Boom in Bible Publishing

Have a look at at this interesting article, from The New Yorker, about the boom in Bible publishing:

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.

Much of the article focusses on the publication of speicalty Bibles. That is, bible targeted at specific segments of the population:

“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.”

I don’t really have much to say about any of this, beyond recommending the entire article. I’ll leave you with one more excerpt:

The popularization of the Bible entered a new phase in 2003, when Thomas Nelson created the BibleZine. Wayne Hastings described a meeting in which a young editor, who had conducted numerous focus groups and online surveys, presented the idea. “She brought in a variety of teen-girl magazines and threw them out on the table,” he recalled. “And then she threw a black bonded-leather Bible on the table and said, ‘Which would you rather read if you were sixteen years old?’” The result was “Revolve,” a New Testament that looked indistinguishable from a glossy girls’ magazine. The 2007 edition features cover lines like “Guys Speak Their Minds” and “Do U Rush to Crush?” Inside, the Gospels are surrounded by quizzes, photos of beaming teen-agers, and sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty secrets:

Have you ever had a white stain appear underneath the arms of your favorite dark blouse? Don’t freak out. You can quickly give deodorant spots the boot. Just grab a spare toothbrush, dampen with a little water and liquid soap, and gently scrub until the stain fades away. As you wash away the stain, praise God for cleansing us from all the wrong things we have done. (1 John 1:9)

“Revolve” was immediately popular with teen-agers. “They weren’t embarrassed anymore,” Hastings said. “They could carry it around school, and nobody was going to ask them what in the world it is.” Nelson quickly followed up with other titles, including “Refuel,” for boys; “Blossom,” for tweens; “Real,” for the “vibrant urban crowd” (it comes bundled with a CD of Christian rap); and “Divine Health,” which has notes by the author of the best-selling diet book “What Would Jesus Eat?” To date, Nelson has sold well over a million BibleZines.

That’s what it takes for your average religious teenager to not feel embarrassed. Meanwhile, Dawkins gets lectured for not giving proper respect to academic theology. Charming.


  1. #1 Roy
    December 27, 2006

    The press never points out that ‘the Bible’ is a number of versions competing to be the ‘one truth’. In all the press noise over getting the Ten Commandments into schools or courthouses, why does no one ask which version of the Ten Commandments is at issue? This matters, because different sects have different ideas which ten commandments make up ‘The Ten’.

  2. #2 Kevin
    December 27, 2006

    Really? I thought the 10 commandments were pretty much set in stone, so to speak.

  3. #3 Elijah
    December 27, 2006

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. I know what to get my niece for Christmas next year…

  4. #4 Crudely Wrott
    December 27, 2006

    Kevin, the only things set in stone are mountains and they are shifting and moving about continuously. The fact that there are more than exactly one really true Bible is terminal to any claim of its authenticity and authority. This applies specifically to its printed incarnation; the quotations offered by any ad- or non-adherent are not guaranteed to be faithful to the printed page and therefore must be cut a little slack. But not much.

  5. #5 Kevin
    December 27, 2006

    Don’t get me wrong here, I realize there are 2000 different versions of the bible and that the early church got to pick and choose what they wanted in it. However, I was pretty much under the impression that the 10 commandments were rather standard throughout – I was questioning Roy’s statement.

  6. #6 wintermute
    December 27, 2006

    Kevin: Moses smashed the 10 commandments that we all know, and he was given another set in Exodus 34, that read as follows:

    1. Worship no other god than Yahweh: Make no covenant with the inhabitants of other lands to which you go, do not intermarry with them, and destroy their places of worship.
    2. Do not cast idols.
    3. Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days in the month of Abib.
    4. Sacrifice firstborn male animals to Yahweh. The firstborn of a donkey may be redeemed; redeem firstborn sons.
    5. Do no work or even kindle a fire on the seventh day. Anyone who does so will be put to death.
    6. Observe the Feast of First Fruits and the Feast of Ingathering: All males are therefore to appear before Yahweh three times each year.
    7. Do not mix sacrificial blood with leavened bread.
    8. Do not let the fat of offerings remain until the morning.
    9. Bring the choicest first fruits of the harvest to the Temple of Yahweh.
    10. Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.

    And yet, no-one seems to want to put up monuments to these updated commandments…. Maybe they think God was wrong to change them.

  7. #7 Kevin
    December 27, 2006

    True, Moses was given a 2nd set of commandments. Again, no argument. But Roy’s statement was that different Christian sects had different 10 Commandments. I have never heard that, and am still wondering what sects have a different set than the “standard” 10?

  8. #8 Badger3k
    December 27, 2006

    Here’s a link to Positive Atheism’s “Which 10 Commandments?” page –

    From a Jewish member of a discussion forum I am on, a long time ago, the actual 10 commandments didn’t change, but the ones given in Exodus 34 were something else. From a Jewish perspective, the whole of Exodus is written non-chronologically, and to read it correctly, you have to jump around quite a bit. Personally, it just sounds like rationalization to try to explain the multiple sources/writers, and the sloppy way it was written, but I didn’t go for more explanation, and perhaps I am not remembering it correctly.

  9. #9 Scott Simmons
    December 27, 2006

    Oddly, the author clearly states in Exodus 34:1 that the words in the reprint will be ” … the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.” (KJV) So either Exodus 20 has the wrong commandments, or Exodus 34 does, or Exodus 34:1 is incorrect that the two versions are the same.

