Murdoch corners 50% of Christian publishing

HarperCollins is part of the media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also among many other properties owns Fox News.   HarperCollins already owns Zondervan, the world’s leading Bible publisher.  Now Christianity Today reports that HarperCollins is also buying Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publishing company.   This will give Mr. Murdoch control of 50% of the Christian publishing industry.

See HarperCollins Buys Thomas Nelson, Will Control 50% of Christian Publishing Market | Liveblog | Christianity Today.

Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?  Or by a mogul like Murdoch, who also publishes racy tabloids?  What will this do to the smaller publishing companies like Crossway and denominational houses like CPH?  Or will e-books, the Kindle, Amazon, and viral online marketing make even HarperCollins obsolete?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Michael

    One of the other dirty little secrets of the Christian publishing world is that writers often don’t write their own books. A popular Christian writer will contract someone else to write the book, and then put his name on it. A funny story I heard: A man knew a rather wealthy couple who lived quite well. The man asked his friend what he did for a living. He responded that he was a publisher for his wife’s books. Initially, this didn’t make much sense to the man, because he knew his friend’s wife had only written 1 book, which was pretty obscure and maybe only sold 10,000 copies, so how were they so rich? The man asks some more questions, and finds out that she had written the books for a several major Christian authors, both liberal and reformed.

  • Michael

    One of the other dirty little secrets of the Christian publishing world is that writers often don’t write their own books. A popular Christian writer will contract someone else to write the book, and then put his name on it. A funny story I heard: A man knew a rather wealthy couple who lived quite well. The man asked his friend what he did for a living. He responded that he was a publisher for his wife’s books. Initially, this didn’t make much sense to the man, because he knew his friend’s wife had only written 1 book, which was pretty obscure and maybe only sold 10,000 copies, so how were they so rich? The man asks some more questions, and finds out that she had written the books for a several major Christian authors, both liberal and reformed.

  • LAJ

    So Jan Karon who writes every word takes 2 years to publish a new book, and Karen Kingsbury less than 6 months. Hmmm, I wonder.

  • LAJ

    So Jan Karon who writes every word takes 2 years to publish a new book, and Karen Kingsbury less than 6 months. Hmmm, I wonder.

  • Eric

    It won’t be easy for smaller publishers to keep up with the marketing power and distribution reach of a global company like HarperCollins. I would not be surprised to see some consolidation among smaller publishers–banding together to compete with “the other 50%.”

  • Eric

    It won’t be easy for smaller publishers to keep up with the marketing power and distribution reach of a global company like HarperCollins. I would not be surprised to see some consolidation among smaller publishers–banding together to compete with “the other 50%.”

  • trotk

    Michael, you do realize that you are describing the entire publishing world, right? And whether or not it is “dirty” to have a ghost writer is another conversation entirely. You condemn everyone who presents a point of view that isn’t his or her own (for profit) by your comment.

  • trotk

    Michael, you do realize that you are describing the entire publishing world, right? And whether or not it is “dirty” to have a ghost writer is another conversation entirely. You condemn everyone who presents a point of view that isn’t his or her own (for profit) by your comment.

  • rlewer

    Zondervan’s new NIV translation is an example of what to expect.

  • rlewer

    Zondervan’s new NIV translation is an example of what to expect.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I don’t see a problem with co authors. Kotlikof writes his books in collaboration with a journalist from the Dallas paper. Same for famous people who aren’t writers by trade. Andy Pettite had a co author for his book. It is interesting in the literary world that there have always been people who don’t want their own name on what they write and either use pseudonyms or celebrities’ names to put on their work.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I don’t see a problem with co authors. Kotlikof writes his books in collaboration with a journalist from the Dallas paper. Same for famous people who aren’t writers by trade. Andy Pettite had a co author for his book. It is interesting in the literary world that there have always been people who don’t want their own name on what they write and either use pseudonyms or celebrities’ names to put on their work.

  • Michael

    trotk, yes I realize ghost-writing happens all the time in the publishing world, Christian or not. I should have worded my initial post better because one could misunderstand me as thinking ghost-writing happens more in the Christian publishing world. Nevertheless, I would be surprised if your average Christian reader wouldn’t be a little put off if he found out his favorite Christian book wasn’t actually written by the author on the cover.

