The news from religious publishing is so fascinating, I must bring it up again. From tiny signs that religion/spirituality publishing has a pulse, to the status of specific projects … Christians and the religious are seeing a plethora of publishing initiatives.
Publishers Weekly editor Lynn Garrett noted the following this past week:
“In the midst of a steady diet of bad news, it’s nice to come upon some encouraging signs. First, if Publishers Weekly’s Fall Religion Announcements (July 26 issue) are any gauge, publishers in the category are investing in a better time to come, with increased title output for that critical season. There are big books from major authors and a healthy crop of offerings in all of religion/spirituality’s multifarious subject areas.
“Second, according to Above the Treeline data released last week, in the first half of 2010 large indie bookstores – those with annual sales of more than $2 million – saw a 1-percent uptick in sales. Many religion specialty retailers are among the 51 stores that report. While small in the great scheme of things, that increase still moves religion books in the right direction, a sign of hope for all of us who care.”
Note this odd bit of news, somewhat relevant: Curtis Riskey, Christian Booksellers Association’s executive director, is closing his store, B.A.S.I.C. Books and Café, in Oshkosh, Wis. O.U.C.H.
Association figures for the recent International Christian Retail Show in St. Louis reveal that the attendance of buying professionals was 1,593, or flat, as compared to 1,605 in professional attendance in 2009.
No, those figures are down, not flat.
While these numbers don’t mean the sales of Christian books have fallen off dramatically, they do reflect that due to the economy, stores and other retailers/ministries are not spending money to travel to shows. They are relying instead on e-mail and print catalogs, etc.
For some time, there has been a cooperation blooming between purely Christian publishers and publishers of religion/spirituality. Some of those seeds were sown 20 years ago when Christian Booksellers Association publishers began attending the BookExpo America show and rubbing elbows with all manner of religion publishers. As association sales shot upward in the 1990s, on the strength of books by people like Max Lucado and, later, Beth Moore, large New York houses took notice. The end result has been the sale of association houses like Howard to titans like Simon and Schuster.
Now, one of the logical outcomes of such a partnership is the addition of secular books into the Christian market. As the culture becomes less biblical – polling data reveal extremely disturbing trends among young people, i.e., they have little biblical knowledge – publishers will contribute to that by “secularizing” their lists.
Even a decade ago, Bible studies based on the classic “Andy Griffith Show” were being produced. Andy and friends were wonderful, but it wasn’t a Christian show. This kind of emphasis on easy, clever, but gimmicky publishing is contributing to the biblical illiteracy in the U.S. If confronted with a choice of reading a Bible, or holding a Bible while participating in a glossy Bible study that involves watching episodes of classic TV sitcoms … most people are opting out of straight Bible study.
We must be entertained.
Again, a logical outcome of this strategy is the blending of Christian and secular. So it comes as no surprise that Tyndale House is looking that direction as well, with Harper Lee’s iconic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The publisher, still flush with cash from the “Left Behind” series, is “hurrying out a book that treats the spiritual themes of the classic from a Christian perspective.”
Of course they are. Next month some Christian Booksellers Association heavy will publish the spiritual themes of the classic “The Happy Hooker.”
I’m kidding, of course.
I think it will take longer than a month.
This is my contention, if we’re discussing Christian publishing:
If you don’t produce materials that affirm the veracity of Scripture – its history, science where it touches on it and philosophy for life, the public will look elsewhere for spiritual nourishment. That’s why Christian publishers are now on the rat wheel of producing ever-more-glossy studies and books based on cultural figures.
It reminds me a bit of the Bible study I signed up for once. About two dozen of us at church were excited. As the weeks passed, I noticed more dropping out, so that by the end of the study, only six of remained. The reason? The author of the study undermined the Bible itself by alleging that much of the Old Testament is myth. When one does that, readers instinctively understand that the Bible doesn’t have much lasting value for them. They will then turn toward other sacred writings, programs and conferences in the search for spiritual nourishment.
One last point on this theme, and please stay with me.
The sharp decline of America’s Christian heritage began late in the 19th century. Up to that time, religious publishing brought us the works of Andrew Murray and Charles Spurgeon. But after the Darwinian groupie Herbert Spencer spread his philosophy of death through a series of university lectures along the east coast, and after infamous New Age spiritualist Madame Blavatsky spread her message through New York, things began to slowly change in America. Our cultural rot and disengagement from our Christian heritage began in earnest with these two individuals.
In the case of “Mockingbird,” author Matt Litton shopped around “The Mockingbird Parables.” Thomas Nelson initially bit, but dropped the project in a “belt-tightening move.”
An aside: several years ago, the Christian publishing juggernaut shocked – shocked – Tim LaHaye by publishing an “anti” prophecy project by Hank Hanegraaff. I don’t remember that the project did well – certainly it didn’t approach “Left Behind” numbers. But LaHaye shouldn’t have been surprised at all; Christian publishers are not driven by ideology anymore; they are driven by the hunt for cash. Hanegraaff’s project was a “failed” experiment that Tyndale obviously thought was worth doing, in order to widen market share by appealing to, say, Lutherans and folks from a Reformed theology.
Back to Atticus Finch – Publishers Weekly’s article quotes Litton: “What does Litton hope to achieve with ‘The Mockingbird Parables’? ‘I think today we’ve lost our sense of community, of connectedness,’ he said. Before television and other electronic devices became ubiquitous, Litton noted, ‘People used to sit out on their front porches. They used to go “visiting” on Sundays. Now we are much more isolated from each other, and the church is a part of that, too.’”
Note that “community” and “connectedness” are center-left buzzwords in the Christian community today. This is more of a sign that Christian publishers are moving in this direction, not in the direction of conservative Christians, who must find good relevant books among the handful of like-minded publishers today, or in secondhand shops.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is an iconic title. Just as “The Andy Griffith Show” still makes us all laugh.
One wonders, though, how they will help Christians really dig deeper into the faith.