Is nothing sacred? Bible gets series of makeovers

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Formatted like a novel with "Tolkienesque" maps. Designed like a women's magazine, complete with makeup tips. Downloadable on MP3.

These are just some of the ways Christian publishers are repackaging the Bible to make the all-time No. 1 bestseller less intimidating and more relevant to teens and young adults.

The move is driven in part by a sense of mission. But it's also guided by a need to find new Bible buyers as the audience of Christian publishers grows older. "If you're in a business and your age cohort is graying, you have to think about your economic future," said Albert N. Greco, a business professor at Fordham University and statistician for the Book Industry Study Group.

Religious titles sell with fervor. The category-dominated by Evangelical Protestant titles-grew by 6% to $1.7 billion in 2003, according to Mr. Greco, while the overall publishing industry grew by 3% to $26 billion. Religious book sales, moreover, are expected to jump 11% to $1.9 billion this year.

Zondervan, a Christian publishing unit of Harper Collins, is pitching its upcoming Bible translation squarely at marketing's prime demographic of 18-to-34-year-olds. The "Today's New International Version"-updating the language of the 215 million copy-strong "New International Version"-will be launched in February.

`spiritually intrigued'

Although many in the targeted age group don't attend church-40% of young people stop attending after graduating from high school, according to Barna Research Group-it's an audience that is "spiritually intrigued," said Paul Caminiti, VP-associate publisher of bibles at Zondervan.

According to a Harris Interactive poll sponsored by Zondervan, 59% of 18-to-34-year-olds believe the Bible is relevant to their lives. Yet more than half don't read it or read it less than once a year.

Anxieties about turmoil in the world that's been brought to them by CNN and other 24/7 media outlets have prodded this group to being spiritually curious, he said.

Zondervan is issuing versions designed to appeal to different audiences-nine in all. It's rolling out a condensed, novel-like version called "The Story" that has "Tolkienesque" maps. His and hers editions-"True Identity: The Bible for Women" and "Strive: The Bible for Men"-have sections applying biblical passages and lessons to real life. And it will be available on MP3.

ad placement

Zondervan for the first time will promote Bibles in secular, young-adult media. Ads will run in publications like Conde Nast's Brides and Wenner Media's Rolling Stone as well as Web sites such as Viacom's DDM, located in Zondervan's hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., is the agency. Spending wasn't disclosed.

Zondervan also is partnering with a variety of church and student groups. The Newsboys, a popular Christian band, mention the "Today's New International Version" on their new CD and will be promoting it on their Web site and on tour.

The push is part of a broader Zondervan effort to reach this age group. This fall it launched "The Word on the Street" by actor Rob Lacey, a telling of the Bible replete with British street slang. The psalms are given in music styles, like "Brit Pop" and "Rock opera" and the book of Revelation is told in e-mails. A CD version is available.


Christian publisher NavPress last year launched a paraphrase of the Bible in contemporary language, "The Message: Remix" by Eugene Peterson, and religious publisher Thomas Nelson 18 months ago started rolling out "biblezines"-New Testaments cast as magazines. "Refuel" is aimed at teen boys and "Revolve" at teen girls, while "Magnify" is aimed at younger kids and "Becoming" resembles a women's fashion magazine. The text is broken up by quizzes ("Do you have a tender heart?"), discussion points and articles about dating, money and makeup.

The titles have sold 750,000 units, said Joe Powers, exec VP at Thomas Nelson, who said "What we're trying to do is make the scriptures more understandable ... to the younger generation."

Tyndale, which published the best-selling "Left Behind" series of novels, is taking a similar tack. In October it started selling selling "NT:Sport," a New Testament in a sports magazine format aimed mainly at teens.

"A lot of teens don't want to be carrying around a Bible, but most teens love sports magazines and ESPN," said Jeff Smith, Bible marketing manager for Tyndale.

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