A few weeks ago I encountered a Bible with an 8.5 point font being passed off as large print. I’m quite sure my customers would disagree. Of course there’s more to readability than just point size. There’s also,
- the degree of inking in the print process (can vary even within a single Bible)
- the space between lines (leading)
- the type of font used (sans serif fonts seem to be cleaner)
- the bleed from the page(s) underneath (paper thickness)
Customers with reading difficulty are quick to mention all of these as well as differing opinions on red letter editions. (On your computer, does that stand out more, or does the black stand out more?)
We definitely are in need of a uniform industry standard which all publishers must conform to. If publishers won’t agree to do this, we at least need the point size indicated on the product packaging.
This review is appearing tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud; it has been amended for Christian Book Shop Talk…
In the world of Bible marketing, a men’s Bible doesn’t make a splash as do similar products for women, which may be why I was completely unaware of last September’s release of the NIV Bible for Men. Perhaps you missed it as well, which is unfortunate when you consider there is probably a guy in your sphere of influence who would benefit greatly from this edition.
A few things stand out.
First, they carefully avoided the word devotional in the title on this one, but like the Men’s Devotional Bible, there are 260 weekday readings and a single reading for weekends. The placement of these readings is next to adjacent text and there are prompts as to where to go for the subsequent reading which means you could use this as a one-year reading program, but the passages would be of varying length.
Second, they incorporated many newer church leaders and writers for this product. Any awareness of Christian social media means the names of contributors here will create instant recognition; and it also means this is a Bible edition you can confidently place in the hands of younger customers. Some names include:
- Chris Seay
- Tony Morgan
- Matt Chandler
- Joshua Harris
- Tim Challies
- Shane Claiborne
- Jarrett Stevens
- Bill Johnson
- Jeff Manion
- Pete Wilson
- Bob Goff
- Ted Kluck
- Eric Metaxas
- Craig Groeschel
- Joel Rosenberg
- Andrew Farley
- John Ortberg
- David Kinnaman
- Jeremy Myers
- Ravi Zacharias
and many, many more. Interestingly, annotations are keyed to the Kindle editions of many of these, an acknowledgement perhaps that guys do much of their other reading on devices. This doesn’t really encourage future purchasing in print.
Third and finally, there are the weekend readings. Set out as Myths, the series of 52 two-page articles cover ideas that are common in society and sometimes even found within the church, such as:
- It’s possible to get something for nothing
- Sexual thoughts are harmless
- The purpose of the church is to meet my needs
- Image is everything
- This world is all there is
- Christians are guaranteed health, wealth and a stress-free life
and some of these will resonate with some guys more than others. Generally, I found this approach more topical than what is usually found within the pages of a Bible, but the second page of each reading — the response — drives you back into scripture. Some guys will want the extra day to cover the material in these weekend readings.
A subject index at the back is extremely helpful for returning to previous topics.
I hope this Bible is doing well as anything which plunges guys into scripture is a resource that needs to be celebrated. Is there a young man you can think of who might appreciate knowing about this?
Note: The Myth section readings appeared previously in Manual: The NIV Bible for Men, published in 2009.
ISBN 9780310409625; 1,684 pages; hardcover; black-letter, double-column format; $34.99 US
Two weeks ago, Bruxy Cavey, Teaching Pastor at The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing church movement with 20 locations, shared this video in the middle of the Sunday morning sermon. (Link is to sermon, click video to source.)
Learn more at this link to Group Publishing.
Group Publishing (September, 2015) 1410 pages
Hardcover 978147073404 $24.99 US
Turquoise Imit. 9781470722159 $34.99 US
Slate Imit. 9781470726881 $34.99 US
Canadian über-blogger Tim Challies had this linked on the weekend. I don’t know where he finds these things, but hey, he has a staff. How words and paragraphs are set out on the page can affect the meaning we take away from the passage, so this topic actually matters. And Bible sellers should be versed (at least a little bit) on this topic. 48 minutes; some of it quite humourous. [Note: This treatment is translation-neutral.]
