This article appeared in the May, 2005 issue
of Marketing y Medios under the title "Christian Book Market Grows With Followers". The
rights have reverted to me so I am posting the piece in its entirety.
Please contact me (luis dot clemens at gmail dot com) directly if you
are interested in reprint rights. Unfortunately, this articles remains one of the few treatments by secular trade publications of the Christian Latino market.
Christian Book Market Grows With Followers
May 01, 2005
The Christian book industry aims to win souls and sell books, in that order. "Our paramount mission is evangelization," says Esteban Fernández, president of Editorial Vida, which is owned by Zondervan Publishing, a division of HarperCollins. The good news for the industry is that the two goals are compatible. According to the Association of American Publishers, the religious book market grew at a rate of 8.5 percent a year between 1997 and 2004, with net sales last year totaling $1.3 billion.
One of the best-selling Spanish-language books in the U.S., with over a million copies sold, is Una Vida con Propósito. It's a translation of a Christian title, The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren. According to Fernández, the book is likely to provide $2 million to $2.5 million of Editorial Vida's $12 million in revenue this fiscal year. This was accomplished, he says, with limited spending on print advertising and very little on radio or television. Most of his marketing efforts target pastors and seminary professors who populate a list of 5,000 religious gatekeepers. Fernández, whose Spanish is still drenched in the accent of his native Argentina, personally places many of those calls and pitches his books.
Although exact figures are hard to come by, several Spanish-language Christian publishers interviewed agreed there had been steady growth for close to a decade. The market is growing because "evangelicals are increasing and so is Hispanic immigration," says Tessie DeVore, vice president of the International Group at Strang Communications and president of the Spanish Evangelical Products Association (SEPA). David Ecklebarger, president of Editorial Unilit and executive director of SEPA, stresses distribution channels for the Christian book industry have expanded with an increasing portion of sales coming from mainstream booksellers and retail outlets such as Wal-Mart. "There is a greater commitment on the part of the nonreligious bookstores to commit to reaching the Hispanic market," Ecklebarger says. "The bookstores or book distributors or the discount houses are coming on board seeing the success of others selling Spanish evangelical product."
Spanish-language Christian publishers in the United States target both a domestic and an international market consisting of Latin America and Spain. Ten years ago, Editorial Unilit made 70 percent of its sales overseas and 30 percent in the U.S. That figure now has reversed and the same is now true for many other publishers. As such, the bulk of the Hispanic Christian book market consists of titles in Spanish that can be sold in both markets.
Curiously, though, the biggest best sellers in the Spanish-language Christian book market are almost all translations of English-language books. "The English authors are better known to the Hispanic audience. Very few of the books written by Hispanic authors reach the bestsellers list," Ecklebarger says. "Even in Latin America there tends to be a higher respect for non-Latin scholarship."
Translated or not, the Hispanic Christian book market is now "too big to ignore," DeVore says. Jim Powell, international marketing specialist at CBA, formerly known as Christian Booksellers Association, stresses the inevitability of demographic trends. "By 2050, half of America's population will be minorities. The future of this industry lies in finding out who they are and what they want."
And as the number of Latino evangelicals grows, "so will our market," Fernández says. — Luis Clemens