Monday, at Novel Rocket, I re-posted an article I’d written a while back on men and the Christian market. I asked Does the Christian Fiction Industry Know How to Market to Men? During the course of the discussion, I found myself coming back to the idea that the Christian publishing industry has a “moral obligation” to approach this issue differently. On Facebook, Mark Skillin responded:
A moral obligation? From the premise that fiction is art/entertainment, not sure moral obligation applies here. To market and promote a product into a new market seems like a marketing decision involving financial risk to the company that may or may not be wise.
He’s right about the financial risk involved in choosing to market to an unproven demographic. But how is this any different than any other publisher in the decision-making process? Where does the “Christian” part of being a “Christian publisher” come in? I responded:
Mark, the fact that we attach the term “Christian” to our fiction changes the debate. If this is a “Christian” industry, representing “Christian” stories, from “Christian” authors, marketed to “Christian” readers, then I think certain moral obligations DO apply. For one, Christian publishers have a moral obligation to be good stewards of their money. Which means making more of it. Obviously, marketing to women is smart business. But if the goal is not just to make money, but to get the message out there and/or provide alternative fare for Christian readers, then NOT marketing to men is problematic.Watching male readers and authors migrate elsewhere should trouble us… unless simply making money is our bottom line. But if that’s the case, then what makes the Christian industry “Christian”?
Most Christian publishers have a mission statement similar to this one from Harvest House:
“To glorify God by providing high-quality books and products that affirm biblical values, help people grow spiritually strong, and proclaim Jesus Christ as the answer to every human need.”
Tyndale House Publishers goes into more detail:
Minister to the spiritual needs of people, primarily through literature consistent with biblical principles.
Dependent on God’s leading
Anchored in the Bible
Driven to make God’s Word accessible
Committed to excellence
Excel in business
Sustain controlled economic growth
Help employees grow
Bethany House provides “inspiration and encouragement to readers through story and spiritual insight” and adds this interesting side-note:
We are also committed to taking Christian writing to the wider world.
Thomas Nelson, the big dog of Christian publishing, and Zondervan, was recently bought by HarperCollins. What does that do to TN’s Christian mission? Their new CEO assures us:
Our mission is simple: “Inspire the world by promoting Biblical principles and meeting the needs of people with resources that glorify Jesus Christ.”
“Inspire the world.” “Glorify God.” “Affirm biblical values.” “Help people grow spiritually.” These are the things we’d expect from a Christian publisher. But when we look at the shape of the Christian market, can we ascertain these Christian values?
Do the types of stories being published and the demographics of the Christian market reflect distinctly Christian values?
I’m not one of those who thinks making profit is a sin. Being a good steward is a very “Christian” thing to be. Some authors often rail, “It’s all about the money.” Well, is losing money “Christian”? Is making bad investments “Christian”? The Bible condemns greed, not profit. So I’d say Christian publishers are “morally obligated” to not only make wise business decisions, but to do so without being greedy.
It’s some of these other areas that I wonder about.
If Christian publishers are committed to, even morally obligated to, “Inspire the world,” “help people grow spiritually strong,” or take “Christian writing to the wider world,” then why is the Christian market so narrow? Why are minority groups so unrepresented? Why is Men’s fiction so scant? Why are 85% of the stories aimed at women? Where is the Gospel message being sown in stories other than Amish, Historical Romance, and General Women’s Fiction? If we are truly embracing different values and standards than secular publishers, how is that showing in our market?
Listen. If the goal of Christian publishers is to simply make money, they seem to be doing that by marketing mainly to conservative Christian women. Smart. But our vision is — or should be — much larger. Right?
I’d love to hear your thoughts…