Author Dan Kimball, who is part of a generation that might be more willing to embrace electronic publishing, posted this at Facebook:
“Bring back old school print Bibles to read and carry” was my fellow black leather Bible buddy Dave Lomas from Reality San Francisco ‘s mission cry who taught today at Vintage Faith Church. We both have black leather Bibles where we can draw doodles, underline, color and we are convinced your even learn better with them. Which is ironic coming from two of us living in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley where technology rules. I join Dave in the mission to see hard copy Bibles in hand once again and go retro learning and reading.
- Studies say comprehension is better, you get a “deeper” connection when holding printed texts compared to a screen. Screens encourage skimming, and it is harder to concentrate.
- All about the real non-technology bibles. Got a handy brown leather bound ESV myself. I love how you can feel, smell, and write notes in them. Ya can’t do that with technology. I just think it makes your relationship with God organic….I don’t know, that’s me.
- And when people bring those Bibles to church and look up passages as they are mentioned in the sermon to add notes (or doodles) in the Bible, we all get to hear that great sound of Bible pages turned together when lots of people are reading the Bible all at once. We miss that when you read on a cellphone……
No one is making a similar case for eBooks. They now seem destined to exist on the periphery of the market.
This is part three of three consumer articles that appeared on Thinking Out Loud last week…
Cartoonist Wes Molebash at The Junia Project website (Sept 2013) (Click image for Wes’ site, Insert Image.)
As we mentioned in part two, usually the first question you ask someone considering a Bible purchase involves trying to qualify which translation they might be interested in. The best way to ask this is, Who is it for? In other words, you want to be told as much as possible about the end user. Young or old? First time Bible reader? Other translations they own? Type of church they attend? Is English their first language?
Much has already been written online about the two broader approaches to translation: Dynamic equivalence and formal correspondence. Lately, some clever marketers have blurred those lines with some new terminology designed to capture interest from those on both sides of the discussion.
While one approach is often termed word for word and the other is thought for thought, really the question is this: To what extent do you retain some of the original forms, and to what extent can you break out of those forms and express the same concept the way we speak today? The challenge is that some of those original forms contain allusions to other Bible passages and you don’t want to rob the Bible of its beauty and symmetry. On the other hand, you don’t want to have to reduce explanations to footnotes, so sometimes just saying things in contemporary language is best. (But then you often find yourself including the historic or literary tie-ins in footnotes instead.)
So today, rather than look at translations in those terms, I’d like to think of them in clusters.
Traditional – Really, with more than 400 years of history, the KJV is in a class by itself here. The person you’re buying one for would have to really be expecting it, or in a church situation where nothing else is permissible.
Formal – With similar syntax and a name association, the New King James Version (NKJV) would fit this category and is still popular in some circles. But so also would the New American Standard Version (NASB), a rigid but accurate translation that is a favorite among Evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges. (See also this article.)
Popular – The New International Version (NIV) is still considered the best-selling English translation and with an update in 2011, isn’t going away any time soon. For Mainline Protestants and some Roman Catholics, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is the translation of choice.
Contemporary – Aimed at the same market that reads the NRSV, the new Common English Bible (CEB) is gaining popularity. Gaining on the NIV is the New Living Translation (NLT), especially among younger Christians. Despite its age, Today’s English Version (TEV, also called Good News Bible or GNT) is still preferred by some readers.
Creative – When The Message was first published with its use of idiomatic language and stripping away of verse numbers, it attracted a lot of attention. Today, The Voice Bible is the choice for those who want something edgy, with everything presented in a dramatic (play script) format. Of course, for those who want to color outside the lines, The Amplified Bible (AMP) has been around for several decades now with its alternative words in brackets. A recent copycat translation, The Expanded Bible offers similar options.
Evangelical Denominations – You’ll find many Baptists gravitating toward the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and Reformers and Calvinists choosing the English Standard Version (ESV). The translation philosophy for both is somewhat similar to NASB, with a reluctance to make any risky changes to the text as many learned it in the KJV.
Catholic – The New American Bible (NAB, not to be confused with NASB) is the one most identified with the Catholic Church, but you’ll also find interest in the Catholic editions of the Good News Translation (GNT or TEV), the NRSV, and The Jerusalem Bible.
Easy to Read – The New Century Version (NCV) uses a very basic vocabulary but without seeming childish. The New International Readers Version (NIrV) uses a more choppy sentence structure, but is well-suited to people for whom English is a second language.
