In 1998, John Wood was a rising executive at Microsoft when a vacation in Nepal changed his life. By 2000 he had quit his job and started the nonprofit Room to Read organization, which has since grown with astonishing speed.
The only downside to spending time on a barrier island in North Carolina in the summer is that it’s hard to find a good newspaper. You can locate the New York Times if you look for it, but it’s not easy. My son-in-law peruses the Times on the Internet, and, bless him, he will print out as much of it for me as I want.
If the economic recession has made people more receptive to spiritual concerns and theological insights, that interest has not translated into sales of religion books (see Marcia Nelson’s report in this issue).
Conventional wisdom holds that when times get bad, people turn to religion. But that’s not the case in religion publishing. Like other business executives in the current economic doldrums, religion publishers are cutting expenses in the face of declining sales.
“It's never been easy to make ends meet while putting out a progressive Christian publication. But in an ironic twist, a re-energized religious left may be making a tough task even harder. . . . At least five progressive periodicals—including four with a 30-plus-year publishing history—have either disbanded or undergone a radical makeover in the past three years.”
A new survey of 10,000 book consumers via the Internet found that 18 percent bought religious or spiritual books last year. More than two-thirds said they purchased fiction, according to preliminary results from Publishers Weekly’s survey. Among nonfiction works, “practical life” was the largest category—bought by 35 percent.
In 1987 Phyllis Tickle, then the religion editor at Publisher’s Weekly, foresaw a rising demand for religious books. Books, she wrote, were about to become “portable pastors.” Her prediction proved true. Beginning in the early 1990s, sales of religious books began a steady increase.