Chip MacGregor

June 14, 2010

CBA Trends


A little
bit ago, Shawn wrote and asked about the Christian industry. Here’s his
question: “Is the biggest trend in religious publishing the fact that none of
the Christian publishers are owned or run by ministries anymore?”

I've been saying for quite
some time that the biggest trend in Christian publishing is the distribution —
AWAY from independent Christian bookstore/gift centers and TOWARD general market
bookstores. That has both an up and a down side, of course, but it's not
something a cabal has been planning — it's simply the marketplace at work.
Christian readers would prefer to spend $12 for a book at Wal-Mart (and don't
underestimate Wal-Mart in the Christian retailing market) than $20 for a book
at Betty's Angel Book Shoppe. That has caused Christian independents to go
under by the dozens, and it is rapidly forcing a reshaping of CBA as we know it.

Along with that has been the sale of three CBA publishers. Time Warner (my
former employer) had its stock price stuck at $17 for three years, so in an
effort to get some things moving (and to hold off Carl Icahn), the board
decided to get out of the book business. They sold the Time Warner Book Group
to Hachette Livre, a French publishing conglomerate that owns Hodder in
England, Car & Driver  and Elle magazines in this country, and
numerous publishing ventures around the world. So I lost the cache of saying I
work for Time Warner, the largest entertainment company in the world…but, of
course, I was able to say I'm a publisher with Hachette Livre, the
third-largest publisher in the world. On the heels of that came the sale of
Thomas Nelson — interestingly enough, moving from a publicly held company to a
private one. Then Simon and Schuster, who was already for sale by Viacom, and
who has not had a Christian imprint, decided they needed CBA exposure. So they
purchased Howard Publishing, lock, stock, and barrel. It was an interesting
move, since S&S has been going after "name" CBA authors but with
no place for them to call home. Wiley offers some great religious books through Josse-Bass, and Pengin doesn't have a CBA imprint, but they do have sort of a Christian ombudsman that coordinates the occasional religious book. And I should note that Harper Collins is
already in the business, since they own Zondervan, as well as HarperOne (formerly HarperSan Francisco), which offers some great books, as well as off-the beaten path Christian books (and, to tell the truth the occasional religious wierdology, like the occasional Wiccan Guide to Lesbian Astrology).

My point is just to say that Christians have firmly established themselves as a
market, that every major publisher is going after that market, and that the
market itself has grown and changed in recent years, most notably in the areas
of distribution and sales.

One more thing: The fastest growing segment of Christianity is charismatic, and
we have probably neglected to mention that some small charismatic houses
(Strang, Destiny Image, Harrison House, etc) have recently sold a ton of books
— so certainly somebody is buying their materials, whether they are in big
ponds or small, and whether they are in general markets or not.

Confused? Yeah, well, join the club. If this were easy to figure out, we'd all
be millionaires.

Two last notes:

1. Don't believe the people who say "big publishers are jerks who don't care
about the little guy." I worked for a big publisher, and while I may be a
world class jerk, there are still plenty of not-so-giant authors who would say
I cared about them and worked hard to help them succeed. The stereotype of
big business isn't always true, so don't accept that criticism as gospel —
particularly from people who may not know what they're talking about.

2. I don't see anything in Scripture that calls us to a ministry of "size."
We're in love with size in America because we believe bigger is better, but God
calls one guy to pastor ten thousand and another to pastor a church of ten. There's nothing
I can find in his Word that says "the guy who pastors ten thousand is
therefore better, more spiritual, and higher in the kingdom." If you're
called to write, then write your best. For some it will mean big dollars and a
huge audience. For others not-so-big dollars and a smaller readership. Some of
the best books of all time haven't ever made a bestseller list or even been
read by that many people. We're called to obedience, not notoriety. We're
called to significance, not success.

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