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.

 

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August 6, 2016

Tyndale House Shelves Perry Noble Book Indefinitely

Two days ago, when this story was breaking, I posted the following news story from Greenville Online at a trade blog I write for people in Christian publishing and Christian retail. A similar story appeared at Slate with raw video from a church member. (I’m assuming here you’ve already read last month’s reports of Noble’s resignation.)

Perry Noble on DatingA Christian publishing company has decided to shelve, at least temporarily, the latest book from former NewSpring Church pastor Perry Noble.

The book, “11 1/2 Questions To Help You Date Without Regret,”was originally scheduled to be released to the public Sept. 27.

A spokeswoman for Tyndale House Publishers said Wednesday that the company has moved Noble’s book to “unscheduled status.”

“We plan to review this status at a future date and then evaluate the viability of releasing this book at another time,” publicist Margie Watterson said in an email to the Independent Mail.

Watterson said there is no set date for that evaluation to occur…

continue reading at Greenville Online.

Most of the things I post there — and the readership is quite small — don’t attract a lot of attention, but this one led to an exchange with someone — perhaps a rabid Perry Noble fan — on Twitter:

“…all because he made mistakes? See man! THIS is why people don’t want to follow Jesus man. We don’t help our wounded!!! We shoot them! Stupid.

So I want to offer some opinions on this, as my original responses vanished — including something written hastily about not taking advice from someone who had failed in some measure — in the cloud:

  • This is about a publishing decision, not about the book itself. The book had already been vetted by Tyndale’s acquisitions and editorial staff. Tyndale is currently keeping three previous Noble titles in their catalog. That is significant. They just may think the timing is bad to launch a new title, especially one that dealers might be skittish about stock right now.
  • It’s possible the subject matter of this one is related (directly, indirectly or whatever) to the issues that led to Noble’s resignation and it’s possible that the public doesn’t have all the facts related to the resignation. If it turned out there were other factors and the publishers felt this was the wrong time for Noble to speak to the topic raised in the book, then they would be acting with prudence to shelve the title for the time being.
  • This in no way diminishes the content of the book which may be useful, helpful and insightful. Publishing is all about author platform, about the matter of who is speaking. For the reasons above, they may feel this there is, right now, an author credibility issue.

This type of thinking led my correspondent to suggest:

I’d take advice from them if they had success in business before. Trump has failed in the business realm but had success too and that’s how I’d equate noble… Sure he has failed in areas but he’s also had A LOT more success than failure… and also, if someone has failed that means what they say now isn’t valid? A divorced person can’t give insight to a marriage because he got divorced? No! He definitely can. He can tell you the mistakes he made and should’ve changed… and he still speaks truth despite of failure or success. Check the Bible… Full of people that speak and are “failures”

To which I would respond:

  • Again, this is a publishing decision that is probably quite on the periphery of any issues the NewSpring board have dealt with over the last several days.
  • It’s possible that the type of transparency and honesty that Noble can bring to the book is indeed helpful, but that an update or revision is necessary at this stage, which might involve pulping copies already printed.
  • There’s such a thing as too soon. We’ve seen pastors and authors — rightly or wrongly — swiftly restored to ministry. In other cases we’re still in the middle of the story: Tullian Tchividjian, Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, C. J. Mahaney and others come to mind. (There are entire blogs which deal only with these things, so I’m not current on all the stories and names. )

Perry NobleAnd that’s how I ended my conversation, with this: “So my guess on this one is that you will eventually see copies of the book in bookstores. They’re probably just biding their time.” (I base that largely on Tyndale’s decision to keep the previous three titles in print and online.)

But there is one more thing I shared, and that was a response to the premise that this is type of issue is “why people don’t want to follow Jesus…”

I disagree.

  • First, I think that this type of story represents an excuse someone might use for not wanting to follow Jesus when their mind is already made up.
  • Second, I think Luke 16 is helpful, where in the parable of the shrewd manager, Jesus says, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” In other words, I think the seekers, the skeptics, the atheists, the agnostics, etc. recognize a logical business decision when they see it.

 

 

 

March 11, 2014

Comparing The Voice, The Message and The Living Bible

Bible translation issues

This is an article about three specific Bible versions, but has more to do with the form of each; the purpose is not to delve into specific translation issues associated with the use of words, phrases, sentences or the doctrinal implications of different translation practices.

Defining Terms

reach outThe Living Bible refers to the Bible originally begun in the 1960s by Ken Taylor to give his ten kids a better understanding of scripture at their suppertime family devotions. It is an English-to-English simplification of the ASV. This is not the same as the New Living Translation (NLT) though there is obviously shared history. The Living Bible is currently available for purchase in only two editions, a padded hardcover and an imitation leather anniversary edition. Anything else currently offered for sale is an NLT.

