Religious publishers Kindle a light in darkness

05 October 2011

by Ed Thornton

PUBLISHERS of religious books are facing increasing demands from customers to make books available on electronic devices such as the Amazon Kindle.

Canterbury Press and SCM Press, which are owned by Hymns Ancient & Modern, recently started pub­lishing Kindle editions of books, including best-sellers such as A Simplified Life by Verena Schiller (Canterbury Press); and Hannah’s Child: A theologian’s memoir by Stanley Hauerwas (SCM).

The publishing director of Hymns A&M, Christine Smith, said that there had been “increasing numbers of requests from customers” for books to be published in electronic formats.

In January, the online retailer Amazon announced that it was “now selling more Kindle books than paperback books”. In a statement accompanying its financial results, it said that, for the first month of this year, for every 100 paperback books sold on its website, it had sold 115 books on Kindle. During the same period, it sold three times as man y Kindle books as hardback.

An editorial in The Observer in August said that “53 per cent of Kindle users say they are now reading more books than ever before.” One reason for the device’s popularity, it said, was that “the Kindle reader can have an entire library . . . for instant perusal.”

The senior commissioning editor of SCM Press, Dr Natalie Watson, said that e-books were “a godsend” for theological students, some of whom “live miles from a library”. The Kindle also allows users to highlight and review text easily, which may be another reason why this device is popular with students.

Last month, Hodder & Stoughton released the New International Version of the Bible as an e-book, available on Kindle, the Apple iPad, and the Sony Reader. The publishing director of Hodder Faith, Ian Metcalfe, said: “The Bible is a unique book, and we’ve worked really hard to ensure the NIV e-book version suits the way people actually read the Bible — so you can jump easily from one book to another, at the same time as focusing closely on the passage you’re studying.”


Another Christian publisher, SPCK, began publishing books on Kindle at the end of 2009, and now publishes for other e-readers as well. It has published electronically all of Tom Wright’s For Everyone series of New Testament commentaries, and John Goldingay’s For Everyone Old Testament commentaries.

Alexandra McDonald, who over­sees SPCK’s e-book programme, said that all books were now published in print and electronic formats. The sales figures of e-books mirrored those of print books. The most popular authors in print, such as Wright and Alister McGrath, were equally popular in e-books.

In April, Continuum launched an “e-books store”, where titles from its religion, humanities, and education lists are available to download in Adobe PDF and e-pub formats. It also now releases the majority of its frontlist titles as e-books at the same time as the print editions are released. It plans to publish the majority of its backlist — about 8500 titles — in e-book form.

The digital sales and marketing manager at Continuum, Rob Tebb, said that there was “a lot of activity” in the e-books market, and that its biblical-studies titles were popular on Kindle. Books that were the subject of controversy, such as Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson, a nun, which a committee of Roman Catholic bishops in the United States recommended should not be used in RC schools and universities, had also sold well on Kindle.

Mr Tebb thought that one reason for the popularity of the Kindle was its convenience: “You can search on Amazon, and have it delivered while eating your breakfast or on your commute.”

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