Christian Fiction is on the decline, as overall book sales have plummeted 15% from 2013 to 2014. Today we look at some of the reasons why this sector is crashing and what the industry is doing about it.
Publishers are not too concerned right now with the decrease in Christian book sales, whether its print or digital. Instead of lamenting how their industry is suffering, they are trying to make it work.
David Lewis, the VP of sales and marketing at Baker Publishing Group, said “Our trade paper fiction revenue declined by 8%, our e-book revenue increased by 3%, and our cloth fiction has increased by 45%.”
HarperCollins Christian Publishing is pumping out close to 60 new titles each year and “our program is showing revenue growth over last year,” said Daisy Hutton, VP of fiction. “Print is here to stay, but the category is undergoing a period of reinvention. The migration to digital reading is part of this, but the changing demands of our readers are an even bigger factor.”
The changing demands of readers basically boils down to two things, the amount of free content that is available digitally and brick and motor stores discounting Christian fiction in abundance.
One of the big reasons why Christian fiction right now is on the decline is authors are no longer getting good incentives from traditional publishing companies. Literary agent Chip MacGregor said in a recent blog post that “Christian fiction is really struggling. That’s become obvious to me over the past couple of years, and I’ve discussed it with many other agents. Several houses have stopped doing inspirational fiction, others have trimmed back their lists, still others have simply put a “freeze” on new acquisitions, so it’s become evident that it’s a tough time to be trying making a living writing Christian fiction.”
When it comes to book data, Nielsen is likely the most trusted source. The company gets sales information from all of the major online retailers and stores that sell print. The big problem, is that they are only able to fetch data on content that have ISBN numbers. Self-published e-books do not necessary need one to be published by Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Kobo. Nobody really knows how well Christian fiction is doing on those platforms, as the companies rarely breakdown sales in this manner. Despite the unknowns, traditionally published authors are starting to take control over their own destiny and are electing to self-publish.
Ava Morgan is a traditionally published author who stated “As an author who published traditionally for the Christian/inspirational market in the past, I agree about the changing demands of readers being one of the factors for sales decline. People come from all walks of life and the CBA (Christian Book Association)has been slow to address the lack of diversity in the titles it allows to be published. For instance, I tend to write stories with multicultural and multiethnic characters who overcome adversity, be it financial, social, etc. I’ve had several issues with editors and publishers asking me to tone down the characters’ hardships or change their race because it may make the readership “a little nervous”. As to whom this narrow readership is, I cannot say, because when I attend church and go to Christian events, I encounter people of many different colors, shapes, lifestyles, and levels of faith. Unfortunately, there are powers-that-be within the Christian book market who are so afraid of offending a select few, that they choose to continue offering books to appeal to one segment of the Christian population that is getting smaller every day. A problem very clearly seen in the secular book market as well, when publishers keep releasing the same one-storyline-fits-all books to generate sales.
Inspirational writers are starting to self-publish as a way to reach the changing Christian reader demographic. As both a Christian and African-American woman, I feel that my demographic is not adequately represented in CBA fiction. Later this year, I’ll be self-publishing under my real name a historical Christian romance featuring African-American protagonists. It’s truly a blessing to live in an age of publishing where you can independently get your story out into the world without fear of gatekeepers.”
Authors who elect to self-publish should be wary about the sheer number of options out there. Amazon is likely the best move, but requires technical knowledge on how to actually create a digital book from a Microsoft Word Document. It is important to beware of the scams and shady companies out there that are more concerned with taking your money, than publishing your book. Donald L. Hughes of Christian Writing Today offered some advice “There are many Christian companies these days that pretend to take the marketing and book manufacturing process off your shoulders. They include such names as Xulon, Westbow or Winepress. These companies will charge you an arm and a leg for services that you can do on your own or with the help of a consultant. These companies actually do little more than the old-time vanity presses; you have to think twice about what that will do to your credibility as a writer. And, if you use profitability as a measure of your ability to gain readership, then these companies will not help you. They take such a big chunk of money for their editorial and design services that they leave nothing on the table for you.”