Multiplication Center

Books: Hard Times for Publishers, Great Times for Readers

December 4, 2009

“For a reader, it’s boom times. There are more options. There’s price competition, there’s format competition. There’s new ways to read. You can get things delivered faster. They’re accessible online. There’s more voices, there’s more communities to serve you. So for readers, it’s terrific.” That statement comes from a recent National Public Radio interview on how the landscape has recently changed in the publishing world.

Far More Titles Than Before

It’s true: U.S. readers have more options than ever before. Besides traditionally published books, with worldwide total at 65 million and counting – Google Books is making an amazing amount of them available online. Others are doing likewise: for example, the University of Michigan library is using some of the scans that were developed in conjunction with Google to make available 400,000 books, old books, public domain books that had gone out of print. That’s equivalent to almost a current year’s output of new titles.

E-books are a fast-growing future. I’ve started reading e-books, though I still prefer the easy portability and ruggedness of print books. But increasingly e-books and print books are releasing hand in hand.

Warren-Bird-books-ALL-2009For example, I have co-authored 21 books (see photo). The most recently released, Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture (Max McLean and Warren Bird, Zondervan, 2009. Book and DVD, 128 pages. ISBN 978-0310292708) came out simultaneously in print and as an e-pub.

Zondervan is certainly not alone in joining that bandwagon. Amazon is claiming that its $259 Kindle wireless reading device, which can hold 1,500 titles out of 350,000 available options, plus blogs, Wikipedia, and various online news sources, is the “hottest gift of the season.” It even contains a text-to-speech feature to let the device speak books aloud. Then flip the switch and continue reading where the text reader left off. Amazing stuff?

In October, 1 out of every 5 new applications launched on the iPhone was a book, according to Online Media Daily, 11/2/09.

YouVersionThe Bible is likewise experiencing creative publishing options. The “Twitter Bible,” which summarizes the over 31,000-verse of Bible into nearly 4,000 short-form tweets, was released at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair. The actual title is And God Decided to Chill, originally in German language. Bobby Gruenewald and others from have released an online version of the bible http://www where people can add maps, photos, and other helpful links.

Yes, Americans Are Reading More Too

For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a January 2009 study named “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy” by the National Endowment for the Arts. The biggest increases are among young adults aged 18 to 24. This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited in previous reports. And nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008, some of them probably on their iPhones. Hopefully all this reading includes an uptick in non-fiction books for Christian leaders as well!

Is There a Publisher in You?

The Shack, which has sold 7 million copies to date, was initially rejected by several publishers and so the author and some business partners published the book on their own in 2007. While this publishing success is extreme and highly unusual, many are trying to follow the same path. As the publishing industry has hit hard times for various reasons, they’ve become quite creative. Industry research firm R.R. Bowker recently announced that self-published books and print-on-demand books together doubled in 2008 compared to a 3% decline of print books.

In recent months major publishers such as Thomas Nelson have launched self-publishing divisions. They join major self-publishing and co-publishing efforts at Winepress Publishing, Xulon Press, B&H’s CrossBooks Publishing, Tate Publishing, and Strang’s Creation House. Publishers are even partnering with other publishers in ways they would never have considered a few years ago.

Keller-Tim Another publishing angle, announced this week, is that Dutton and Riverhead are launching a new imprint devoted to books from evangelical Christian preacher Timothy Keller and his Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller started Redeemer in Manhattan in 1989. A New York story said that today, roughly 25,000 people download his sermons every week. According to a recent article in New York Magazine, Keller draws some 5,000 Manhattanites to hear his sermons every Sunday, has previously published bestsellers with Dutton and Riverhead. One of them, The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, spent 13 weeks on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. On October 20, 2009, Dutton released Keller’s third hardcover, Counterfeit Gods.

The Redeemer imprint will launch its first two titles in 2011 and will only publish books from Redeemer. As a friend emailed me this morning, “This is a huge development.” If publishers do it with Keller, look for them to do it with other top-selling pastors like Rick Warren and Max Lucado, he suggested.

Is now the time for you? I recently blogged on “Turning Your Idea Into a Book” with tips for first-time authors. If that’s something God is calling you to, take a look – or consider writing a blog or magazine article instead. But whatever you do, keep reading. As I say above, it’s the best of worlds today for readers.

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