Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

Wayne Leman over at the Better Bibles Blog (my proposed subtitle- Making Good Translations Even Gooder, and I will continue to make this joke until they make it official) cites someone who cites the latest figures in Bible salesThe original poster (meaning “one who posted” rather than something you hang on your wall) and Wayne note that the TNIV doesn’t appear on the Top 10 list for sales by translation, either by unit sales or dollar sales.  Here is the chart, orginally taken from the CBA report:

They both mention the decline in TNIV sales as well as the surprising (to some) continued sales of the HCSB.  As I mentioned in a comment on the BBB post, the latter doesn’t surprise me at all, since the HCSB has the backing of the largest Protestant denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention (and it’s a good translation).

But the relatively poor sales numbers (though these figures are only from Christian bookstores, so the numbers may not reflect total sales accurately) of the TNIV are a bit more surprising to me.  When I first started reading the TNIV regularly back in the fall of 2006, I assumed it would do reasonably well if for no other reason than it’s an improvement on the NIV (see Blomberg’s article), which is the most popular translation among evangelicals.  Who wouldn’t want to make a good thing even better?  I didn’t think that it would “take over” the market, mainly because there are so many translations available, unlike in previous generations.  In the late 70’s evangelicals basically used 1 of 3 options: the NIV, the KJV or the NASB (of course, I was born in 1979 so I could be corrected on this front).

But I think there are a number of reasons why the TNIV hasn’t done well.  I touched on it in my comment at BBB, but I thought I’d expound a little more here.  First, I agree with one of the other commentators that Zondervan’s marketing strategy wasn’t very good (I’m not even sure they have one anymore).  When I looked for a TNIV back in the summer of 2006, I had a hard time finding one that didn’t look like it was intended for a teenage girl.  I’m a man in my 20’s, I don’t want a Bible with polkadots or various shades of purple.  I finally found one that was a 2-tone black Bible, and even that was trendier than I wanted.

Second, the anti-TNIV campaign has been very strong, which is rather unfortunate.  I still have people say to me, when I mention that I like the TNIV, “that’s the gender-neutral Bible!” with a mixture of horror and disbelief that I would allow myself to degrade God’s word.  After all, the TNIV emasculates the Bible!  (Side note: I’ve never read a translation and thought to myself, “my, that was rather masculine.”  How would a Bible translation be masculine?  Perhaps an audio Bible, narrated by Ted Nugent with sounds from a football game and Harley engines revving in the background?  Oh wait, this guy has already told us.  But I digress…)

The anti-TNIV campaign has been effective.  You have at least one website dedicated to showing not just the flaws of the TNIV (all translations have flaws) but rather the danger of accepting the TNIV as a legitimate translation for evangelicals.  They’ve drafted a list of over 900 “inaccuracies” from the TNIV.  Mind you, “inaccuracy” is a misleading term; this list would be better titled “Over 900 Translations from the TNIV that Are Potentially Not the Best Option.”  Of course, such a title doesn’t catch attention.

There is also the list of gravely concerned evangelicals who oppose the TNIV.  It helps that there are important names on this list that would make it difficult for Zondervan to market effectively.  I can think of 2 men specifically who have a leading position in evangelicalism.  One, James Dobson, is one of the most influential evangelical voices for my parents’ generation.  The other, John Piper, is, in my opinion, the single most influential evangelical voice for my generation.  These men, and others on the list, are trusted men.  And since most church goers don’t know enough about what goes into a Bible translation, this is enough to shy away from the TNIV.  The truth is, I trust D A Carson’s thoughts about Bible translation more than anyone on that list, and he has endorsed the TNIV (or perhaps “stuck up for the TNIV”, I don’t want to put words into his mouth).

I don’t really want to get into a point-by-point refutation of the TNIV critics.  One of the concerns with these critics, and thus those who read them, is that the TNIV is a translation for “feminists and egalitarians.”  I generally point out that I can think of a few complementarians who were on the translating committee (Douglas Moo, Karen Jobes, Bruce Waltke), as well as a couple who are a part of the revision committee (Craig Blomberg and Mark Strauss).  Has anyone told them that they are being driven by a feminist agenda?  I’m sure they’d like to know.  There may be other complementarians, I haven’t done enough research on every member to find out where they stand.  And the aforementioned D A Carson is a complementarian.  My point is that the average church goer doesn’t know this and therefore can’t make a fully informed choice.  When they’re told that the TNIV is part of a feminist agenda, they are more likely to believe it because they don’t know much about the scholars behind the translation.  These aren’t Harvard liberals with an agenda, they’re top notch scholars from top notch evangelical schools.

Now, I started using the TNIV not because I was looking for something new, but because it is recommended in the book we use in our Bibles classes (which started in September 2006).  I thought that if it were recommended in the book I’m teaching from, I ought to be familiar with it.  I was always an NASB user, so it was an interesting change of pace.  I’ve been using it now for 2.5 years and I think it’s a good translation.  Not perfect, but good.  I have no problem recommending it to people, but I don’t necessarily tell people to run out and buy it, either.  Since most in my church use the NIV, I let them know that if they are thinking about purchasing a new Bible (maybe their Bible is falling apart, they gave it away, the kids threw it in the toilet, etc) then I’d recommend the TNIV.  If their Bible is in good condition and they like it and they aren’t in need of a new one, then the NIV is perfectly fine and they don’t need to go out and get a TNIV.  I’d rather them use that money to buy a homeless man a sandwich or give it to Wycliffe Bible Translators so that people who actually need a Bible translation (rather than another Bible translation) can get one (don’t worry, that rant is coming).

Believe it or not I actually have a point in this post.  I’m interested in all this, in part, because I never really thought about how marketing Bible translations plays a role in people’s choices.  Maybe I’m naive, but I guess I thought the better translations would win out.  Instead, I think we’re witnessing how marketing and anti-marketing campaigns have factored into the landscape.

I’d like to ask our reader(s) what translation you use and why you chose that one.  There’s no real right or wrong answer here.  Did you make your choice because it was recommended by someone (a friend, a pastor, an author, scholar, etc)?  Did you try out a couple translations and decide on one?  If so, what factored into your decision?  I’m sincerely interested, so feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think about all this.

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Tyler Wigg-Stevenson has written a great article about the dangers of “marketing” Christianity.  It is well worth the read.  Check it out here.

(Thanks to our good friend Ben for spotting this one.)

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