    Oh, and Kevin, Deuteronomy 5 has yet another version of the T.C., which is similar but not identical to the Exodus 20 version. And none of these lists are actually numbered 1-10; Exodus 20 lists about nineteen separate rules under that heading, which are grouped differently into a list of ten by different religions/denominations. (Exodus 20 does not contain a reference to the number of commandments, but Deuteronomy 4 and Deuteronomy 10 both number them at ten, clearly in reference to the rules in Deuteronomy 5, which are nearly identical to the Exodus 20 list. Exodus 34 also indicates that there are ten commandments, although that list is much easier to group into the ten items wintermute lists above. It takes some shoehorning to get the Exodus 20 list down below about twelve.)

  10. #10 Badger3k
    December 27, 2006

    Forgot to say what I wanted to after reading it – I, like many atheists I know, has several versions of the bible, and we probably read it closer than many believers. I wonder how many of those who read the bible weekly do so with an open mind, rather than read into it what they want (and ignore what they want as well). I do see this as being bad from a scholarship angle – since people will have one more layer of “translation” on top of all the others through the ages, although it won’t affect actual scholars. Still, will we see innerantists claiming that Jesus really did say “Turn the other cheek, dude!” ?

  11. #11 Jon H
    December 28, 2006

    I bet a lot of people would freak out if they got an inkling of how many Bibles must be thrown out every day.

    And think of how much of the Word gets chewed up in the printing press, or otherwise thrown out before it even gets to a retailer.

  12. #12 Kevin
    December 28, 2006

    Yeah, I’m aware of the fact that there are a couple different 10 commandments in the bible, but I still want to know which christian sects don’t accept the standard 10 we all know and love…

  13. #13 Andy
    December 28, 2006

    Roy said, “The press never points out that ‘the Bible’ is a number of versions competing to be the ‘one truth’.”

    Did anyone else notice the firestorm surrounding the release of “The Da Vinci Code” and the “Gospel of Judas”? I think the idea of the Bible as a book built from a number of versions of “Truth” is pretty firmly established in the popular press (much to the bane of many fundamentalists, and apparently without the notice of at least one person here). Heck, we were taught that in the little country church in which I grew up.

    As for Kevin’s question about different “sects” accepting different version of the commandments, different Judeo-Christian denominations “endorse” different numbering systems (as alluded to by a few folks already). For instance, the Catholics and Lutherans split the “covet” commandments into two (9 and 10), but I’m told that non-Lutheran Protestants and those of the Jewish faith keep them as one (10). The page and many any other treatments of the 10 (even many Christian pages) give a nice table showing the differences. So, it’s not *quite* as drastic a difference as perhaps Kevin was thinking (unless, of course, you’re talking about Exodus 34 – don’t know of any group that considers them the “real” 10, though).

    Regarding this Bible publishing business, many Christians find the marketing of the Bible like this quite silly and somewhat distasteful. It is part and parcel of this whole Christian marketing subculture, which rakes in a whole ton of money (and produces some pretty ridiculous merchandise in the process – most of it is Christian-themed knock-offs of pop-culture kitsch. Come to think of it, this describes pretty much any pro-/anti- religion merchandise.).

    Personally, I find my PDF of the NRSV (with English translation of the Koran) to be far more useful and convenient.

  14. #14 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 28, 2006

    According to the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, forty-seven per cent of Americans read the Bible every week.

    I find that very hard to believe. I have no problem accepting that people own Bibles, and buy Bibles, but read them? How then can statistics like these be explained?

    Only 1/3 of Americans know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (more people identified Billy Graham rather than Jesus)
    Twelve percent of Christians think that Noah’s wife is Joan of Arc.

  15. #15 Kevin
    December 28, 2006

    OK, so if the catholics and lutherans have the covets be 9 and 10, and the rest just have them as 10 – what’s 9 for them? And I also wonder why…are the covets ambiguous somehow depending on bible translation/version?

  16. #16 Andy
    December 28, 2006


    Probably the easiest thing to explain that difference is to again refer you to the chart at, wikipedia, etc. The Catho-Lutheran version compresses 1 and 2 of the “standard Protestant” version into a single commandment, so then 10 of the “standard Protestant” is expanded into 9 and 10. 9 for the “standard Protestants” is the “no false witness” one, and so on.

    At any rate, the division of these into discrete commandments is something done after the initial writing of the biblical texts. I would suppose that the “need” for a nice and even ten commandments drove the various splitting and lumping schemes. Not sure how ambiguous or not the covets are.

  17. #17 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 28, 2006

    And I also wonder why…are the covets ambiguous somehow depending on bible translation/version?

    Here’s evidence that Protestant Fundies seem to have trouble with the seventh commandment. I suspect the “covets” are combine into a generic number 10 so that these God-fearing folks won’t have to use the word “ass.” This is my own suspicion and is not backed by research.

  18. #18 Blake Stacey
    December 28, 2006

    In the quoted article, Wayne Hastings says,

    And then she threw a black bonded-leather Bible on the table and said, “Which would you rather read if you were sixteen years old?”

    I knew a few sixteen-year-old girls who would go for anything in black, bonded leather.

  19. #19 Curt Sampson
    December 29, 2006

    Well, this discussion clearly indicates that many people here have a lot to learn about the ten commandments, which provides even further justification for posting them up in public buildings:

    (Though of course the video itself appears to provide sufficient justification for that.)

New comments have been disabled.