Children – The two Bibles in this category are actually the same as in the section above. The NCV is marketed as the International Children’s Bible (ICB), while the NIrV is issued as a part of various branded series that lead the kids into reading a regular NIV. Also doing well in Children’s editions is a more obscure translation known as God’s Word (GW).
Worth Noting – The Story is a Bible story book for adults showing the larger story arc of the Bible in a single narrative. The Kingdom New Testament is a NT written by popular Bible scholar N.T. Wright. And speaking of NT editions, people still seek out The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips.
Unfortunately, in many respects this article is not as useful as yesterday’s piece about features, as if some of these are of interest, you’ll have to investigate them elsewhere. Passage comparison at sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub and Blue Letter Bible are a good place to begin. Hopefully this has at least helped you narrow down your search. Bible translation selection is both a science and an art, and many people have a lot of emotional investment in particular Bible versions. In many respects, perhaps it is better that we put the features explanations first, as you might want to simply select the features you want, and then explore which translations offer those particular editions.
For further reading:
- To review this material again, we did a similar article last year.
- Use and misuse of the term “literal” to describe a translation, with links to other items.
- Translators respond to criticism of The Voice Bible.
- A history of the more ‘edgy’ translations.
- The challenges with foreign or cross-cultural translating.
- Why you should be wary of statistics saying which version is the best selling.
On my personal blog last weekend I posted a series of consumer articles on choosing a Bible. I decided to leave the question of translation until the third part, and when you think of it, many requests for Bibles these days are more feature driven than translation driven (just as many people seeking a church home are more style driven than denomination driven). This part, part two was the most difficult to write (and keep short) and also the most fun. I offer it to you here for your consideration; you can also get new staff members to read this. Later on, I cross-posted the series to our store website.
In Part One we looked at the Bible as one of the most significant gifts you can give someone, and why it’s important to get the selection right. Today we want to help simplify the process of choosing features they might appreciate and use. Normally we might ask the translation question first, but we thought we’d do things differently just this one time.
Well over 95% of the Bibles sold today are complete editions consisting of the 66 books in the Protestant canon of the Old and New Testaments (or if you prefer First and Second Testaments, or Former and Current Testaments) or the 66 plus a varying number of additional books used in the Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books. In other words, if you’re looking for a New Testament only, beyond a handful of presentation Bibles for babies and children you’ll find a limited selection, and if you’re looking for an Old Testament only, well, good luck.
By the way, not every Bible containing these extra books is a Catholic Bible because in order to be considered one, it would need a sort of kosher seal on the copyright page known as an imprimatur. You can also purchase those books separately — the original KJV contained them — unlike the case with trying to buy an Old Testament by itself.
You will find many Gospels of John however. This is rather strange because John is an argument for the divinity of Christ, but increasingly, that type of persuasion doesn’t work with postmoderns. You would expect more of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) to be produced now, but alas, we’re getting quite off-topic!
A Bible without any additional features is called a text Bible, and if there are some cross-references listing recommended related verses either in a center-column, at the bottom, or at the end of verses, then it’s a text reference or reference Bible. Free of bells and whistles, these are usually the best-priced and most popular. You can save even more by buying into the volume print runs of pew Bibles, now sometimes called church Bibles. These hardcover editions are quite durable. However, my advice would be to avoid what are called gift-and-award Bibles, because by using cheaper (and therefore thicker) paper, they are forced to use a very, very small type font. Generally, an award Bible is something churches give out to kids or visitors they’re not sure they’re ever going to see again. If they know the child, usually they go for something nicer.
Some of the most popular text Bibles often use the trade-style Thinline or Slimline. Introduced originally with more of the women’s market in mind, their style is also useful for pastors on hospital visits, youth workers at a campfire, and anyone else who doesn’t want to carry around a larger book. Also available are compact Bibles, but here you need to watch the print size, though Zondervan has a rather awesome NIV Compact Giant Print Bible that is a must-see if you’re shopping.
