The Christian Publishing Industry

This is the article I wrote for the newly formed CMA. You may still visit this LINK to see the entire newsletter full of good information. I’ve only posted my article here for convenience of locating it. 🙂

The Christian Publishing Industry –

By Sue Dent

The Christian Booksellers Association formed in 1950. Before that, Christian authors from all walks of faith were published by general market publishers and sold in general market bookstores. Beyond that, no Christian Publishing Industry as such, existed. Christian Bookstores didn’t carry fiction. They sold Sunday School material, Bibles, and trinkets.

In 1950, all that changed [http://www.cbaonline.org/nm/timeline.htm] when a group of Christian Bookstores, and it is important to note these were Baptist Bookstores, decided they wanted to provide customers with fiction that defined who they were, fiction that appealed to a narrowly targeted audience, overt and sanitized and carrying a cover-to-cover essence of what they considered “Godly.” The Christian Booksellers Association, or rather CBA, came into existence. Their market has been, and still is, as defined as:

“. . . the primary market served by Christian Retail stores is the evangelical market…. ”

Other markets CBA “seeks” to serve:

“About half of Christian retail stores also seek to serve the needs of Catholic customers and Spanish-language customers. About a quarter seek to serve the urban market, and about a third seek to serve the home-school market.” http://www.cbaonline.org/nm/media.htm

The CBA market as defined here, is still evangelically narrow.

CBA operates as a gatekeeper organization to ensure that member publishers tow the line. In return, member publishers are guaranteed a spot in Christian Bookstores. In 1974, a group of these publishers formed the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association or ECPA to do the same thing the CBA was doing. http://www.ecpa.org/faq.php

Over time, these two organizations became referred to as the Christian Publishing Industry. ECPA and CBA-affiliated publishers were widely accepted as the only true Christian publishers and Spring Arbor, CBA’s official distributor, became known as the official Christian distributor. Yet with the label “Christian” being such a broad term by definition, the waters began to get muddy.

It isn’t unusual and indeed is quite the norm for those in the CBA and ECPA camp to define their market as CBA or ABA, secular or Christian thus excluding, whether intentional or not, every other Christian market out there. Not an earth-shattering proclamation unless one considers that CBA and ECPA, who serve a narrow market of Christendom, are now being recognized as the Christian Publishing Industry. CBA and ECPA publishers began to make enough of an impact monetarily that bigger houses took notice. Several larger houses such as Harper Collins and Random House added affiliated publishers as imprints. Some of the imprints did very well, and continue to do so. Others didn’t, and the trend of acquiring affiliated imprints seems to have stopped, or at least slowed down.

The next big change in the Christian Publishing Industry came in 2006, when

Ingram acquired Spring Arbor. Is this the beginning of the end of exclusivity? It certainly looks like it could be as Ingram/Spring Arbor allowed non-affiliated Christian books into distribution to the CBA and ECPA market, or rather the Christian market. Despite this monumental move, however, Christian Bookstores remain exclusive to CBA and ECPA-affiliated work. The only advantage for a non-affiliated Christian author, once their work is deemed “socially acceptable” for the Christian Market, is that exclusive Christian Bookstores can order their work if a customer asks.

With CBA and ECPA defining the Christian Publishing Industry, and meeting no resistance, it is no surprise that absolutely everything in Christian publishing, called “Christian,” is associated with these two fee-requiring affiliations. ECPA and CBA both hold award ceremonies to recognize the best in Christian Fiction. No book is eligible unless published by a CBA or ECPA-affiliated publisher. If non-affiliated work is allowed in, it is held up against CBA and ECPA standards.

The American Christian Fiction Writers Association (ACFW), is a writing group designed to help Christian authors find a CBA or ECPA-affiliated publisher. The ACFW’s Book of the Year awards allow non-affiliated Christian authors to participate (entry fees, of course), but, again, non-affiliated work will be held up to CBA and ECPA standards.

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is a blog tour for Christian authors who wish to participate. An author pays $500, provides upwards of fifty free books, but will be scrutinized and perhaps turned down, if their non-affiliated novel doesn’t match up against CBA or ECPA standards.

It goes on and on, and it makes one wonder when the madness will ever stop. Slowly, things are coming around. The Christian Media Association (CMA) recognizes and sees that something needs to be done, so the Christian Publishing Industry actually represents what all Christians want to read, rather than what some want to read.

Addendum:

Please understand that CBA, because of its large audience and more certainly because of the money they show themselves making, has come to define the Christian Publishing industry.

Isn’t it interesting though? CBA is a fee based organization. For the fee they give affiliated publishers who promise (by joining) to abide by a specific and targeted writing agenda, the opportunity to flood larger affiliated Christian Bookstores with their work thus insuring them the best chance to sell their work. No non-affiliated author, even with legitimate distribution through Spring Arbor, can get in these exclusive stores.

In conclusion there’s nothing inherently wrong with an organization charging a fee and promising/providing something in return but I think there’s something very wrong when that association is defined as an industry set up to provide services and help for all Christian publishers/authors. Hmm . . .

I’m not one to tell a reader what books to buy and not to buy but I will tell you this, anytime you buy from a CBA or ECPA affiliated publisher you’re supporting an industry that doesn’t support all Christian authors. Christian publishers who don’t pay the large fee are excluded from all larger Christian bookstores on-line and otherwise, blogs, award ceremonies, promotional opportunities etc . . . yet CBA is heralded as the Christian publishing industry.

Because I appeal to that wonderful audience, affiliated books are being bundled with mine on different sites. PLEASE, if you enjoy affiliated work don’t buy it bundled with mine. I don’t want to know that I furthered this kind of exclusive mentality. Shouldn’t I be interested in sales you say? Yep I am interested in selling books. I’m also very interested in pointing to publishers who are working to help all authors make a living. I’m not interested in exclusivity. 😉

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