Despite President Bush's dropping poll numbers, conservative commentators continue to fill the airwaves and the Internet. Seeking to sate an apparently huge audience's curiosity about current affairs from a conservative point of view, over the past few years Christian publishers have waded into the field with new imprints or programs.
How do their books fit with what conservative presses and imprints at general trade houses are doing? Are they competing for the same titles, or do the Christian houses add a faith component lacking from the general market conservative titles? In the changing political climate, do they see any decline in the demand for these kinds of books?
The market has become oversupplied and "incredibly competitive," says Joel Miller, associate publisher at Nelson Current. "The big challenge is to make sure we're not all publishing the same books."
Miller says newsy political books seem to be downtrending. Frustrations with the Bush administration may be contributing to the decline, he says, but so is market saturation. When his imprint entered the fray in 2002 as WND Books—a partnership between WorldNet Daily and Thomas Nelson, which was later dissolved—with first book Center of the Storm by Katherine Harris, Miller says, there was a huge surge of interest.
Now, he says, "we're probably going to see some correction. There's only so many political books that the book buyer can buy." As the market softens, competition heats up with New York imprints like Penguin/Sentinel, Crown Forum and Pocket Threshold for both big-name authors and B-listers who have "a spark of potential. I've lost a few acquisitions to both Crown and Threshold," he says.
Though an imprint of Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson, Nelson Current's agenda is "to publish provocative and relevant books on current events and public affairs," Miller says. For the most part, its titles are general market books that don't have any particular discussion of religion other than as it factors into public affairs.
Conservative Platforms Essential
The imprint's target demographic—conservative book buyers, political junkies and popular history fans—heavily overlaps with watchers and listeners of conservative talk shows and readers of conservative blogs.
These definitely have an influence on sales, says Denise Taylor, general manager at Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, Mich. Michael Savage's fans will come in and ask for any title he mentions on his show. Current affairs books sell to people who already have heard of them, she says.
Nelson Current published Savage's The Political Zoo(Mar.), Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder (2005) and, in fall 2005, a boxed set of hardcover editions of Savage's Liberalism, The Savage Nation and The Enemy Within.
Savage's first book, The Savage Nation (2003), has sold 400,000 copies. His subsequent releases have not done as well, but all have still been strong, Miller says. "He debuts on the New York Times list with every new book." Another Nelson Current star is judicial analyst Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, author of The Constitution in Exile (April) and Constitutional Chaos (Feb.).
Miller, author of Size Matters: How Big Government Puts the Squeeze on America's Families, Finances, and Freedom (Jan.), says people who consume conservative talk radio and television shows may be more motivated to follow current affairs and to buy relevant books. "We try to tie a lot of our books into things we expect talk radio will want to talk about," he says.
Articulating Biblical Values
While Nelson Current books will usually not have religion content, Strang Communications' FrontLine imprint has the mission of giving voice to "strong leaders who articulate what we consider to be biblical values in the marketplace of ideas," says publisher Steve Strang.
The imprint debuted last summer and already has scored a hit with the January release Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World by John Hagee, which by April 17 had sold 618,000 copies with its appeal to both current affairs and biblical prophecy fans.
Strang says the decision to start FrontLine came after the success of Strang books like The Faith of George W. Bush (2003) by Stephen Mansfield (copublished with Penguin), which has sold nearly 450,000 copies. That book and Silent No More (published under Strang's Charisma imprint in 2005) by Rod Parsley are being rebranded under the FrontLine imprint in an effort to distinguish them as current affairs books, mainly for the bookstore buyers who decide where to shelve titles.
Strang says, "I had become concerned about the direction of our country, and this is my way to add to the discussion and the cultural debate." As publisher of eight magazines, Strang is well aware of all the players in the current affairs market. "In most instances we go to the authors. But we have a new book coming out in May by David Brog called Standing with Israel. He was chief of staff for Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania for seven years. And that book actually came to us."
While Nelson Current's Miller speaks of saturation and possible reader weariness with political books, Strang's outlook is that the appetite for current affairs books is so huge that there is plenty of room for competition.
More Crowded Market
That's also the viewpoint of Mitch Muncy, executive v-p and editor-in-chief of conservative press Spence Publishing Company, which publishes Phyllis Schlafly, among other right-wing lights such as David Horowitz and Richard John Neuhaus.
"It's more crowded than it was when we started 10 years ago. But I don't sense there is necessarily a huge competition among all these imprints for the same book," Muncy says. As far as he can tell, Christian houses are not affecting the bottom line of existing conservative publishers. He says Spence will drop out when a bidding war goes too high.
If more publishers producing current affairs titles means more conservative authors are being published, that's a good thing, Muncy says, adding that he feels certain that having more editors looking to acquire these kinds of books is causing more of them to be written.
Trends Muncy sees include examinations of "the threat of radical Islam, from whatever angle one wants to approach that," as well as a growing number of conservative authors criticizing the Bush administration. "It's an error to look at conservative publishing as just the book annex of the Republican Party," Muncy says.
About 25% of the press's books cross over into the Christian market in some way. Those include The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy by political scientist Carson Holloway and The Meaning of Marriage, edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain (both Jan.).
The Faith Dimension
"The current discussion around the issues of the day has over the years just broadened to include a faith dimension," says David Moberg, publisher, executive v-p and COO of W Publishing, which has sold more than 200,000 copies of A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush (2004) by journalist David Aikman.
W looks first for authors who have a faith perspective and second for writers who can appeal to a broader audience. Sometimes faith is not a central theme but is one aspect, as in The Politics of Disaster: Katrina, Big Government, and a New Strategy for Future Crises (July) by political analyst and journalist Marvin Olasky, who includes a chapter on faith-based organizations' roles in the hurricane's aftermath. Moberg says, "I think while our books would tend to be a little bit more conservative, that doesn't define our program necessarily."
W signed Richard Cizik, v-p of governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals and environmentalism proponent, to write A Planet in Peril: Why Climate Change Is Becoming One of the Most Critical Issues Facing the Church Today, due out in April 2007.
David Shepherd, publisher and senior v-p at Broadman & Holman, believes conservative blogs have a big effect on book sales, and B&H is heavily promoting to blog readers. "I think these are people who are generally interested in knowing more about issues."
B&H doesn't have an imprint specifically for current affairs but produces about five books a year in that category, books like The ACLU vs. America by Alan Sears and Craig Osten and One Nation Under Man? by Brannon Howse (both Sept. 2005). The press presents a conservative perspective, "but first and foremost a biblical perspective," Shepherd says.
"News drives the demand, as does every race for the presidency. "The climate we're in today is driving more titles, and Christian publishers are adding to the debate."