More than 50% of Christian Book publishing is in secular hands, and all but one major Bible translation, at least in the English speaking world.
What an eye-opener to be invited to The Big Book Bonanza last night in Dublin by HCCP [Harper Collins Christian Publishing].
It was a showcase for the whole Harper Collins stable, both Christian and secular. A far cry from CRT [Christian Resources Together], the annual Christian Book publishing trade show / retreat in England.
It was in the fashionable Light House Cinema & Bar in Smithfield in central Dublin, where the champagne was flowing on arrival. Then a very impressive film presentation about new titles for the coming year, shot especially for this Dublin event, complete with popcorn and more champagne. The range of genres and titles was enormous, and I was fast realising my ignorance of the general book trade. Then a drinks reception with many well-known authors, from Ireland and abroad. And yes, you guessed it, a great deal more champagne, this time with delicious finger food. Cecelia Ahern and Rachel Allen were two of the authors whose names I recognised.
When we left after 3 hours, the party was only beginning! But while a most enjoyable evening, it was strangely disturbing.
Among a large crowd of retailers, only four of us represented the Christian trade; a Cork couple, myself, and Nigel Reid, Pastor of Mountain View Community Church, the spiritual home of ChristianBooks.ie. Rowan Miller of HCCP, who hosted us, used to run the bookshop in HTB church, the home of the Alpha Course, so we enjoyed chatting. But it did feel a little as if we were a little Christian bubble within a secular event.
Cookery, health, mindfulness and aesthetics were presented as the main non-fiction areas, with beauty and parenting featuring also. We were sad that not a single Christian title made it into the presentation. I sell books as a tool in God’s hands to change people’s lives, part of His prophetic now word to the church. But I was left pondering the motivation of secular booksellers and indeed authors.
What shocked me most was that no expense seemed to have been spared. The marketing budget must be unlike anything in the Christian trade. At CRT, a publisher is thought very generous to sponsor a glass of wine for each delegate, but this was no average champagne, nor film, food or venue. All the retailers seemed genuinely upbeat, whereas at CRT there are always a fair number struggling to keep afloat at all, and amongst suppliers there have been many casualties in recent years. Despite the statistics, at CRT there is always some moaning about eBooks, and what is referred to as the A-word [they can’t even bear to say Amazon], but not so in Smithfield. I concluded that Christian Book publishing really is a niche market in an increasingly secular society, so print runs are small and marketing budgets almost non-existent. One used to be able squeeze an occasional poster or dumpbin [cardboard display unit] out of a sales rep, but not any longer.
HCCP now encompasses both Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, and is part of Rupert Murdoch’s ’empire’, so more than 50% of Christian Book publishing is in secular hands. This makes many Christian retailers uncomfortable. I’ve likewise been told many times that there is now only one major English Bible translation still in Christian ownership. However Rowan told us that while there is only himself and one colleague in the UK and Ireland arm of HCCP, they are treated with the utmost respect by their many colleagues in other areas of Harper Collins, and given every assistance. Instead of these developments being a retrograde step, could it be that they are positive, and being part of a larger organisation can facilitate Christian Book publishing. What do you think?
Oh, and we each left with a hefty goody bag of new titles, and I’m really enjoying the latest ‘Hercule Poirot’, written by Sophie Hannah!