  • Michael

    trotk, yes I realize ghost-writing happens all the time in the publishing world, Christian or not. I should have worded my initial post better because one could misunderstand me as thinking ghost-writing happens more in the Christian publishing world. Nevertheless, I would be surprised if your average Christian reader wouldn’t be a little put off if he found out his favorite Christian book wasn’t actually written by the author on the cover.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    My cousin wrote journal articles for a professor. He gave her his info. She wrote it. He put his name on it.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    My cousin wrote journal articles for a professor. He gave her his info. She wrote it. He put his name on it.

  • trotk

    For my part, I am bothered by ghostwriting. It isn’t the ghostwriter that bothers me, but the “author” who takes credit for the work.

  • trotk

    For my part, I am bothered by ghostwriting. It isn’t the ghostwriter that bothers me, but the “author” who takes credit for the work.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    One of the other dirty little secrets of the Christian publishing world is that writers often don’t write their own books

    Hmmm, wait a minute. The author of this blog is a writer on Christian topics. I wonder if he really…

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    One of the other dirty little secrets of the Christian publishing world is that writers often don’t write their own books

    Hmmm, wait a minute. The author of this blog is a writer on Christian topics. I wonder if he really…

  • Rachel

    I’m an employee of one of those “smaller publishing houses” you speak of — independent, family-owned and -operated Eerdmans. And while I can’t speak officially on behalf of the rest of my company, I can say that, although folks around here are very interested and mildly concerned by what this development will mean for our industry, we pretty much plan just to keep on doing what we do: publishing and promoting our books to the very best of our ability.

    Also: if it helps further the discussion at all, I’m not aware of our ever having used ghostwriters at Eerdmans.

  • Rachel

    I’m an employee of one of those “smaller publishing houses” you speak of — independent, family-owned and -operated Eerdmans. And while I can’t speak officially on behalf of the rest of my company, I can say that, although folks around here are very interested and mildly concerned by what this development will mean for our industry, we pretty much plan just to keep on doing what we do: publishing and promoting our books to the very best of our ability.

    Also: if it helps further the discussion at all, I’m not aware of our ever having used ghostwriters at Eerdmans.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I very much doubt that this is going to have much an effect at all on Christian Publishing, what “Christian” Publishing there is. I don’t know how this got on to the topic of Ghostwriters, which really isn’t that much of a secret.
    Publishing right now is going through a major hard time, and it isn’t just newspapers that are having a hard go of it. I’m waiting for books as we know them to do a total change in format.
    With the new E-readers for instance, I could imagine hyper links printed under the names of all those theologians that confuse tODD in the Hammer of God, with instant read outs, even links to buy their materials, which could probably be found free somewhere else.
    I don’t know if publishing is going to die all-together, likely not, but it is changing, and changing hard. Eventually Amazon.com will own that world, it will be a monopoly. It is becoming so increasingly at least where distribution is concerned.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I very much doubt that this is going to have much an effect at all on Christian Publishing, what “Christian” Publishing there is. I don’t know how this got on to the topic of Ghostwriters, which really isn’t that much of a secret.
    Publishing right now is going through a major hard time, and it isn’t just newspapers that are having a hard go of it. I’m waiting for books as we know them to do a total change in format.
    With the new E-readers for instance, I could imagine hyper links printed under the names of all those theologians that confuse tODD in the Hammer of God, with instant read outs, even links to buy their materials, which could probably be found free somewhere else.
    I don’t know if publishing is going to die all-together, likely not, but it is changing, and changing hard. Eventually Amazon.com will own that world, it will be a monopoly. It is becoming so increasingly at least where distribution is concerned.

  • Dan Kempin

    “Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?”

    Shouldn’t our understanding of vocation inform this question? What other industries do we expect to be non-secular?

  • Dan Kempin

    “Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?”

    Shouldn’t our understanding of vocation inform this question? What other industries do we expect to be non-secular?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?

    This question, of course, presumes the existence of some other kind of corporation, presumably a “Christian” one. Not sure I believe in such things.

    Regardless, as long as there is a market for Christian material, there will be a corporation that seeks to make money from it, whether it’s run by a “secular corporation” or not. If the Christian publishing industry takes a turn for the worse, I’d be far more likely to place the blame on the consumers than the producers.

    Or by a mogul like Murdoch, who also publishes racy tabloids?

    It’s an interesting question. I’d understand if someone took issue with buying Zondervan or Thomas Nelson titles for that reason. But for my tastes, that smacks a bit of legalism. Each book stands or falls on its own merits, based on its own contents. Of course, modern American Christians are far more likely to get their knickers in a knot over Murdoch’s publishing “racy tabloids” than they are over the far more insidious heterodoxy one finds in a “Christian” book store.

