Financial Times, Mar. 21, 2003
By Alison Beard in New York
Americans braced for war at the start of the year by turning to religion, boosting sales of Bibles, testaments, hymnals and prayerbooks by 37 per cent in January.
According to figures released this week, US publishers collected nearly $15m in religious book revenues in the first month of 2003, despite a 7 per cent sales decline in “other religious” category.
“Is this a result of the war? … A fear of the unknown? Could be,” said Mark Rice, a spokesman for Zondervan, a subsidiary of News Corp’s HarperCollins and the world’s leading Bible publisher. “After 9/11, Bible sales spiked from right after the attacks, all the way through February of the next year.”
His company went from shipping $500,000 worth of Bibles each week before the terrorist attacks to shipping $1m each week for months after. Still, revenues from Bible sales this January were 10 per cent higher than the inflated total achieved in the month last year.
Zondervan has followed up a strong 2002 seller from its “other religious” category – a revised edition of Where is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey – with this year’s The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, which is now the second most popular hardcover advice book in the US after eight weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
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Hit titles and sharp increases in sales are not typical for religious publishers. “It’s a slow-and-steady but growing business,” said Andy Rittenberry, a research analyst covering media stocks at Gabelli Asset Management. “In the US, you would think that religion was on the downturn, but the growth has been in the inspirational books and in international sales.”
According to the Association of American Publishers, religious books sales climbed an average 2.2 per cent a year since over the last five years. By comparison, adult and juvenile trade publications have posted a growth rate of 3.5 per cent, but yearly performance has been more erratic.
The Bible sub-category is growing at annual rate of nearly 3 per cent, with most sales coming in the periods before the big Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter.
The unseasonal January spike may be an anomaly, but with the war in Iraq beginning this month, religious publishers may need to ramp up operations again as they did after September 11.