Thinking Out Loud

July 9, 2018

How Can You Publish and Sell a Bible You Don’t Respect?

Gift and Award Bibles, regardless of translation, have one thing in common: They’re cheaply produced (and they look it.) Fortunately, there are better options.

Thankfully, one of the elements of the Bible publishing industry that seems, from my vantage point at least, to be fading is what is called “Gift and Award Bibles.” Most of the translations on the market have a contract with a publisher to produce these combined Old-and-New Testaments which, like the name implies, are usually given out by churches to visitors or awarded to Sunday School children as prizes.

These Bibles have one factor which unites them all: They’re cheap.

And while a child of 5 or 6 may be honored to receive one, for anyone else, closer examination proves how cheaply they are made. Here’s the way it works:

  1. Newsprint is the cheapest paper available
  2. Newsprint is thicker, meaning the Bible would be “fat” if printed normally
  3. Type-size is therefore reduced to some infinitesimal font size.

So basically, we’re talking about a hard to read Bible printed on cheap paper which fades after a few years.

To be fair, a few companies have tried a better paper stock, but this only resulted in the price going up, defeating their purpose.

I have two observations about these Bibles:

  1. I think that in some respect, these are Bibles churches give away to people that they’re not always sure they’re ever going to see again.
  2. I think that, at least in how it appears in 2018, this genre was developed by people who had little respect for the Bible to begin with.

The only way to avoid giving these away without breaking the church budget was to use pew Bibles (produced in mass quantities and therefore still quite affordable) as giveaway hardcover/textbook editions. But for some reason, people like the appearance of leather when choosing a Bible for giveaway. Also, if your church uses the same Bible edition in the pews, the “gift” can look like you just went into the sanctuary/auditorium and grabbed something off the rack to give away.

The good news is that many churches can afford to do better, and many publishers are now making this possible.

♦ The NLT Bible (Tyndale) introduced some “Premium Value Slimline” editions several years back including both regular print and large print, retailing at $15.99 and $20.99 respectively. (All prices USD.)

♦ Then the NIV (Zondervan) entered the race with their “Value Thinline” editions, again in two sizes at $14.99 and $19.99, with five different covers.

♦ Next, The Message (NavPress) created three “Deluxe Gift” editions in regular print at $15.99.

♦ Then, back to NIV for a minute, Zondervan upped the game by discontinuing their existing editions and replacing them with new ones using their new, much-easier-to-read Comfort Print font. Pricing stayed the same. 

♦ Because of their expertise and success with the NIV product, HarperCollins Christian Publishing recently introduced the similar editions in NKJV, using the same Comfort Print font.

♦ Finally, I noticed this week that ESV (Crossway) is also in the game, with “Value Thinline” and “Value Compact” editions.

In all of these there is a much better paper stock and therefore a much more readable font. They look like something the church isn’t ashamed to give away, and the recipient is proud to own.

Further, for customers on a budget, there’s nothing stopping these from being purchased individually and becoming someone’s primary Bible.



  1. I know it’s the last thing you want to hear but more and more people read the Bible, including at church and during Sunday School, on their phone or tablet. I have a full text ESV downloaded to my Android phone; there are no notes or other features but the full text of the Bible takes only a little bit of memory. It behoves Bible publishers to try hard to produce a product that consumers want whereas in the early 80’s it might not have mattered as much.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — July 9, 2018 @ 7:57 pm

    • Okay, but you’re a pastor. What does your church hand out to people coming to church for the first time? I suppose, yes, you can tell them to download YouVersion or something similar, but that’s not really “giving” them anything, is it? It’s those giveaway Bibles that was the subject of this article.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — July 9, 2018 @ 8:44 pm

      • Our church has an older hymnal, a newer hymnal and a hardcover pew Bible in every pew rack. If our membership didn’t skew so heavily senior citizen we would be projecting scriptures and lyrics during every worship service. They don’t “give” first time visitors anything but I hear what you’re saying. They do have some gift & award Bibles in the office packed in shrink wrap for graduations and baptisms. And you’re right about them being cheap.

        Comment by Clark Bunch — July 11, 2018 @ 11:47 am

  2. I have an ESV Study Bible on my desk, a gift from the late Michael Spencer. I preach from an NKJV (Billy Graham Training Center study Bible) that was a door prize at a pastor appreciation lunch. It’s very large, has a hard cover, and sits on the pulpit podium all the time. When I study and prepare sermons at home I use Bible Gateway on my Chromebook. I can cross reference multiple translations, look up commentary, Google things, etc. I have not purchased a Bible in years.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — July 9, 2018 @ 8:03 pm

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