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The Truth About Fiction (It's Better Than You Might Think)

Friday, October 01, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: ECPA
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Michael Covington, Information & Education Director, ECPA

E-Link, October 2010


Michael Covington

(Hint: read the whole article for the really good stuff.)
You may have recently read a statistic that Christian fiction nearly eclipsed Bible sales among Christians in 2009.  This information came from a new report from ECPA, 2009 ECPA Consumer Demographics & Book Buying Behaviors Report (available here).  We all know statistics only tell part of the story, and this is one story that many have picked up on.  So, we thought it would be a good idea to look at this fiction vs. Bibles issue from a few different statistical angles.

ChartFirst things first, it is important to understand who was polled and how we classified them.  The ECPA report was created using data culled from the purchases of more than 40,000 book buyers in 2009.  This same data was used to create the larger report from R.R. Bowker that focuses on the overall book industry (available in the ECPA Store).  Respondents completed online surveys of their book purchases throughout the year, providing data such as the where, why, when and how of their purchase occasions. 

Prior to completing these surveys, respondents provide personal information such as gender, household income, education, etc.  Additionally, respondents can answer a series of questions related to their religious affiliation.  If they checked "Christian," then they are provided a series of questions that serve as diagnostics used to categorize these self-professed Christians into one of five categories: Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private and Cultural Christians.

The types of questions asked relate to spiritual practices such as church attendance, ministry involvement, prayer, devotional reading, Christian media consumption, personal evangelism, sacramental participation and much more.  The purpose of this is to more closely understand the interests and various respective purchasing habits of the aforementioned groups.

In 2009, we began studying the Bible purchasing habits of these groups in addition to Non-Fiction and Fiction titles that fall inside of the most commonly used BISAC subject codes for Christian titles.  This is how we were able to determine that the total of all five Christian groups purchased nearly as much Christian Fiction (19%) as Bibles (23%).  This bit of news created quite a stir in the blogosphere (especially among agents and Christian novelists).  That buzz is only going to grow, for we didn't reveal additional statistics within each Christian group, let's take a look now. 

In the interest of space, we will look at the Active Christian group only, which made up 61% of all Christian book purchases. The Active Christians were the single largest Christian segment (25%) and spent more dollars on Christian fiction than any other segment (68%).  Among this group of Christians, Christian fiction actually made up 20% of their Christian book spend for 2009 as opposed to 18% for Bibles.  That's right, among the core consumer of Christian books, Christian fiction has already eclipsed Bible purchases in units.  The silver lining for Bibles remains in the average dollars spent per unit.  Active Christians spent a little more than $25 (actual sale price) per Bible, as opposed to the average fiction title fetching $8 per unit.

Is this surprising to you?  If you had made this assertion 20 years ago, no one would have believed it.  But that was before such runaway bestsellers as the Left Behind series or The Shack.  More and more, ECPA publishers are experiencing success and new found growth in the Christian fiction category.  Does this indicate a waning interest in the scriptures or simply an increasing appetite for new ways to communicate the truths found therein?

You know what they say: "Truth is stranger than fiction." We may also add that it doesn't sell as well either.

To order the 2009 ECPA Consumer Demographics & Book Buying Behaviors Report, visit the ECPA Store.


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