Religious Books at Core of Sales Upswing
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Every summer, the publishing industry gathers to discuss ideas and trends. It's called BookExpo, and at this year's convention, the mood was pretty upbeat. Martha Woodroof from member station WMRA tells us why.
MARTHA WOODROOF reporting:
Thirty thousand mostly upbeat souls from all over the world crammed themselves and their wordy wares into New York City's Javits Center for BookExpo. Literary agent Marianne Merola explains why those in the publishing industry have reason to feel so good.
Ms. MARIANNE MEROLA (Literary Agent): Books are selling more and more while all the other media are selling less and less, you know, movies, tickets, DVDs and all that. The big bump in bookselling come from Christian books.
WOODROOF: And it's not really just Christian books. It's all religious books, both fiction and non-fiction, that are selling, although the sales are certainly dominated by books with Christian themes. The Book Industry Study Group commissions regular statistics that track categories within the publishing industry. Dr. Albert Greco of Fordham University, who helps compile these statistics, says religious titles' sales have shown healthy growth any way you track them, including publishers' net dollars.
Dr. ALBERT GRECO (Fordham University): So here you can see total religion, and in '04, it was a little more than 1.9 billion. This year it's going to go to a little above 2.1 billion. This is the fastest-growing category of all the book categories in the United States. I mean, Rick Warren sold, I think, 22 million units. That's a lot of units.
WOODROOF: That's Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life," a religious book which posits that every human has a divine purpose. Of course, sales bumps in book categories come and go. Children's books rocket upward with each new "Harry Potter." Political books did extremely well during last year's presidential campaign. What's unusual about the religious book bump is its longevity. It's really more of a steady uphill climb than a bump. David Moberg is senior vice president of the W Publishing Group, which offers books with a Christian perspective. He says the momentum started with the surprising success of a specific book.
Mr. DAVID MOBERG (Senior Vice President, W Publishing Group): "The Prayer of Jabez," when that was published, shot to the top of The New York Times Best-Seller list, and it was basically a simple little book about a very obscure Old Testament reference, but it was a bit of wisdom that made sense to people about what is worth doing with our time.
WOODROOF: Legions of other titles run the gamut from the mega-selling fictional "Left Behind" series to "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis. The American reading public is spending lots of dollars looking for meaning in 21st-century life. And Gideon Weil, senior editor at HarperCollins San Francisco, says the religious book business is becoming more and more specialized.
Mr. GIDEON WEIL (Senior Editor, HarperCollins San Francisco): You have your Christian books, and then you have your evangelical Christian, then you have your Catholic books. And there's very distinct markets. Every book, you really have to figure out who is that target audience.
WOODROOF: Further complicating the marketing of religious books is America's recent tendency to lump religion and politics together.
Mr. WEIL: Many in the religious community felt like Jesus had been taken from them, their vision of their God was being co-opted for political purposes, and so, you know, people who hadn't written religious books before were throwing their hats into the ring to defend the core tradition against what they thought was an aberration.
WOODROOF: What this means to the book industry is that religious book sales seem set to continue at a brisk pace as Americans seek answers to their current spiritual bewilderment in a time-honored fashion within the pages of a good book. For NPR News, I'm Martha Woodroof.