Many Bible publishers will tell you that while it seems to be a time of plenty, they face many challenges that must be understood as opportunities. What sets them apart from the rest of the marketplace is their unifying commitment to distributing the unchanging, accurate Word of God into the hands of both Christians and the curious.
Bible publishers must walk a tightrope of honoring the inerrancy and sanctity of Scripture while still understanding the ebbs and flows of sales and marketing. With accurate translation as their number one priority, Bible publishers can then apply their creativity and consumer desires to aspects like cover design, special features, and suiting Bibles to certain age groups.
Whether publishers are designing covers that match a popular aesthetic or producing children’s Bibles according to elementary school reading levels, their goal is singular: “We want the Bible to feel accessible to people,” said Catherine DeVries, publisher at Kregel Publications.
These top four Bible publishing trends reflect publishers’ commitment to the text and ears open to the consumer so that the story of Scripture can be told to all.
1. Fighting for Underserved Populations.
As America’s awareness of racial and cultural injustices has taken center stage in public discourse, some Bible publishers have seen an opportunity to serve new target markets with their Bible translations.
Take the First Nations Version (FNV) from InterVarsity Press, for example. This version came about through the campus ministry work of Native InterVarsity, which had been using portions of the FNV at some of their events for college students.
“They found that students grasped the truth and reality of Scripture more vividly and immediately through the Native sensibilities of language choices and cadences of oral storytelling, which parallel the biblical context and literary style,” said Al Hsu, senior editor at InterVarsity Press. “The freshness of the FNV’s translation helped readers and hearers experience the gospel narratives in ways that were less abstract and spoke to their lived experience.”
Other Bible publishers have grown their catalogs of Spanish Bibles. Editorial Portavoz, the Spanish language subsidiary of Kregel Publications, especially shines in this department. Over the past few years, Editorial Portavoz has published or distributed several Spanish Bibles tailored to specific audiences, including Biblia Devocional Mujer Verdadera (True Woman Devotional Bible), Biblia de una joven conforme al corazón de Dios (A Young Woman After God’s Own Heart Bible), and La Bible para Grupos Pequeños (The Bible for Small Groups).
Bible publishers are also considering how to serve the growing number of customers who may lack familiarity with the Bible, says Amy Simpson, associate publisher for Bibles at Tyndale House. In decades past, publishers could reasonably assume a certain degree of proficiency in the basics of Bible reading: what chapters and verses are, for example, or understanding that the Bible contains multiple genres. But, Simpson said, there is a “decline in biblical literacy” that gives publishers the opportunity to teach readers how to read the Bible. Through additional content that educates readers in how to navigate the Bible they are holding, publishers can be part of addressing biblical illiteracy and encouraging new Bible readers to stick with it.
2. Customizing for Consumer Appeal
Just 20 years ago, personalizing a Bible meant having someone’s name put on the cover or purchasing a cloth Bible carrier in a favorite pattern. But now, personalizing has revolutionized both Bible covers and the reader experience. As consumer trends veer further into curation and customization, Bible publishers are honing in on particular niche markets, in hopes that customizing Bibles for affinity groups will increase sales and engagement with Scripture.
Through LifeWay, for example, B&H Publishing Group offers the She Reads Truth Bible and He Reads Truth Bible, designed to encourage daily Bible reading through tailored reading plans, supplementary passages, and artistic extras like custom maps, charts, and timelines. Tyndale House invites women to journey through the Bible in a year with the THRIVE Creative Journaling Devotional Bible, complete with extra-wide margins for writing, daily prayers and devotionals, and 31 profiles of biblical figures.
Kregel and Editorial Portavoz publish not only the A Woman After God’s Own Heart Bible (in the customer’s choice of rose, purple, teal, floral, and hardback options) but also the A Young Woman After God’s Own Heart Bible in similar color options, with a denim option added for the younger audience.
Teen Bibles still abound, from the Thomas Nelson Thinline Bible Youth Edition to Zondervan’s Beautiful Word Coloring Bible for Teen Girls and Bible for Teen Guys: Building Faith, Wisdom, and Strength. Longtime bestsellers like The Action Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible continue to engage parents and children.
“The Bible has remained well-read in print, but people want special editions,” notes Pike Lambeth, executive vice president at The Lockman Foundation, who doesn’t expect this to change anytime soon. “They want the line-matched typesetting. They want a well-designed page.” And, more than anything? “They want the nicer covers.”
One may wonder if this shift is positive: Is the Bible meant to be something that caters to our preferences? Not when it comes to translation accuracy. These Bible publishers draw a hard line at allowing consumer preference to interfere with the inspired text.
Bible personalization, then, is not about changing what God says in order to make it more palatable, nor is it merely about keeping up with market trends in order to make sales. Instead, publishers like DeVries see the growing rise of customization as an opportunity to reach those who haven’t been drawn to a gold-imprinted, burgundy-bound pew Bible.
“Once you have their attention, the Bible doesn’t need to sell itself,” said DeVries. “If you flip it open and start interacting with it, the work of the Holy Spirit is there and drawing the person into a relationship,” a work that is unchanging and, as DeVries says, transcends cover designs and layout choices.
3. Navigating the New, Virtual Frontier.
Some publishers are wedding the digital and physical in order to meet the needs of today’s readers. RevelationMedia, for example, is currently creating iBible—the world’s first visual, interactive Bible, which will be made freely available for translation into any language. In addition to the video Bible, they will also offer storybook versions.