    What will this do to the smaller publishing companies like Crossway and denominational houses like CPH?

    Why should it change anything? Smaller publishers would only be affected if their portion of the pie changed size, not if the other pieces of the pie join together. Is the new Murdoch corporation likely to make inroads among Lutherans? Only if (1) it begins publishing fare that appeals to Lutheran theology (which is unlikely), or if (2) Lutherans forget their own theology and look to the wider American Christian world for guidance (a much more likely problem).

    Or will e-books, the Kindle, Amazon, and viral online marketing make even HarperCollins obsolete?

    Call me arrogant or willfully blind (I work for a publisher), but so far, at least, all of those things — ebooks, Kindle, Amazon, viral marketing — are currently dominated by the publishing system of yore. Is there a place for the smaller publisher to find its niche? Definitely. Might an individual make use of these new tools to obviate the current system? Probably.

    But just like YouTube hasn’t yet made professionally produced TV shows obsolete, I don’t see that people are yet ready to abandon professional-quality editing and production.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?

    This question, of course, presumes the existence of some other kind of corporation, presumably a “Christian” one. Not sure I believe in such things.

    Regardless, as long as there is a market for Christian material, there will be a corporation that seeks to make money from it, whether it’s run by a “secular corporation” or not. If the Christian publishing industry takes a turn for the worse, I’d be far more likely to place the blame on the consumers than the producers.

    Or by a mogul like Murdoch, who also publishes racy tabloids?

    It’s an interesting question. I’d understand if someone took issue with buying Zondervan or Thomas Nelson titles for that reason. But for my tastes, that smacks a bit of legalism. Each book stands or falls on its own merits, based on its own contents. Of course, modern American Christians are far more likely to get their knickers in a knot over Murdoch’s publishing “racy tabloids” than they are over the far more insidious heterodoxy one finds in a “Christian” book store.

    What will this do to the smaller publishing companies like Crossway and denominational houses like CPH?

    Why should it change anything? Smaller publishers would only be affected if their portion of the pie changed size, not if the other pieces of the pie join together. Is the new Murdoch corporation likely to make inroads among Lutherans? Only if (1) it begins publishing fare that appeals to Lutheran theology (which is unlikely), or if (2) Lutherans forget their own theology and look to the wider American Christian world for guidance (a much more likely problem).

    Or will e-books, the Kindle, Amazon, and viral online marketing make even HarperCollins obsolete?

    Call me arrogant or willfully blind (I work for a publisher), but so far, at least, all of those things — ebooks, Kindle, Amazon, viral marketing — are currently dominated by the publishing system of yore. Is there a place for the smaller publisher to find its niche? Definitely. Might an individual make use of these new tools to obviate the current system? Probably.

    But just like YouTube hasn’t yet made professionally produced TV shows obsolete, I don’t see that people are yet ready to abandon professional-quality editing and production.

  • Dust

    it wouldn’t surprise me to find out there are blogs, even “Christian” blogs that have ghost writers :)

  • Dust

    it wouldn’t surprise me to find out there are blogs, even “Christian” blogs that have ghost writers :)

  • Cincinnatus

    sg: In typical parlance, we refer to such acts as “plagiarism.”

    The conventions surrounding collaboration–what is ethical and what is not–are, in fact, fairly clear. If what was happening with your cousin is as unambiguous as you make it seem, that was plagiarism. “Ghost-writing” is not an acceptable practice in the world of peer-reviewed publication.

    /I suspect that the situation was actually not as unambiguous as you make it seem, however. Perhaps he paid your cousin to organize data, results, etc., that he had already collated.

    So anyway, should Christian publishing have standards more lax than academia?

  • Cincinnatus

    sg: In typical parlance, we refer to such acts as “plagiarism.”

    The conventions surrounding collaboration–what is ethical and what is not–are, in fact, fairly clear. If what was happening with your cousin is as unambiguous as you make it seem, that was plagiarism. “Ghost-writing” is not an acceptable practice in the world of peer-reviewed publication.

    /I suspect that the situation was actually not as unambiguous as you make it seem, however. Perhaps he paid your cousin to organize data, results, etc., that he had already collated.

    So anyway, should Christian publishing have standards more lax than academia?

  • Bob

    ‘What other industries do we expect to be non-secular?’

    Anything related to the church, IMO, is better off if it’s seen as a ministry and not have every concern subsumed under, “How much
    profit did we make”?

    I’m very thankful for church publishers like CPH and indie Christian ones who don’t use the money of a right-wing whore like Murdoch.