This is probably a good place to pause and mention print size. What Thomas Nelson calls Giant Print on their NKJV editions is really everybody else’s Large Print. This is another instance where you are better off buying in person rather than online. Also, just because a Bible advertises that it used 13-point type, that doesn’t tell you what the leading (spacing between lines of type) is, you need to see that for yourself. And if someone is looking for larger print, you should avoid comparing poetic and prophetic sections (which often use much more white space) to narrative sections which are more normally paragraphed.
Red-letter Bibles are by far the most common, but this is not an exact science. Did Jesus say the verse we know as John 3:16 or was that John’s commentary? Some people are divided on this issue. Does it mean those verses are more important? Isn’t all scripture inspired? Also appearing more frequently — perhaps sparked by The Message Bible — are editions stripped of verse numbers.
Bindings vary in quality and cost along a spectrum beginning with paperback, then hardcover, then vinyl, then imitation leather, then bonded leather, and then fine or genuine leathers (including Moroccan, calfskin, etc.) Technically, many of the two-tone or duo-tone Bibles popular now are only imitation leather, but the quality and artistry of those covers has advanced to where you might pay more for those than some bonded leathers.
Bibles which have been thumb indexed may be produced by the publisher and have a separate ISBN (i.e. stock number) or may be done by a bookstore or distributor as an after-market add-on. (Remember when Sears Automotive sold after-market air-conditioning for cars?) You can also decide later to add Bible tabs but this is a process akin to watch repair or untangling coat hangers and is best done by the very patient (i.e. wives, mothers and girlfriends.) While you’re buying your tabs, you might as well go nuts and buy some extra ribbon markers.
Parallel Bibles are text editions containing more than one edition, usually side-by-side on the page. Full Bibles are usually 2-translation or 4-translation, but Hendrickson has a nice 8-translation New Testament in hardcover which I really like, but don’t own. (Yet. I’ll send them a copy of this!) There are some very interesting combinations available that blend different translation styles (see part three of this article). There are also a specialized form of parallels called interlinear which weave the original Greek and Hebrew language texts (and often other features) on the same lines as the English translation used as a base.
Devotional Bibles are really two books in one. They contain a year’s worth of devotionals usually for a target audience such as men, women, people in a recovery program, teens, etc. You can expect at least 310 devos (often the weekend reading is combined) or 366, but you’ll pay less than if you bought the two items individually.
Study Bibles contain supplementary notes. Sometimes the same notes are made available in a variety of translations; so the Life Application Bible has NIV, NLT, NKJV editions. I sometimes tell people that the NIV Study Bible takes us back into Bible times where as the Life Application brings the Bible into our times. That’s a bit simplistic, but helps you see there are different approaches to what type of things get annotated, not to mention different uses of charts, diagrams, the inclusion of longer articles, and even what gets defined as a study edition to begin with. As with devotional editions, there are now a wide variety of study editions produced just for kids and teens.
Certain study Bibles are also tied into the teaching ministry of different pastors, TV preachers, authors and ministries. Sometimes these are sold in bookstores and sometimes they are only available through the ministry organization concerned. Presumably, the notes are derived from the individual’s other notes or study guides, but sometimes it just means that the person named on the cover merely vetted the creation of a special study edition. You never know for sure.
I am not a huge fan of the One Year Bible genre (a Tyndale Publishing trademark, if I’m not mistaken) as they can’t be taken to church or small group given the re-ordering of the material. The same is also true of chronological Bibles which often harmonize concurrent passages such as Kings and Chronicles or the gospels; you wouldn’t want these to be someone’s first (or second) Bible. As Yoda might say, ‘Mixed all everything up is.’ On the other hand, Tyndale keeps producing these at an alarming rate so maybe they know something I don’t. I think their appeal tends to be regional, and I don’t live in that region.
Confused? I hope this is more helpful than bewildering. Even as you read this, executives are sitting in board rooms dreaming up new Bible editions for 2015. There are no limits to the imagination. In The People’s Bible, Zondervan did a turnabout on the red-letter concept, and using data from BibleGateway.com, they put frequently sought-after verses in larger type, with a total of about six font sizes. With The Voice translation, you get a delightful dramatic reading of the entire Bible.
Speaking of drama, Bibles on CD usually come in dramatized readings (sometimes complete with a celebrity cast of readers, not to mention sound effects and often a musical score) and straight narrative readings. We end this discussion where we began, because while you can get New Testament-only audio Bibles, you’ll find getting an Old Testament fairly impossible; so make that initial purchase carefully.