Tyndale House seems to be setting the standard for hybrid Bible-reading options through their Filament Bible Collection: a variety of hard copy Bibles that each sync with the Filament Bible app. Each page of these Bibles directs to app features like study notes, maps, devotionals, and videos. With a quick scan of the page, readers have access to tools and content that enhance their understanding and reading experience.
“You can walk around with a compact text Bible,” explained Simpson, “and when you pair it with your phone—you’ve got a full study Bible.”
4. Meeting Consumer Needs in Troubling Times.
While publishers say they can only speculate why Bible sales increased during the pandemic, we can make a few informed guesses as to what fed this renewed interest.
For instance, many people no longer spent large blocks of time commuting, which, according to NavPress publisher David Zimmerman, left them “more time for immersive practices like reading—and particularly reading Scripture—in the morning.” Beyond the practical, though, Zimmerman and fellow publishers believe that there are significant spiritual reasons behind the Bible’s recent growth.
“The immensely disruptive pandemic shook some foundations,” Zimmerman explained. As people lost jobs, opportunities, and loved ones, many began to consider life’s deeper questions. The story of the Bible often resonates with people in crisis because it contains so many accounts of grief, lament, and, ultimately, hope. Reading the Bible, Zimmerman said, can give people the “assurance that our story and the story of Scripture have the same loving author.”
While Bible sales increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Bible Society’s State of the Bible report found that half of Americans said they read the Bible on their own at least three or four times annually in 2021. That number dropped to only 39 percent in 2022. It could be that people reached for the Bible in search of support during the early days of the pandemic, purchasing copies to hold and read for comfort and encouragement. But, like many habits during those repetitious weeks of cramped quarters and Zoom calls, Bible reading may not have made the cut of daily habits.
This dip in Bible reading creates an opportunity, though, for publishers to continue creatively approaching how Scripture is presented. Perhaps in the coming months, readers will turn to Bible-in-a-year versions, for example, to cultivate a fresh Bible-reading habit during this season of re-entry.
While Bible publishers hope that the sales they make represent frequent Bible readers, they also trust that the Word of God does not return void. The depth and richness to be found in a regular practice of Bible reading is unparalleled. Human habits may ebb and flow, but Bible publishers trust that, by making the Bible accessible to as many people as possible, the Scriptures will be there for people in their time of need.
A Common Pursuit
Bible publishers are, by nature, marketplace competitors. They offer varying translations, versions,
and specialized features, but they all have a commitment to spreading the Word of God. Does this shared purpose decrease their competitive edge?
In truth, it could. But Bible publishers do not see sales as their number one priority. Instead, as Devries put it, “Yes, we’re competing with each other. “But our united goal is that we want Scripture to be accurate and we want people to encounter God through his Word.”
Zimmerman couldn’t agree more.
“For me, being a Bible publisher means I’m in the business of Scripture engagement, which is a business only in the most formal and technical sense,” he explained. “Christianity has always been a bookish faith, and the Bible is the book that undergirds it all. Bible publishing makes possible, as Eugene [Peterson] put it, ‘words and sentences that stab you awake to a beauty and hope that will connect you with your real life.’ Bible publishing makes possible Bible reading, which makes possible a life of beauty and hope.”
While trends in design will most assuredly come and go, Bible publishers stand firm in the belief that the Word of the Lord will abide forever. Resting on that solid foundation, it seems, is what gives publishers the freedom to pursue creativity in their approach to presenting the Scriptures.
Simpson summed up the joy of Bible publishing that echoed throughout her colleague’s words: “We all take the Word of God very seriously, and we love acting as a bridge between the Word of God and the people who need it.”
Bibles for Every Age and Stage
The Jesus Storybook Bible (ZonderKidz)
The Biggest Story Bible Storybook (Crossway)
The ICB Holy Bible (Thomas Nelson)
KJV Study Bible for Boys/Girls (Baker Books)
Deep Blue Kids Bible (Abingdon Press)
The NIV Action Study Bible (David C Cook)
Beautiful Word Coloring Bible for Teen Girls (Zondervan)
Boys Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale)
Extreme Teen Study Bible (Thomas Nelson)
A Woman after God’s Own Heart Bible/A Young Woman after God’s Own Heart Bible (Kregel Publications)
The Busy Mom’s Bible (Zondervan)
CSB She Reads Truth Bible (Crossway)
Every Man’s Bible (Tyndale)
The Men’s Devotional Bible (Crossway)
CSB He Reads Truth Bible (Holman Bible Publishers)
CEB Wesley Study Bible (Abingdon Press)
CSB Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers)
NLT Life Application Study Bible (Thomas Nelson)
The Filament Collection (Tyndale)
iBible (Forthcoming from Revelation Media)
Thompson Chain-Reference Bible (Zondervan)
CSB Ultrathin Reference Bible (B&H Publishing Group)
ESV Reference Bible (Crossway)
NASB Large Print Compact Bible (The Lockman Foundation)
NLT Large Print Premium Value Thinline Bible,
Filament Enabled edition (Tyndale)
NKJV Holy Bible, Super Giant Print Reference Bible (Thomas Nelson)
Abby Perry is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two sons in Texas. You can find her work at Sojourners, Texas Monthly, and Nations Media.