On the Issue of “Secular” Ownership
This was originally written for Thinking Out Loud, but due to a glitch didn’t get posted until noon today. Some of this is familiar to readers here, but I thought I’d share it here as you’ve probably had this objection raised at least once by customers in your store.
It was a Christian bookstore that was a million miles off most people’s radar and we found it somewhat by chance. Subsequent searching failed to turn it up in a directory of such establishment, or even the Yellow Pages for that matter. Stocking a mixture of English and foreign language products, it had a ‘Mom and Pop’ type of vibe, though a rather large stockroom suggested it was a mix of wholesale and retail.
I got talking to the manager as I browsed, told him of my industry connection, and noted that he didn’t seem to have any Zondervan books or Bibles in his English section.
“We don’t carry them;” he said; “They’re owned by HarperCollins and HarperCollins prints The Satanic Bible.”
End of discussion.
Well, not quite; he didn’t realize what he was taking on here.
It’s true that under its Avon imprint, the company does carry the Anton Le Vey version of that title — there are many books that use the same moniker — but the sole paperback edition at 9.99US/12.50CDN hardly seems worth considering when compared to the over 6,000 titles Zondervan has, not to mention another 900+ under Zonderkidz and let’s not forget at least another 6,500 published under the Thomas Nelson banner. Add in some smaller labels and the ratio is about 14,000:1.
Still, if he were raising the question today, he could have added that HarperOne currently has a chart-topping title in the Self Improvement category by Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. And let’s not forget Charles Silverstein’s The Joy of Gay Sex (Third Edition).
It’s all downhill from there; this information is generally used as a basis for attacking the NIV Bible, because those attacks are generally a house of cards theologically, and need some other external reason to exist. The discussion at an Amazon forum on this is always amusing:
C. Goff: I applaud Hapercollins for respecting free speech and publishing books that offer a variety of perspectives. Perhaps Evangelicals should pool their money and buy an island somewhere, so they can live together in their own theocratic fantasy land. Then they won’t be corrupted by so many sinners who like to think for themselves.
Be Still: Ummm….we did “buy” an island. It was call America, but not look at whats happened because so many people were left to their own “thinking”. Rest assured, corruption commeth from both inside and outside the church. God is the only one good. Not any human.
It goes on and on — there and elsewhere — but I think Joshua really sums up one side of the argument:
Zonderman [sic] is owned by HarperCollins (Satanic Bible, 90% of witchcraft published in world, NIV) which is owned by the devil and Knight of Malta Rupert Murdoch and a Knight of Malta is the first protector of the Antichrist the Pope of the Roman Catholic whore of Babylon church. Jimmy Savile the UK mass child murderer (and mentor of the wife murderer Prince Charles – his other mentor Mountbatten was also a child rapist and a sodomite) is also a Knight of Malta and buried in a Roman Catholic Church in Leeds – he was given a full freemason funeral service. At the 33 degree freemasons receive an Iron cross with a medallion under it and around the medallion is written in Latin: ‘the holy see’ – the Freemason head is the Antichrist – why? – because Freemasonry is also known as the CRAFT and God said in his true and only gospel the King James 1611 bible: Dan 8:25 And through his policy also HE SHALL CAUSE CRAFT TO PROSPER IN HIS HAND; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
But as the chart below shows, there are a very large number of Christian publishing imprints which have secular ownership.
You don’t want to know about Christian record labels, either. This chart of Christian music market share is from 2014, but not much has changed:
So this is a bad situation, right? That depends on your preconceived biases going into the discussion.
- Many of the people making the argument are KJV-only, looking for a reason to attack the NIV which, of all the other translations, has always had a target painted on its back.
- Most of the people making the argument would find a way to reject the ministry of all of the company’s top authors including Rick Warren, Anne Graham Lotz, Lee Strobel, Charles Stanley, Philip Yancey, Henry Cloud, etc. (I will concur, Yancey’s hair could disqualify him from being a Christian.)
But allowing some of these people their fifteen minutes of fame, if Harper’s parent company NewsCorp is basically evil, why would they want to own an imprint like Zondervan?
They bought the company because it looked to them to be a profitable business. They’re in the book business. They wanted to expand. In publishing there are sports books, and cookbooks and science fiction and host of genres of which religious publishing is but one. Furthermore, with a unique arrangement between the company and their printer, mega corporation R.R. Donnelley, they can bring an efficiency to Zondervan’s publishing that can only improve that bottom line.
But what’s in it for Zondervan? They get access not only to HarperCollins’ expertise, but also a distribution channel that brings access to a host of markets they might not otherwise tap: Gift stores, airport boutiques, and foreign market sales just to name a few.
How best to keep your “Christian division” profitable? Leave them alone! Let their acquisitions and marketing people operate with autonomy. Let them do what they do best in a business that they know and understand best.
Back to my discussion with the store manager. What would I say to him differently if we were having the discussion today in 2017.
I’d probably tell him to look no further than the rollout of the new Christian Standard Bible. Happening right now we have a Bible being brought to market by Holman, a division of B&H Publishing, which is a division of LifeWay which was founded back in 1891, and yet they are bringing the new Bible to market a few editions at a time because they don’t have the resources to do it any other way.
However, Zondervan, when they rolled out the 2011 update to the NIV was able to bring hundreds of editions and formats on the same day because they had a parent company who was able to bankroll the whole thing. Furthermore instead of “running out” the older editions, most were remaindered within weeks of the conversion.
Projects like this would simply be a dream if were not for the resources of a major corporation backing them. It also means that these Bible editions are able to reach people in ways that simply wouldn’t happen if the company were still independent.
When you look at the big picture, you have to see this relationship as a blessing, not a curse. In terms of propagating the message of Jesus Christ and building the Kingdom of God, the partnership is a win-win-win.