Part Three: Navigating the various translations.
The adage is that you can’t, but people do. Covers can make or break a book and even a Bible edition. Currently, the Canadian Bible Society is offering an ESV Women’s Devotional Bible in a “Burgundy imitation leather with Birch design” for $39.99 that could easily sell for much, much more and in fact has a higher price on the barcode. It has high quality gold edging and inside, the page format is equally classy. Their website describes other features:
Double-column, paragraph format; Two-color interior; 16 articles; 365 devotionals; Book introductions; Character profiles; Dictionary of key terms; Free online access through ESVbible.org ISBN: 9781433544392
On the other hand, Tyndale has released some new editions of the Life Application Bible that continue to use the powder blue and pink imitation leather as a component of the duo-tone design. I hope they do well with these elsewhere because our customers notice right away that the suede picks up dirt very quickly. Of course, when Tyndale does connect with customers with something, like that paisley women’s Bible I’ve mentioned before here, they seem to discontinue it in no time flat. (But hey, we’re just retailers, what do we know? If I offered my opinion, I’m sure they’d say, “Nobody asked you.”)
Right now, two of Tyndale’s best covers can be found on a couple of very inexpensive Teen Thinline Bibles. (Oh wait, they can’t use that term, better make that Slimline.) Check out 9781414363295 and 9781414363288. My suggestion is to simply ditch the cardboard sleeve — seriously, throw them out — and market these to non-teen customers.
I really don’t want to give space here to something I have no intention of giving shelf-space to in my store. But I wrote this to be read in a broader forum, and thought I’d let readers here see it first.
Another new Bible translation hits the bookstores next month. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; do we really need another translation? Personally, while I love the variety of options available and feel they bring much clarity and understanding, I would say there are dangers in over-saturating — or more accurately over-fragmenting — the market.
The MEV is the latest arrival. It stands for Modern English Version, but that name must somewhat frustrate the creators, who wish all the KJV-related names — NKJV, KJV21, etc — weren’t already taken; as this is the market they are going after. They describe it as “the most modern of the KJV.” What does that even mean?
There’s nothing wrong with seeking to present a new translation to people who have been stuck on a particular version for a long period. The CEB (Common English Bible) has been marketed to the same demographic that currently uses the NRSV. I have no problem with that. But the people stuck on the KJV are really, really stuck. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Anyway, amid the hype was six consecutive pages in the September, 2014 issue of Christian Retailing magazine, a book industry trade publication. The first two were really an advertisement, and the next four pages were an attempt to convince bookstore owners and managers to buy in, both literally and figuratively, to the MEV.
I should say here that Christian Retailing is owned by the same company producing the MEV, Strang Publishing. This conflict-of-interest is rather old news however, as the company’s books, most published under the Charisma House banner, always get inordinate space in the trade magazine. I suppose any of us would do the same.
Still, the four page article contains a number of assumptions that lead to a type of flawed logic as to where the MEV fits in and how retailers can expect it to perform in term of sales.
The MEV is a direct successor to the KJV
The marketing strategy here is clearly to target conservative Evangelicals and convince them it’s time for a change, so you can’t read much about the MEV without encountering the words “King James Version” in the advertising. The home page refers to the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) as producing it, but that group’s website clearly indicates their association is with the NIV. The MEV landing page also says that the group used the KJV as its base manuscript. Does that mean it was not translated directly from original languages? If that’s the case, this is really no different a situation than Ken Taylor restating passages from the American Standard Version to read to his kids at night, and thereby creating The Living Bible which was roundly dismissed by many Evangelicals as a ‘paraphrase’ a term used derisively with no direct equivalent in linguistics. (If you restate something written to make it understood by another group, you are in effect translating.)
One writer took it this far:
This fall, the torch of the KJV tradition will be passed to a new version of the Bible: the Modern English Version (MEV).
Obviously, it makes sense to him.
First, I would argue that each and every English translation since 1611 (or if you prefer, 1789) is a successor to the KJV.