The Message BibleThe Message refers to the Bible written by Eugene Peterson beginning in the 1990s to help people not knowing the original languages a better feel for the dynamics and nuances of Biblical passages. It is Hebrew-to-English and Greek-to-English, so it is a translation (regardless what anyone tells you) but a translation that uses American colloquialisms and a conversational reading style.

The Voice BibleThe Voice is the most recent of the three and was developed over the last ten years by the Ecclesia Bible Society, and while it is also a translation, the translators worked with stylists (poets, playwrights and musicians) to create something that blended traditional approaches and some radical departures in form.

Similarities

All three Bibles were quickly embraced by people looking for an alternative, fresh take on the text, and therefore each has impacted a different generation. Similarly, all three were roundly criticized by traditionalists and conservatives as taking too many liberties or not being “Bible enough.” Some people simply have an automatic aversion to new translations, or are influenced by church leaders who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in all things.

All three were released in stages; The Living Bible began as a series of smaller books, Living Letters, Living Gospels and Living Psalms and Proverbs being three examples; The Message Old Testament came out as a series of four hardcover books; The Voice issued a variety of editions consisting of individual Bible books and two music CDs.

Completed versions of all three came out in 1971, 2003 and 2012 respectively, and all three spread in popularity through word-of-mouth recommendations.

Unique Characteristics

Today it’s hard to think of The Living Bible as radical, but several publishers rejected it, so Ken Taylor created Tyndale House Publishers and released Living Letters with a whopping print run of 2,000 copies in 1962. A year later, Billy Graham endorsed the project and gave away many times that number on his crusade telecasts. While sometimes a publishing company will work to fill a void by creating a Bible, this is a Bible that created a publishing company. By today’s standards, Taylor’s work wasn’t all that controversial, but his decision to render the Psalms as prose rather than poetry is one of the features that was later undone in the creation of the NLT.  Taylor was fortunate to have predated the internet; today bloggers would be lining up to dissect every jot and tittle, but at the time, it was a simply matter of you either liked it your didn’t. Tyndale House today publishes Randy Alcorn, Francine Rivers, James Dobson and the Left Behind series.

I once read an interview where Eugene Peterson was surprised when churches started using The Message as part of Sunday liturgy. He envisioned the project having more personal application. Besides taking a straight-forward, in-your-face approach to many Biblical images and narratives, The Message originally came to market sans verse numbers; the only allusion to them being guides at the top of the page where chapters cut across several pages. Later editions added verses numbers in varying degrees, but even today, the most numbered editions tend to group three or four verses together which is, in many respects, more consistent with what’s needed to render the English equivalent to the original texts. There are some among the Christian community who are more than willing to totally dismiss the project, but reading some of Peterson’s more recent writing helps me appreciate his clout as a Bible scholar that he brought to this project. The Message is published by NavPress, the book division of The Navigators discipleship ministry.

The Voice Bible in many respects honored the work done by the KJV translators in retaining two of their strategies. First, where words were added to the text they were set in italics to show that they were not to be found in the original languages.  Second, the aforementioned stylists were added to the mix to work with translators to bring about a finished product that sometimes goes out of its way to try to find new ways to restate old things (i.e. rendering Yahweh and Elohim as “Eternal One.”) But The Voice’s most unique contribution to the world of Bibles is its use of dramatic script (play) form wherever there is any type of dialog (see page sample image.) The Voice also borrows from The Amplified Bible in its application of word meanings in the italicized sections, and because of its desire to produce a dramatized script, what would normally be introductory or supplementary notes are embedded in the text between verses so as to give a type of stage direction. Unfortunately, The Voice also suffered at the hands of a vocal internet community that was as willing to pounce on a new translation as King-James-Only-ites were to decry the NIV. Trade distribution of The Voice is handled by Thomas Nelson.

Bible Translation Continuum

Why It Matters

It has been said that a religious group that does not impart its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction. We live in an ADD-plagued, media-saturated, Biblically-illiterate world. Over the years publishers have tried to encourage new readers with everything from devotional Bibles to Biblezines. A kids edition was issued with a faux fir cover for girls and a lockable metal chest cover for boys.

Still, sometimes we need to address the translations themselves; to rethink the base texts on which creative editions can be based. Furthermore, the language itself is ever changing, always evolving. Just as the radio industry once offered a choice of a half dozen or so formats (pop, country, classical, progressive rock, etc.) today’s cultural fragmentation means there are now dozens of different types of music channels. Similarly, the days of all of us at small group Bible study reading from the translation are probably over.

So while the last few years have also brought us The Expanded Version, the HCSB and the ESV, which would appeal to former Amplified, NKJV and NASB readers respectively, we also need the creative vision of those willing to boldly go where no translation has gone before.

