Thursday, May 17, 2007

How many new Christian books are there?

[This is a post I wrote for IVP's Behind the Books blog.]

A few months ago an industry friend e-mailed me and asked if I knew how many new Christian books are published each year. I wasn't sure. I know that overall, in terms of total new English language books published in North America, the number has ballooned from about 55,000 a year when I started in publishing in the mid-90s to 178,000 (as of 2005) or perhaps even over 200,000 now. The growth is largely a result of print-on-demand technologies and self-publishing vehicles being much more available. And something like 70,000 new publishers have cropped up in the last few years. Some of those are things like alumni associations publishing a book of alumni reflections, but even so, there are a lot more independent small publishers now. I have also heard a figure of something like 8,000 or 9,000 new religion titles published each year, the vast majority of which are Christian, but I haven't been able to nail that down.

Well, in an article in Publishers Weekly, I finally saw some concrete numbers. PW quotes Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, as saying that ECPA publishers published about 7,500 new books in 2005, but that number has declined to about 5,900 new titles in 2006. "Most of our publishers are trying to figure out how to get more out of fewer books," he said.

Whatever the number, the sheer quantities are still staggering. That's a lot of books fighting for shelf space and media attention. IVP publishes about 100 books a year, not including paperback editions of previously released hardcovers or other reprints. That's less than 2% of all the new Christian titles each year. I'm personally responsible for the acquisition, development and publication of about 12 to 15 of IVP's titles each year. It's humbling to think about how much work goes into the publishing of a book, and then to realize that that book is barely a drop in the ocean.

The same issue of PW quotes an author who says that if authors are feeling cocky and self-important about their work, all you have to do is go to a bookstore - "Tolstoy could go into a bookstore and say, 'Wow, nobody needs War and Peace; there's plenty of stuff to read!' If the bookstore doesn't depress you, go to BEA [BookExpo America, the annual trade show for the American bookselling industry]: it'll be very clear how unimportant your work is."

Despite the numbers, what keeps us going and keeps us publishing is that our books seem to be making contributions that people find helpful. I get a kick out of searching for our book titles on Blogger and seeing who's reading our books. We know that folks have infinite options for their discretionary time these days, not just the multitudes of books but all forms of entertainment media, so we are honored when people choose to spend time with our books. We try hard to make them worth your while, and we hope that they're helpful to you.


L.L. Barkat said...

This is a comment I wrote for the post that you wrote for IVP's Behind the Books blog...

"Yes, going to a bookstore is a humbling experience. In fact, it's probably best not to do that while writing one's manuscript. Oh, the pressure!"

(Sorry, couldn't resist. :)

Michelle said...

Yes, I appreciate IVP's offering of books. When I worked at a Christian bookstore, I tried to favor good IVP titles I'd read by showing them face out. I'm always excited to see what's coming out soon. And I request that my local library purchases some of them too!

I hope to review books one day when I'm a librarian, and if I'm assigned the religion section, I'll definitely advocate for some IVP titles. I appreciate the way they provoke thought in a balanced way, convict me of my unfaithfulness and God's faithfulness, and address topics such as race relations that other publishers might ignore.