The People Of The Books

Centuries ago,

Centuries ago, it was observed that "Of the making of many books there is no end" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). That is still true today. In this country, not only have we been about the making of many, many books in recent years - more than 175,000 new titles and editions last year alone - but there also appears to be no surcease in sight.

Over the past decade, the number of new titles coming out from U.S. book publishers has increased 50.8 percent, an unheard of rate of growth for an industry notorious only a few years ago for its turtle-like deliberateness. In 2003 alone, the industry’s output of new titles and editions grew by 19 percent over that of 2002, and every indicator points to another record year in 2004. For most of this decade-plus of record growth, religion has been the fastest-growing segment of trade publishing in the country, ceding place only once or twice to children’s publishing.

Religion publishing’s unprecedented growth was initially a reflection of circumstances having more to do with religion itself than with publishing. For a number of cultural, political, and social reasons that came up out of the 1960s and deeply affected the late ’80s and the early ’90s, Americans’ inquiries about spiritual matters began to take place less and less frequently in pastors’ studies and more and more often in the quiet back corners where most bookstores shelved their religion titles in those days. Conversations about God likewise slipped from being theology to being God-talk and, shortly thereafter, to god-talk, just as they drifted from being the purview of the seminary to being the stuff of earnest, water-cooler preoccupations.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2004
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