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The Bible In All Its Niches

from the Wall Street Journal

Prophet Sharing: The Good Book Is the Best Seller

The Bible, Long a Commercial Hit, Gets Repackaged for Market Niches from the Homespun to the Fashion Forward


Mobile, Ala.

Upstairs in the Mobile Museum of Art, there’s a Bible on display — a majestic hand-drawn edition a decade in the making, and not yet finished. Presented as a work of modern art, its oversized pages are filled with ornate calligraphy and rich illustration, shot through with gold and silver leaf.

bibmob.pngDownstairs, in the museum foyer, another Bible lies open — this one so homespun as to be homely. An earnest young couple is carting it cross-country in an RV with a bobble-head Jesus on the dash, asking tens of thousands of ordinary Americans to each hand-write one verse. Blotches of white-out mark corrections.

The two editions on display this drizzly morning are as different as can be, yet they represent an essential truth: God’s word is good business.

Throughout history, the Bible has been an object of commerce as well as of reflection. That’s especially true in the modern era.

It’s an astonishing fact that year after year, the Bible is the best-selling book in America — even though 90% of households already have at least one copy. The text doesn’t vary, except in translation. The tremendous sales volume, an estimated 25 million copies sold each year, is largely driven by innovations in design, color, style and the ultimate niche marketing.

There’s Scripture as accessory, wrapped in hot pink fake leather or glittery psychedelic swirls — or sporting a ladybug on the cover for no particular reason other than it’s cute. There’s Scripture as political statement: A new Green Bible, printed in soy ink on recycled paper, highlights passages with an environmental theme.

There are gross-out Bibles for boys, which dwell on scenes of mayhem, and glossy teen-magazine-style Bibles for girls, complete with beauty tips. One of the latest entries, Bible Illuminated, offers an art-house take on the New Testament, juxtaposing the gospel with glossy photos of Angelina Jolie, Al Gore and anonymous victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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Posted on December 25, 2008 by Editor

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