In my introductory post I mentioned that as a part of the product development process I often not only ask myself whether or not we at Tyndale can produce a Bible but also whether or not we should produce that same Bible.
To be honest my initial thinking was about the relative merits of a given Bible. I mean, let’s face it, it is not very far down the road for us to get to Mark Buchanan’s “left-handed bald gypsy fiddler’s Bible” (complete with holographic maps of the temple if I recall properly. See page 200 of Your God is Too Safe) if we are not diligent. But as ElShaddai Edwards asked in the comments section with specific reference to this can/should issue, there is another side, namely market opportunity.
I have to say that I understand why the very phrase “market opportunity” in conjunction with Bibles can and does raise red flags for people. This is not unique to Bibles, and at its most basic level it is the issue of business versus ministry. This is an issue that anyone involved with Christian prducts -retailers, publishers, authors, etc. – all struggle with at some point or another. Ministry is the motivator, but the business has to be sound. This often sets up serious dilemmas which I struggled with as a book and music buyer and I also struggle with now. I have been called jokingly called a “purist” around the office and I take that as a compliment. The reality is, however, if the business end doesn’t work the ministry can’t happen. It seems a bit crass I know, but that’s the reality we face as publishers.
Take the issue of a wide margin, single column Bible for instance. I get requests from a couple of sources for this one. Mostly these requests are from people in the blogosphere who are passionate and vocal. Frankly, I totally agree with those of you requesting this edition. I want one myself. Preferably in a really nice genuine leather edition. One that I could take notes in and someday give to one of my kids. Here is where the can vs. should issue gets tricky because it is the opposite of the way that I tend to think about it.
The problem is that the economics on a project like this have made it very difficult to create. The Notemaker’s Bible in the first edition of the NLT was exactly the kind of product that we are talking about. It was developed before I came to Tyndale , but from all the reviews I have seen, the team’s efforts to get it right paid off. But there was a problem. Big one. It sat on store shelves. And sat. To be fair there could be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe our price was wrong, maybe the cover or the title were just a bit off. Maybe the timing was just wrong. I’m honestly not sure.
The issue here is not one of whether or not the product is worthy, but whether or not it’s viable. There’s a lot that goes into the creation of a Bible. Things like the time and money invested in design, typesetting, proofreading, manufacturing, warehousing, freight (and yes that one keeps going up), how long the print run will be, which market segment is likely to stock that kind of a Bible, what the returns rate and average discount that channel receives and a whole lot of other issues as well, things like whether or not “the market” will support the product (i.e., is there a sufficient demand).
It’s a complex business to publish a Bible with a lot of variables and a lot of difficult decisions to be made. Print runs are a great example. Increase the print run and the cost of goods per unit goes down. This means it’s easier for us to be competitive in retail and sale pricing. It’s also a huge risk because you can sit on a lot of inventory for a long time if the product doesn’t work. And those are dollars that you can’t put into other projects. Which means that not only does the business potentially suffer, but so does ministry because opportunities may not be able to be pursued.
So here’s my question:
How would you strike the balance between “can vs. should”? What would that look like if you were the one developing Bibles?