Ken Taylor, Eugene Peterson and the people at Ecclesia represent that kind of vision. Nobody is forcing anyone to read a particular version — people who dislike one of the above tend to dislike all three — but just as some visionaries said forty years ago that “it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people,” today we might add that “it takes all manner of translation styles to reach all types of people.”

Comments not directly on the specific topic of this article will not be printed. If you’ve come to this article with an agenda please comment elsewhere.

May 20, 2013

Bibles Worth Coveting

(Yes, I get the post title contradiction.)

I work a few days a week at a Christian bookstore. Some days it’s about retail, but some days I get into some really amazing conversations with people who have little to no faith background, which truly justifies the existence of the place.

There are a number of Bibles in the store that I always say I would grab if the store ever caught on fire. They are the Bibles I covet, and I do have a birthday coming up soon. (Okay, don’t anyone actually act on that, since I have connections you don’t.) So as much as I love my NIV Study Bible, here are few things I would gladly steal if I thought the boss wouldn’t catch me. (Yes, I know. You’re thinking, “First coveting and now stealing.” It’s just literary license, I actually am the boss.)

So here’s my personal wish list:

Bibles

Note: None of these are weird, esoteric or scholarly editions that only hardcore Bible junkies or geeky academics would want.  This is for the average person reading this.

  • The Voice Bible — I’ve reviewed a book here that describes the making of this translation, and at the sister blog to this one — Christianity 201 — I’ve been using quotations from The Voice now that it’s on BibleGateway.com but I don’t actually own one. Not yet. (Thomas Nelson; various prices)
  • The Contemporary Parallel New Testament — As mentioned above, you can do a lot of passage comparison online, but there are still times when a physical printed page holds some advantages and grants greater impact.  Includes: KJV, NASB Updated Ed., NCV, CEV, NIV, NLT, NKJV, and The Message (Oxford University Press; $49.99 US)
  • NIV Compact Giant Print Bible — While admittedly it clocks in around 2,400 pages, nobody told this 12-point type, NIV Giant Print Bible that it wasn’t supposed to be huge and clunky. The size is surprisingly manageable. Perfect for vain people who don’t want to admit they otherwise use reading glasses; and the only giant print Bible of any translations that I’ve seen that’s worthy of taking with you. (Zondervan; various prices)
  • NLT Full Verse Cross Reference — This one is not pictured as it’s out of print. Tyndale House Publishers is notorious for taking all my favorite Bibles out of print. We’re not good friends. But I loved the idea of spelling out all the cross referenced verses instead of having to flip back and forth, assuming the cross referenced verses are truly relevant.

Currently on our coffee table is the aforementioned NIV Study, the ESV Study, The Message New Testament (we appear not to own a full edition), a copy of the Common English Bible (CEB) and the Quick View NIV which I reviewed here in November. (The part about the upcoming birthday is true, however.)

March 9, 2010

The Evangelical Lent Experience

My first communication after joining the Tyndale Blogger Network — you’d think they would have avoided the TBN acronym — wasn’t so much a book to critique as an offer to help them clear out inventory of a $2.99(US) booklet, Devotions for Lent, which they provided to stores in 10-packs, and offered to ship out to reviewers in the same configuration for giveaway purposes rather than review.

I took them up on this because the thought of the very-Evangelical Tyndale House engaging the very-Mainline Protestant concept of Lent piqued my curiosity.    I expected them to use the opportunity to introduce what a few Evangelicals might have to speak to this period leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and also to infuse readings from their popular NLT (New Living Translation) with which non-Evangelicals would be less familiar.

“This is a win-win;” I said to myself, “And I want to see what it looks like.”

It turned out not to be daily readings, which is what I have been accustomed to seeing in a Lent devotional.    Rather, there was a collection of material for each of the six weeks of Lent, consisting of an introduction, a scripture reading, a classical devotional thought, and a contemporary thought taken from Mosaic edition of the NLT.   (Check out HolyBibleMosaic.com)  This version is also available as an iPhone app.    The scripture readings, referenced only in the weekly collection, are reiterated in a full text presentation in the second half of the 80-page booklet.

There is plenty of material here and I don’t want to minimize it by suggesting that these are only weekly readings; there is enough to break up the material and suggested scriptures over a number of days, perhaps Monday thru Thursday, for example.

But my problem in digging in deeper — aside from the fact that the season of Lent is now one-third passed — was the tiny type size used in the production of this resource.  Even with my seldom-used reading glasses it was a strain.   I had to ask myself if perhaps this was why these booklets were being so freely given away at this point.   Worse was the italicized typeface with the distracting flourishes on certain letters.   The writing of John Cassian — a writer with whom I was not familiar — had the word “Egypt” written next to his name, and I wondered if perhaps this was a clue that the reading was typeset in hieroglyphics.

I don’t mean to be over-critical, but sometimes it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vines” and the small details which can undermine a great resource concept. I hope Tyndale takes another run at this in the period leading up to Easter 2011.

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