Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Books, Books, Books

The Internet Monk begs for some linkage to his series on Christian Marketing, so since he's always worth reading, here we go. Check out his many other excellent posts and essays while you're there.

So I've often wondered why Evangelical Protestant bookselling goes on like a house afire, where Catholic bookselling doesn't. Go into a Christian (i.e. Evangelical) store and then into a Catholic one, and see who has walls and walls of books, and who has a little section of books tucked away behind the racks of prayer cards. What is the Catholic equivalent to monster phenomenons like The Prayer of Jabez, or The Purpose-Driven Life, or the Left Behind series? Not in terms of content, but of popularity and sales. Even if you figure that Catholics have less cultural solidarity than do Evangelicals, and so are less likely to have uniform bookbuying habits, the nevertheless large number of serious, mass-attending orthodox Catholics doesn't seem to have an impact on Catholic book marketing, which lingers in the basement. Name one bestselling Catholic book of the last ten years that was significant enough in sales to be noticed by the secular media.

One possibility is that the seriously Catholic (and therefore likely Catholic book-buying) market share is more interested in buying older writings than newer. If the Catholic analogue to Rick Warren is Thomas a Kempis, and if your parish friends are recommending The Imitation of Christ or The Story of a Soul at least as often as they're recommending Scott Hahn or Fr. Benedict Groeschel, then it's not going to support a booming book market. Is there an Evangelical equivalent to TAN Publishers or Sophia Press, which are doing a strong business selling reprints of Catholic books with expired copyrights?

Anyway I think this has some traction as a homeschooling issue, or at least as a broader education issue. About half of U.S. homeschoolers would self-describe as Evangelical or fundamental Christians. If their book-buying habits are already so overwhelming just from their religious identity, does this have a relation to the mushrooming market in homeschooling materials, as sellers figure out where the book-buying money is migrating? I would love to see some hard numbers on the sales of homeschooling materials over the last several years, especially broken down between Christian and secular-oriented materials. And if Frank Turk (go follow the iMonk's links) thinks there's a problem in providing an "interpretive grid" for orthodoxy in Christian bookselling, that goes triple for Christian homeschooling materials, where buyers want to know not just what's orthodox (whether that means Ev. or Cath.) but also what's educationally serious, accurate, and useful. Where are the independent websites with reviews (beyond a few niche sites like love2learn) to help homeschoolers sort through the ever-growing mountains of materials?


Anonymous amy said...

Funny, just last night I saw The Imitation of Christ at our local HEB checkout alongside The Purpose Drive Life. It made me smile.

7:57 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

When I see people with Christian symbols (excluding big pictures of Mary) and Christian stickers on the back of their cars, I tend to think they are protestant. When I see crosses, rosaries, and prayer ropes hanging from the rearview mirror, I think "Catholic" or "Orthodox". I know this is not always accurate, but I think it would be a fun activity to go to different churches from the branches of Christianity and do a survey in regards to this. I think my perception would be proven to be true. Not that it's impt, but maybe my dear daughter and I will do it sometime, just for fun. (And yes, we're kind of weird.)
I believe Evangelicals work hard to write books which will appeal to a mass audience in order to evangelize. They put symbols and stickers on their cars in order to evangelize. As a whole, I think they are more outwardly focussed than Catholics and Orthodox Christians. This should be expected since they ARE "evangelicals". (Everyone in my extended family is evangelical, and I think they would agree?)
From my experience, I think the emphasis on books and other items at C and O books stores are on "learning" and "living" the faith once you are a Catholic or Orthodox Christian.
A Protestant co-worker of my husbands initiated a study group of "The Purpose Driven Life". One non-christian who went told my husband that the book just had some good, life principles. So he kept coming even though it didn't appeal to him spiritually.
"On the Incarnation" would not be described as a book of good principles and would not appeal to a mass market. It wasn't written with an eye on "mass market" appeal.
A friend of mine always wondered why the "Prayer of Jabez" couldn't have just been shared for free if it was really meant to help people in their faith. There are tons of prayers that are published online for free like the one "the opinionated homeschooler" shared for the novena, but that's not quite as savvy.
I remember when I was a Protestant and thinking of becoming a missionary, I heard a missionary complain about how CBD (Chistian Book Distributors) had a huge section of homeschooling books, but not even a page on missionaries. Over the years, I have watched the section of homeschooling materials get bigger and bigger, to the point now, where it has it's own substantial catalogue. Orthodox Christians don't have decent Sunday School curriculum, much less, homeschooling materials. So, I always thumb through it, but find little of interest to me there. I think you need to start a website, opinionated homeschooler, where buyers can find out not just what's orthodox (whether that means Ev. or Cath.) but also what's educationally serious, accurate, and useful. :)

11:10 AM  

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