures,” a history of Bible translation controversies in America, sees in Bible publishing “a growing comfort with commercialization.” He explained, “Different kinds of packaging can always be seen by true believers as having an evangelical utility. If it helps reach people with the Word, then it’s not bad. You can consecrate the market.”
|Number of total Bibles Printed||6,001,500,000|
|Approximate number of languages spoken in the world today||6,900|
|Number of translations into new languages currently in progress||1,300|
|Number of languages with a translation of the New Testament||1,185|
|Number of languages with a translation of the Bible (Protestant Canon)||451|
|Total Words in the King James Bible||788,258|
|Number of verses in the King James Bible||31,102|
|Total Chapters in the King James Bible||1,189|
|Total Books in the King James Bible||66|
|Total Number of Authors in the Bible||40|
|Years it took to write the Bible||1,600|
|Shortest Chapter||Psalm 117 (2 verses)|
|Longest Chapter||Psalm 119|
|Middle Chapter||Psalm 117 (the 595th chapter)|
|Shortest Verse in the Bible||John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”|
|Longest Verse in the Bible||Esther 8:9|
|Longest Word in the Bible||Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:3)|
|Tags: how many bibles have been printed ? how many bibles h|