Second, I think that, in the past 400 years, if anyone deserves the credit for having worked within the KJV tradition, that would belong to The Voice Bible. Think about it:
- high respect for the KJV translation process (see The Story of The Voice, Thomas Nelson)
- similar use of poets, playwriters and songwriters (i.e. stylists) working alongside theologians
- use of italics to represent short phrases added to the text to bring about clarity of meaning
Appeal to the popularity of the KJV
Three times the article refers to an ABS study that states that 34% of “church leaders” favor the KJV. Church leaders over age 60? Church leaders in rural churches in the deep south?
This also begs the question, if the KJV is that popular then what hope does anyone have in breaking into that market? Or to put it another way, if the KJV is adequately serving the needs of over a third of U.S. church leaders, for a 400-year-old publication, it’s doing really, really well. So why bother?
The enemy we face
Several times the article talked about the decline in morals, church attendance, etc., and the increase of skepticism. This is a common approach used mostly by televangelists. We identify a common enemy and then we stress the need to do something. If we can only get this particular Bible into the hands of the unsaved and unchurched, then we can reverse the trend toward agnosticism and atheism, right?
In a way, this is a form of checkbook evangelism. Social decay is all around us, therefore we need to print more Bibles. Wait; no, we need to print new Bibles. And maybe you personally don’t need this, but obviously you need to support what’s happening.
Recognition of the challenge faced in introducing the translation
The article stressed to booksellers that this isn’t a commodity that can simply be put on a shelf and expected to perform. It derided the “point and shoot” mentality that has taken over Bible departments, where if you want a particular version, you’re simply told, ‘Aisle three, left side, bottom shelf.’
The publishers are clearly looking for more engagement with customers on the part of the bookstore staff on the front lines. The industry term for this is hand-selling. It means basically, ‘This is going to take some extra effort on your part to get this product noticed and understood.’
But this comes at a time when stores face mammoth challenges to stay afloat. The trend is toward self-serve, and favors products which outline their purpose and features in the blurb on the back. Furthermore, I would argue that Charisma Media is asking retailers to do what every single book, Bible and music publisher would like to see. They all want their products to get more attention.
Show me the money
As you can expect, the article much hypes the MEV’s potential, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure much is gained. For example:
I really can’t judge the motivation of the creators of this project, but I do know it’s a matter of pride among Christian publishing conglomerates to have a Bible in their stable of products. Tyndale has the NLT, NavPress has The Message, Baker Books has God’s Word, Crossway has the ESV, Broadman has the HCSB, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing has the NIV, NKJV, NCV and The Voice.
I guess that’s what you do.
Now we wait to see if the marketing works out the way Strang/Charisma is hoping. Time will tell.
Canadian Christian retailers who think the market here for high-end Bibles is dead might be surprised to see the final stats for the Bibliotheca project on Kickstarter. Bibliotheca is an elegant four-volume issue of the ASV, American Standard Version. The original goal was $37,000, but the project greatly surpassed that:
In other words, 5.35% of the orders identified as Canadian. As a retailer, it astounds me that nearly 800 Canadians would want the ASV in any format, let alone at $105 USD including shipping. But it also amazes me that there even were 800 Canadians wanting to own the set.
It signals to me that the market isn’t as tight as we often believe it to be. It’s also possible that social media (Twitter, etc.) connected buyers who might not frequent our somewhat Evangelical-based retail stores. It’s also possible that some of these purchases are speculative, hoping the esoteric book set might be worth more in the collector’s or antiquarian book market.
Of course, sadly, this is yet another project which bypasses the CBA retail market; it represents more dollars spent outside our stores; and it’s also another item that people will be seeking down the road and no amount of searching in Ingram or BookManager will locate it.
UPDATE: This project did not escape the notice of Michael Hyatt who wrote extensively about the significance of this for all publishers.
It appears there is a new generation of product creators at Zondervan who missed all the excitement in the 60s, 70s and 80s over Satanic symbolism, such as the use of the Pentagram, or 5-pointed star. You can read more at Wikipedia including the present use in Wicca, Baha’i and even Mormonism. On the bright side, at least they didn’t put a picture of a goat in the middle. But seriously, what were they thinking? And doesn’t this just add fuel to the fire for those fringe groups who say that one particular translation (which I won’t name here, search engines being what they are) is the only acceptable translation? They should have asked me first, right?