If you are a porn-star, there is a Bible for you. If you are a cowboy, there is a Bible for you. If you are looking for style, then there is a Bible-purse hybrid for you.
The Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year, of all time. More than 90 percent of American households own a Bible, and according to the Barna Group, the average household owns three. But how do you sell something to the American population who already own enough that, when stacked together creates a tower almost 1,000 times the height of Mount Everest?
Bible publishers look for ways to bring the Bible to every demographic and then develop the Bibles with those audiences in mind, said Laura Rowe, the Bible Group Marketing Coordinator at one of the world’s largest Bible publishers, Thomas Nelson. “Bible publishing is not a ‘one size fits all’ venture, but rather it is an industry that strives to meet people where they are and give them the tools to strengthen their understanding of the Scriptures,” Rowe said.
The modern Bible industry has seen a growing trend of Bibles marketed to specific audiences. There is the FaithGirlz! Bible, a newlyweds Bible, and even a comic Bible featuring the ready-to-save-the-world superhero, Jesus Christ. Besides content and style, there are Bibles bearing different functions, such as the waterproof and tear-proof outdoors Bible.
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Less than 10 years ago, Thomas Nelson created the BibleZine, which to date, has sold more than a million copies. Designed to look like fashion magazines, BibleZines feature the Gospels surrounded by quizzes, sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty tips, and Q&A’s dealing with boyfriends, flirting, and sex.
“BibleZines were developed with the realization that magazines are the printed medium that teens read more than any other,” Rowe said. According to Rowe, BibleZines are able to provide additional content that helps teens better understand the Scriptures and how it directly applies to their lives.
After the first BibleZines release, teen girls were given an option they never had before, said Wayne Hastings, the former vice president and publisher of Thomas Nelson’s Bible Division. “We got incredible emails from girls who were reading the bible more and so comfortable carrying a bible because it looked like a magazine instead of grandma’s black bible,” he said.
But not everyone in the religious community has welcomed BibleZines with such praise.
“BibleZines are some of the worst of the lot, many steps removed from the actual Word of God,” said Paul Elliott, President of Teaching the Word Ministries. Elliott, who said the Bible is the only source of truth, said, “Rather than confronting young people with the truth, they inoculate them against it.”
Many of what publishers are calling Bibles are not faithful translations of the original text, Elliott said. “Today, Bibles are developed as human products to be marketed, not God’s word to be believed. And so,” Elliott said, “publishers are producing many products called Bibles that aren’t the Bible.”
“Spiritually speaking, they’re valueless. They aren’t God’s word–just man’s word,” Elliott said. According to Elliott, translations written to specific audiences mean that the intended meaning of the words is irrelevant. He said it should be about what a book says to the person or to their community.
“This philosophy stimulates a horribly wrong motive for Bible publication,” he added.
But according to Rowe, “The goal is to spread the Word of God to people in new ways that touch them.” She said they try and make each Bible produced touch the lives of the people that use it, and added, “not only the traditional Christian market but the general market as well.”
Bible publishers look to see who is under-served with current Bible offerings and ask the question, “What Bible product will offer something that benefits new audiences?” Rowe said.
One of the industry’s most recent developments are audio Bibles, such as Word of Promise. While the first audio recordings of the Bible were made available to the public with phonograph records in 1966, these new Bibles can be used in non-traditional places, such as driving, exercising or working, Rowe said. “The new dramatized Bibles have transformed Bible reading by allowing people to hear the Bible in new ways when they are on the go.”
Hastings said the niche Bible trend is customer driven. “People are always looking for new and unique ways to hear and understand God’s voice.”
It’s a balancing act between art and science, said Hastings. “You have to look at real data from many sources and find trends–but you also have to pray for creativity and that gut feeling that something will work with the consumer.”