Lynn Garrett, long-time tracker and editor of the religion category for Publishers Weekly, made some interesting observations about her turf in the 7/27/2009 issue.
The upshot of sales statistics is that the numbers are way down, even for the major players in the field-a 10% drop for 2008 and a projected decline of 4% for 2009. For small presses, I suspect a frightful and more accurate chart could be drawn just based on publishers that shut down vs. survivors.
Garrett says, “What is happening to religion book sales is what has happened to all of us—the economy.”
Of course. But, I think Garrett is closer to the pulse when she acknowledges that we are between mega-bestseller seasons, such as those that powered the 1990s.
“Early in that decade, it was The Celestine Prophecy, Embraced by the Light and Conversations with God,” Garrett notes. “Then, when evangelical Christian books flowed into the mainstream, came the juggernauts: The Purpose-Driven Life, Left Behind, The Prayer of Jabez—all of which ended up selling 20 million-40+-million copies and skewed sales stats for years.”
Every pastor wanting to grow a congregation dreams of being the next Rick Warren. Reality-check time, as in Christians vs. lions. However, great potential remains for pastor-authors and novelists to bring a fresh perspective and vision to niche markets, and thereby do very well—though not again at the level of phenomenon for a while. The market does appear to run in waves: I can look at my father’s bookshelf to see a previous wave of pastor-authors who headlined the self-help field in the 1970s.
“Maybe the bloated sales of The Purpose-Driven Life et al. were like the stratospheric real estate values and Wall Street bonuses-signs of irrationally exuberant times, gone for now, may be gone for good,” predicts Garrett.
The next wave will rise from word-of-mouth (of Tweet?) up through the social media sea. The marketing trawlers that drove the previous bestsellers will not be trusted by seekers and readers. That bodes well for small presses, who have a better chance now at catching the big ones.
Garrett reminds us, “The big books, the culture changers, come out of nowhere, unexpected and unduplicatable. Some author somewhere has to write something that strikes a mysterious chord in the souls of millions of readers. The wonderful thing about books is, that could happen anytime.”
Obviously, I would sure like the next one to be a White Cloud Press title.