The year 2020 was definitely unforgettable, creating a “new normal” in the midst of a global pandemic, as many industries and companies seemed to struggle and were even lost, but one area that seems to have survived, even thrived was book sales. According to Publishers Weekly, book sales shocked many in the publishing industry, increasing sales from 2019.
Everything from production and distribution to marketing and PR was affected by COVID-19, but the industry didn’t let that stop them, “The trade segment of the industry had the strongest sales gain among the industry segments, while sales in the religious category were estimated to be up about 4%, according to preliminary estimates from the Association of American Publishers.”
In a world where entertainment is a constant battle to win the most amount of viewers for each format, Christians, like it or not, are in that same battle, just with a different motivation — to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ — to share stories and entertainment that provide hope, life, and biblical love instead of death, destruction, and what the world deems as desirable and valuable.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
We may not wish to think that the hours we spend binging the newest Netflix series or playing the newly dropped Xbox game will affect our minds and hearts, but it does.
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23).
That’s not to say that Netflix, Xbox, etc. are wrong or sinful in and of themselves — there are many wonderful and creative entertainment that isn’t designated as Christian. Still, it’s encouraging to see that Christian content is alive and well in the publishing world today.
The Origin of Christian Book Publishing
Christian book publishing, in the beginning, didn’t really need that descriptor. According to Britannica, because Christianity aims to spread the gospel to the entire world, pursuing book publishing just aided in that particular goal, and actually depended on the distribution of books.
“The greatest writers of the following three centuries were Christian scholars such as Origen, Pamphilus of Caesarea, Tertullian, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. Of all Christian books, however, the most numerous survivals are New Testament codices and apocryphal New Testament writings.”
As publishing evolved throughout history to what it is today, its Christian roots remain — to make Christian content, and most importantly, the Bible, widely available and affordable for all. This includes modern publishing practices: literary agencies, editing, marketing, production, PR, printing, and distribution — all working together to create stories and information that culminates in joy and hope that comes from the Creator of storytelling Himself.
He gave us a book, the greatest story ever told, and what we are to do now is tell it in as many ways and many forms as possible to reach the lost and broken-hearted.
Some Christian publishers today are Zondervan, Regency Publishing, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Thomas Nelson, Baker Books, Crosslink Publishing, and many more.
The Bible and Christian Publishing
The rise in book sales cited also includes Bibles. Each Christian publisher produces and sells Bibles. As we know, the Bible was written and compiled centuries before the printing press and was not widely available to the common man or could be read.
Fortunately, Bibles that are produced today are published in several languages and therefore include copyrights for translations — including the various English translations. There are also Bibles that are Bible Study editions, include devotionals, have artistic covers, etc.
According to PW, HarperCollins Christian Publishing saw an “increased interest in book and Bible reading across a broad group of genres and Bible categories. We saw increased activity in our online Bible studies through FaithGateway and Bible Gateway, which allowed us to connect with readers directly at a time when personal engagement in other points of life were minimized.”
This could be attributed to the tumultuous year that left many seeking answers as they saw the world and the life they once knew become uncertain, creating a future unknown. Thus, the rise in sales is most likely attributed to many pursuing hope and peace that only the Word of God can provide.
The Importance of a Good Year in Book Sales
The first half of 2021 was a rousing year for trade book publishing, according to PW. It is positive to see such numbers. When digital publishing — eBooks, audiobooks, etc. — first came on the scene, it was predicted that physical book sales would further decline or possibly cease to exist (see what happened to Blockbuster and movie rental stores when Netflix and online streaming sites first appeared and lasted).
These sales do include digital sales, but books in any form are relentless and incredibly special. According to the Publishers Weekly article, “Book Publishing’s Rousing First Half of 2021.”
“Of particular note is the fact that while sales were strong, profits were even better, with operating margins showing healthy gains…Though supply chain issues and the uncertainty over the delta variant are causing some concerns about how the rest of the year will unfold, publishers are hoping that the increased interest in reading will carry over through the 2021 holiday season and beyond.”
As humans, we crave stories, we assemble our lives around narratives. Whether it is through fiction titles as escapism from current events or embracing what’s happening and gleaning information through non-fiction titles, the publishing industry facilitates that need, a need to read and keep reading no matter how old we are — from children’s publishing to adult fiction and non-fiction.
What Comes Next for Christian Publishers?
Christian publishing is turning to “issue-driven titles.” Tyndale has two titles on its 2022 list including Derwin Gray’s How to Heal our Racial Divide (“on racial reconciliation in the church”) and Yosely Pereira’s A Sea Between Us (“the powerful true story of an immigrant’s journey”).
However, according to Scott Mathews, CEO for both Tyndale House Publishers and the charitable Tyndale House Foundation, “The majority of proposals will always be on timeless topics: How do we live out practical spiritual principles, to all peoples, in all times, in all ways, with current culture?”
These include topics on grief, loneliness, mental illness, self-care as we now try to make sense of everything that has happened in such a short amount of time. Many are turning to spiritual healing that can be found in faith-based publishers.
According to Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, “Christian publishing’s broad range of topics […] helped meet the need for books around self-help and mental health awareness as well as titles on prayer and encouragement.”
Why Does This Matter?
As Christians, we have constant hope and peace of God’s enduring promise. We know that His presence can always be felt through His Word and Spirit. However, many in the world do not know of His love, so with this great responsibility and honor, we are called to share the good news, which can be through anything including the publishing industry.
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Molly Law is the Editor of Christianity.com. She has a Master of Arts in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling UK, where she studied and lived for a year in Scotland. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Professional Writing and a minor in Biblical Studies from Gardner-Webb University. Her editorial career includes Senior Editor of a bimonthly magazine for the American Correctional Association, Editorial Assistant at Luath Press in Edinburgh, and Freelance Journalist for the News Virginian. She enjoys reading 18th-century British Literature, creative writing, and traveling.