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The Word on Bible-Buying

by Jennifer Robison

As every business leader knows, American consumers are picky about what they buy and like to have choices. You can find half a dozen types of apple in many grocery stores. The Ford Motor Company is offering 20 kinds of Fords this year, up from its initial offering of one.

Americans even face a choice when deciding which Bible to buy. In 2000, Gallup conducted a survey for the American Bible Society (ABS)*, with the intent to discover trends in Bible readership. The study uncovered some interesting facts about the Bibles people choose to read.

KJV Versus NIV

The survey found that a full 93% of Americans say they own a Bible. By far the most popular version is the King James Version (KJV), preferred by 41% of American Bible owners. The popularity of the KJV may be a result of the most important reported criteria in buying a Bible, according to 54% of respondents -- that it "has been translated from an original source." (In fact, it isn't entirely. Since King James' time, archaeologists have found older texts, most famous of which are the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New International Version (NIV) has been translated from sources older than those of James' time.)

While more respondents reported that the KJV is their preferred version of the Bible, it is not the best seller. "The New International Version (NIV) accounts for 45% of sales at Christian book stores, and it's the best seller in every English-speaking country in the world," said John Sawyer, vice president of Bible marketing at Zondervan, the world's largest Bible publisher. When shopping for someone who "is not too familiar with the Bible," 88% of respondents want one that is "easy to understand," according to the Gallup/ABS survey -- thus, the success of the NIV, with its more contemporary language. Seventy-one percent of those shoppers insist on footnotes, and 70% look for large type.

Fifty-two percent of respondents want to buy Bibles they "are familiar with." "The KJV sells better than NIV in the South. I think people buy it because they're more used to it," Sawyer said. But church recommendation does not seem to have a big influence on Bible preference. According to the Gallup/ABS survey, only 36% feel the version used at their church is "very important" in deciding which Bible to purchase, and 31% buy Bibles based on suggestions from clergy. Interestingly, cost is the least important of all concerns. Only 19% of respondents are interested in buying the least expensive version.

Bytes and Bibles

As the country becomes more devoted to things that plug in, it's no surprise that the Bible has gone electronic. "Our dramatized Bible on CD is flying off the shelves, audio really caught a wave," said Sawyer. "I think people are suffering from time poverty, and don't have time to sit down and read a book. They can listen to the Bible in the car or when they're jogging. In fact, we track secular book sales, too, and audio books as a whole are on their way up."

An evening with a comfy chair, a nice fire, and a timeworn copy of the KJV may sound idyllic, but it's the stuff of nostalgia. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they are "likely to use the Bible" via television, videocassette, or DVD. Ten percent read the Bible on CD-ROM, and 6% read it on the Internet. Thus, those of us who prefer comfy chairs and timeworn Bibles may find this last statistic heartwarming. A solid 39% of those buying a Bible for someone not too familiar with it say they would want something they cannot get electronically: a leather cover.

*Based on telephone interviews conducted in October 2000 with a representative national sample of 1,006 adults, aged 18 and older. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%. Findings for Bible owners are based on a subsample of 930 respondents. For results based on this subsample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3.3%.

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