Thinking Out Loud

November 3, 2011

Does Corporate Ownership of Christian Publisher Matter?

Monday’s announcement that Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson was going to be acquired by mainstream publishing giant HarperCollins caught some people off guard.  It shouldn’t.  Thomas Nelson (TNI) had actually been owned by an investment company for several years.  But given parent company News Corp’s penchant for headline-making this year, it was a hard story to ignore, especially with TNI sitting atop the New York Times Bestseller List with Heaven is for Real by Todd and Colton Burpo for most of the summer.

The spin that got put on this story was that News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch would now “own the Bible;” given that HarperCollins already owns Zondervan (ZDV).  And it’s no lie; ZDV and TNI command half of the Bible sales market, with the former being the primary (but not sole) publisher of the NIV, and also having NASB, GNT and KJV editions; and TNI being the almost-exclusive publisher of the NKJV and NCV (New Century Version) and also having KJV editions.

But nobody owns the Bible.  It’s God’s book, and what centuries of attempted destruction have failed to do is not going to be accomplished by changes in corporate ownership of a few publishers; though the advocates of some versions — I’m guessing ESV especially — will have a field day with the Murdoch angle to the story.

Do people really notice who owns what?  Many don’t even bother to read the publisher imprint on the spine or title page of their favorite books; let alone know that Publisher “A” is owned by a particular denomination and Publisher “B” is owned by a giant media conglomerate.  They listen to Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin or Steven Curtis Chapman completely unaware that parent company EMI also releases the many artists that Christian music exists as an alternative for. 

Furthermore, if it was explained to them, they would probably agree that Faithwords’ book titles, as part of the giant Hachette Book Group, can probably get into more places  around the world than might be possible with homegrown publishers like Tyndale, Baker Book Group, or Harvest House.  And the financial might of a company like HarperCollins makes it possible for Zondervan to release a vast array of updated NIV-2011 Bibles almost overnight.

But where it gets insidious is when someone comes along with an axe to grind; with something they are against; and seeks to play the ownership trump card — not a reference to Donald Trump who hasn’t entered Christian publishing yet — suggesting that to buy a NKJV or NIV is to support the company that also publishes Tarot cards.    And religious-interest imprint HarperOne does in fact publish Tarot Games: 45 Playful Ways to Explore Tarot Cards Together; A New Vision for the Circle of Community

But then they will purchase some ultra-conservative book by an ultra-conservative publishing company, but purchase it through online sellers like Am*zon, who also distribute erotic literature and photography titles.  Or perhaps through a Christian bookstore that is so heavily second and third mortgaged that it’s truly owned by the bank; a bank which may have other investments of which they would not approve.  All I’m saying here is that I don’t know if you ever win this battle in a multi-tiered, inter-connected economy. 

So yes, TNI is about to be acquired by HarperCollins which also owns ZDV and publishes Tarot Games.  If you want to only support those publishers that are 100% owned by Christian individuals or ministry organizations, that still leaves you a lot of possibilities.  But sadly, it also eliminates many others, the fruit of authors who desire to take their message to the widest possible audience using whatever plane, train, truck or book distribution network to do so. 

And most are good authors, worthy of your support, worthy of your trust, worthy of your taking the time to listen to their stories, their wisdom or their Biblical exposition. 


  1. Thanks to the economies of scale, maybe books could become a little less expensive!

    Comment by wjcollier3 — November 3, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

  2. I think this also applies to many other companies…they are all entangled, I remember being told to boycott a certain soft drink company but what the activists did not know is that that same company sold the drink to other companies to put into their own store brand cans. If you follow the thread you can connect everyone somehow. I have a sneaking suspicion there are really a very few big companies and they weave their way everywhere.

    Christian books and music is big business and I do not think Harper Collins is going to mess with Thoman Nelson customers so I am not (too) worried

    Comment by Cynthia — November 3, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

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