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Scripture with Sizzle

In a multimedia world of consumers so hungry for stimuli that dangling earbuds are ubiquitous and newspapers incorporate video into their online reports, it makes sense that the outstanding trends in Bible publishing these days involve alternatives to black-and-white words on a page. All-star audiobooks, online video Bible promotions or companion DVDs, manga Bibles and fresh graphic treatments for the Good Book are all signs of the times and proof of publishers' eagerness to engage readers of all ages.

In the midst of all this innovation and proliferation of options, some publishers ask themselves: is more better? “I think that the challenge today at the retail level is the volume of Bibles that are available,” says Paul J. Caminiti, v-p and publisher of Bibles at Zondervan. “It would be wise for all Bible publishers to ask the hard questions. With all the Bibles that we put out, are we really getting through?” That's why as an overall strategy, Zondervan is concentrating on “fewer but better Bibles,” Caminiti says.

The Sound of Star Power

This fall, Zondervan leads its Bible program with the Bible Experience line, releasing another audio joint venture with Inspired by Media Group that features a cast of black actors, musicians and religious luminaries. Following the success last year of its Inspired by... The Bible Experience: New Testament in Today's New International Version (TNIV), this month brings the release of the Old Testament and complete Bible editions. The New Testament has sold more than 325,000 copies since releasing last fall, so Caminiti expects good things from Inspired by... The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible—especially from retailers who show the making-of companion DVD, a proven sales mover. An Old Testament stand-alone product also is available through Christmas.

Samuel Jackson voiced God in the New Testament, but Nigerian pastor Paul Adefarasin read the part for the Old Testament. “It was nice to have an international tone, and he has a fantastic voice,” Caminiti says. The 400-member cast includes Forest Whitaker as Moses, Angela Bassett as Esther and eternally slinky Eartha Kitt as the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Now it will be stars vs. stars with a top Thomas Nelson project, the New King James Version (NKJV) The Word of Promise: New Testament Audio Bible (Oct.), which also comes with a behind-the-scenes DVD. Jim Caviezel, who acted the title role in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, plays Jesus again. Kimberly Williams-Paisley voices Mary, Luke Perry is Stephen and Judas, Lou Gossett Jr. is John, and Michael York narrates. “There is a community in Hollywood that truly desires to serve God,” says Bob Sanford, v-p and publisher of study Bibles and reference.

Also from Nelson, the Man in Black comes back via Johnny Cash Reads the Complete New Testament: Collector's Edition (June 2007). First released in 1990, this NKJV project features previously unpublished photos of the late legend. And pointing to research that 20 million Christians identify with the emergent church movement—made up of younger Christians seeking nontraditional ways to discover and express their faith—Nelson has initiated the Voice interactive Bible retelling project, with books, music CDs, a Web site at, a series of illustrations created for the project's books, video blogs and podcasts releasing throughout 2008. This endeavor uses stars of a different sort—top emergent church authors like Brian McLaren and Donald Miller. “We are working with authors and writers and artists who are immersed in that culture,” Sanford says. “It's not something we're publishing for them; it's something that is arising out of that group.”

Manga Mania

After a brief, ahead-of-its-time trial with faith-based graphic novels a few years back, religion publishing's refreshed foray into that medium brings rival manga versions of the Bible for a younger (and young-minded) demographic. And publishers are using online and in-store videos to market them.

Thomas Nelson's successful line of New Century Version (NCV) Biblezines (Becoming 2008 for women released in July) has helped ready the U.S. Christian market for manga interpretations of the Bible, says Trace Murphy, Doubleday Religion editor-in-chief. In January, Doubleday will publish the U.S. edition of what is described as the first English-language manga version of the Good Book, The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation by British cartoonist Siku, who is Christian. Hodder & Stoughton published the book—which uses the TNIV text and, unlike traditional manga, reads from front to back—earlier this year in the U.K.

Murphy notes that manga, a graphic form that originated in Japan, has entered its second U.S. generation. “In a way, we're sort of stretching the boundary of what manga may have represented in terms of subject matter, the ethos and the morality of it. But the Bible takes it in a new direction.”

Tyndale House also went overseas for manga. Manga Messiah (Sept.), an interpretation of the Gospels, and Manga Bible (Nov.) by Next Inc.—known in Japan as New Life League—were previously translated from Japanese and released in English in the Philippines, says Kevin O'Brien, Tyndale's director of Bibles and Bible reference. Tyndale worked to make the translation more consistent with American English usage for its versions. The artists, who are not individually identified, are Christians successful in mainstream manga, he says, adding, “It's a little bit tricky because my understanding also is that there would be possible negative ramifications with their main manga work in Japan if it was known they were Christians.”.

Color and Vision

Meet Holman, a Nashville-based guy in his first job out of college who video blogs on about his life, relationships and dreams. Truth be told, he's a fictitious character portrayed by an actor, and his real work is leading the “Visual Generation” to B&H Publishing Group's The Holman Student Bible (July), which uses the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation; the book comes in paper, cloth and simulated leather editions, and boasts four-color graphics on every page.

“The Millennials [teens and twenty-somethings] like full color and graphics,” says Tim Jordan, Bible marketing manager. Hoping for viral marketing, B&H has placed links to (10,000 visitors since May) on MySpace and Facebook, and has been sending megachurch youth pastors free copies of the Bible with a DVD of some video blog episodes.

The color principle persists in Standard Publishing's Bible market debut with eight versions of the Standard Full Color Bible (Sept.), in NIV, KJV and Spanish Reina Valera Version (RVR) translations. Color organizes each verse of Scripture into 12 key themes such as God, Love, Family and Prophecy. “People probably have different ideas about what goes where,” notes Rebekah Stewart, marketing manager for adult products. The concept originated with Billy Hughey, who quit the banking industry to self-publish The Rainbow Study Bible in 1986; Standard acquired it late last year.

Finally, older Bible readers often need more than pictures, charts and tints. A little big print might be nice, but be sure to give it a cool name—like, say, XL. In September, HarperOne introduced larger-print New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bibles in three XL editions. “Baby boomers are getting older, and readability is getting more important,” says Michael Maudlin, editorial director and v-p. “We tried to do something that is cool and hip.”

Still, Maudlin and other publishers don't forget they're dealing with something more than a mere commodity to be manipulated in any way that might wring out a buck. “I think publishers are looking for as many channels and avenues as we can to reach people with Bibles,” says B&H's Jordan. “We have to create those Bible products that are going to connect with them and help them understand that the Bible is just as relevant today as it was for someone a hundred years ago.”