Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2009

Zondervan Fighting Fires on Several Fronts

If there’s a copy of the NIV in your house, or even a copy of Purpose Driven Life, you know  Zondervan, the Grand Rapids company founded in 1931 by Pat and Bernie Zondervan, now owned by HarperCollins.

But even if you don’t, you would have a hard time escaping mention of the company online during the last 90 days, as it’s been a wild ride for company executives, and especially company president Maurine (Moe) Girkins, pictured at right, who seems to be making a public statement on one front or another every week.    Imagine dealing with all this:

  • The fall announcement that the TNIV translation would be discontinued in favor of a revised NIV.    This re-sparked old debates over the TNIV’s use of gender-neutral language, with some discussion shifting from the anthropos=mankind argument, to the plural vs. singular argument and the translation vs. commentary challenge of Bible translation.   In the process, very few people considered that the much better-loved NIV — as it currently exists –was also being scrubbed in the process.
  • The hiring of Flickering Pixels author Shane Hipps by Mars Hill Bible Church in Zondervan’s hometown, brought Hipps under fire from the discernment ministries who already had their guns aimed at Rob Bell.   It also showcases Zondervan’s willingness to promote next generation authors and give a platform to younger voices — bloggers Jon Acuff and Anne Jackson come to mind — and Emergent church, social justice and missional voices like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne or Dan Kimball.   But the downside of this is going to be inexperience at minimum, or more severe controversy as in the next item; and even the hint of heresy from some extreme sides could diminish the value of the Zondervan brand in the eyes of conservative Christians.    The company is caught in the race against other publishers to sign “the next big thing in Christian writing” on the dotted line.   With that comes risk.   While there are more and more authors in the marketplace, Donald Millers don’t grow on trees.
  • The decision to pull Deadly Viper Character Assasins by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite was probably not easily made.    Taking a title of out distribution is costly and suggests the company wasn’t carefully considering the full ramifications of the book’s content before the presses started rolling.  Most people agree.   Others would say the company got caught in the tide of political correctness and that the book’s Kung-Fu imagery was a valid literary device to express the authors intent.
  • The sale of Youth Specialties to Youthworks was the buzz of the recent National Youth Workers Convention, and it follows the release of Youth Specialties head Mark Oestreicher.   Zondervan will continue to hold the print rights to current and future books and resources.
  • The downward spiral in the marriage of Jon and Kate Gosselin.   Zondervan is the publisher of Multiple Blessings: Surviving and Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets. The story of a young couple who trusted in the ever present hand of a faithful God to provide the strength and courage they needed to face seemingly impossible challenges one day at a time” no doubt pales in the light of their recent separation and Jon’s excesses.    Such is the world of celebrity.   Just ask Thomas Nelson, whose biography of Lynn Spears was put on hold a few years back when Britney’s younger sister became pregnant at a young age.
  • The lawsuit filed last week against Zondervan by Thomas Nelson, alleging copyright infringement in its I-Can-Read series book, The Princess Twins which they say is ripping off the Gigi: God’s Little Princess book and series by Sheila Walsh.  The similarity in the visual appearance of the characters is complicated by — but also somewhat explained by — the fact that both books used the same illustrator.  It also raises the issue of lawsuits among Christians.
  • The September decision to jettison the company’s Pradis Bible software and instead work with other software developers such as Logos, with the result that pastors and seminarians don’t have to have a separate Bible program to utilize Zondervan content.
  • The shunning of the Christian bookstore market in favor of developing an entire series of specialty Bibles for retail giant Wal-Mart may have been the last straw for those stores.   The backlash could continue for several years as customers bring those copies to the Christian stores looking to buy “another one like this one” which store staff will have never seen before.   To further complicate things, the Wal-Mart series piggybacks on several existing Zondervan NIV brands.
  • Uncertainties as to how many copies of the new Glo Bible software will be returned after Christmas.   With four computers in the house — two of them recent — there’s a little concern in our home as to whether or not we can install the program which requires a dual core processor and 18GB of free hard disc space.  My youngest son, who is into gaming, offered me space on his, but it’s hard to find time when he’s not using it.
  • While it’s not a Zondervan title, the company’s sales reps are promoting parent HarperCollins’ release Going Rogue by Sarah Palin in the Christian bookstore market, because of Palin’s unabashed faith commitment.   But Palin is a wild card, and the company can’t afford any backlash from the independent Christian bookstores that still remain.
  • Stuff Christians Like blogger Jon Acuff’s book of the same name is due out from the company in the new year.   The blog is somewhat tame at times — he refused to print two comments by this writer, and I’m not known for being edgy — but takes risks in others.    One of the edgier sections is called “Booty – God – Booty” which frankly discusses the North American penchant for compartmentalizing our lives into the sacred and the profane.    But readers may have to read the section twice to get the illustration, and speaking of illustrations, at least one blogger is upset over this one.

And that’s just a few major items.   I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Zondervan conference room.  It’s hard to imagine one Christian publisher dealing with so many varied issues at the same time.

I can’t wait to see what surprises the company has in mind for 2010.

Now,  more in the spirit of blogging:  How significant is the name on the spine of a book to you?  Do you note who the publishers are?   Do publisher imprints matter?   Do you have a favorite publisher?

Pictured below, some graphics from the now off-market Deadly Viper Character Assassins:



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5 Comments »

  1. I have loved working with z and their people are well above amazing. As a new author I appreciate the trust they gave with my first book. Even though I am now publishing with Nelson, I can’t say enough good things about the risks and integrity that make up the team at z!

    Comment by anne jackson — November 27, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

    • Hey Anne! What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be on a bicycle somewhere in the deep south? I guess U.S. Thanksgiving and the now larger-looming Black Friday came first, right? Shop first, then ride. (Check Anne’s blog to learn more about the bike trip.)

      I’m on record elsewhere on this blog as saying that Zondervan is my favorite publisher; and since I’m in the business, by default, my favorite supplier. That doesn’t change. I’m just a guy who took a look at the weather map and thought, ‘My goodness; what a hurricane season those folks have had.’ And it’s been quite a time. The blog post says 90 days, but really it’s just over 60 days that the roller coaster seemed to start a bit running faster.

      But so far, I think that years from now, M.G.’s season at the Zondervan helm will be looked at positively as a time that the company made key changes that repositioned itself for the future.

      Still, I’ll bet she enjoyed having a day off yesterday. If she took one.

      P.S. Anne: You’re a writer. Did you like the mixed metaphor segue from hurricanes to roller coasters? I’m good for those anytime you need one.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 27, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  2. Thanks Paul, got curious about some of these events. Found this.

    http://tiny.cc/12fZP

    Comment by Bene D — November 28, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

    • Thanks. I’d seen this actually, along with many, many other pieces; but I didn’t want to overburden the post with links. Youth workers are prolific bloggers and the web is teeming with comments on the events of the last few weeks.

      Mark (aka Marko) brings a great deal of grace and maturity to the discussion, along with a totally unique perspective. I really hope that someone sees his gifts and experience and is able to find a fit in some other avenue of ministry.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 28, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  3. How significant is the name on the spine of a book to you?
    Depends on which name you’re talking about. The author’s name – absolutely.
    Do you note who the publishers are? Do publisher imprints matter? Yes, and yes. But not as much as publishers might sometimes think. I DO look out for publisher logos though as I like certain genres of titles, & some publishers are better at publishing in those genres than others.
    Do you have a favorite publisher?
    Depends on what I’m looking for.

    Comment by Anne Rogers — November 30, 2009 @ 5:33 am


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