  • Bob

    ‘What other industries do we expect to be non-secular?’

    Anything related to the church, IMO, is better off if it’s seen as a ministry and not have every concern subsumed under, “How much
    profit did we make”?

    I’m very thankful for church publishers like CPH and indie Christian ones who don’t use the money of a right-wing whore like Murdoch.

  • Michael

    I agree with Cincinnatus on plagiarism.

    I have 2 questions for the blog’s author, Dr. Gene Veith:

    Suppose I’m a student in your one of your classes, and you’ve assigned the class a paper to write. I pay somebody to write the paper for me, put my name on it, and turn it in as my own work. I’m caught, and it’s completely proven that I’m guilty. What happens to me?

    Second, you’ve written 18 different books (http://astore.amazon.com/cranach-20). I fully trust you’ve actually written these books yourself, but suppose it were discovered that you paid somebody else to write them and you never gave them credit. Do you think it’s fair for people to say you’re not a trustworthy person if this happened?

  • Michael

    I agree with Cincinnatus on plagiarism.

    I have 2 questions for the blog’s author, Dr. Gene Veith:

    Suppose I’m a student in your one of your classes, and you’ve assigned the class a paper to write. I pay somebody to write the paper for me, put my name on it, and turn it in as my own work. I’m caught, and it’s completely proven that I’m guilty. What happens to me?

    Second, you’ve written 18 different books (http://astore.amazon.com/cranach-20). I fully trust you’ve actually written these books yourself, but suppose it were discovered that you paid somebody else to write them and you never gave them credit. Do you think it’s fair for people to say you’re not a trustworthy person if this happened?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bob said (@17):

    Anything related to the church, IMO, is better off if it’s seen as a ministry and not have every concern subsumed under, “How much
    profit did we make”?

    And what, exactly, defines a “ministry”? What makes them immune to concern about money and/or profit?

    I’m very thankful for church publishers like CPH and indie Christian ones who don’t use the money of a right-wing whore like Murdoch.

    So is this just political to you? If CPH turned out the same books they do now, but did so with Murdoch’s money, would you no longer be thankful for them? That is to say, are you thankful for what the publishers publish, or are you merely thankful for how they are apparently funded?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bob said (@17):

    Anything related to the church, IMO, is better off if it’s seen as a ministry and not have every concern subsumed under, “How much
    profit did we make”?

    And what, exactly, defines a “ministry”? What makes them immune to concern about money and/or profit?

    I’m very thankful for church publishers like CPH and indie Christian ones who don’t use the money of a right-wing whore like Murdoch.

    So is this just political to you? If CPH turned out the same books they do now, but did so with Murdoch’s money, would you no longer be thankful for them? That is to say, are you thankful for what the publishers publish, or are you merely thankful for how they are apparently funded?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@18), you’re really intent on making this a discussion about ghost-writing, aren’t you? Do you have an axe to grind, son?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@18), you’re really intent on making this a discussion about ghost-writing, aren’t you? Do you have an axe to grind, son?

  • Bob

    tODD,

    Good questions.

    It’s not black and white. Of course a group like CPH has to be concerned about the financial aspects of their operation.

    But it’s the difference between: do we make our decisions with financial gain as the first — of our concerns? Do we market our materials deceptively or with honesty and integrity? Do we take ministry risks that don’t necessarily put financial concerns first? One quick example is perhaps a group like CPH subsidizes certain books or whatever, giving discounts or whatever for small churches, churches where there’s a deaf or disability-challenged congregation.

    To answer your last question, Todd, I guess I’m thankful for both. I don’t see how an overemphasis on profits and the bottom line in and of itself will help put out a better product. The focus for a nonprofit or indie Christian publisher needs to be on the integrity and value of what’s being produced.

  • Bob

    tODD,

    Good questions.

    It’s not black and white. Of course a group like CPH has to be concerned about the financial aspects of their operation.

    But it’s the difference between: do we make our decisions with financial gain as the first — of our concerns? Do we market our materials deceptively or with honesty and integrity? Do we take ministry risks that don’t necessarily put financial concerns first? One quick example is perhaps a group like CPH subsidizes certain books or whatever, giving discounts or whatever for small churches, churches where there’s a deaf or disability-challenged congregation.

    To answer your last question, Todd, I guess I’m thankful for both. I don’t see how an overemphasis on profits and the bottom line in and of itself will help put out a better product. The focus for a nonprofit or indie Christian publisher needs to be on the integrity and value of what’s being produced.

  • Dust

    Gee, if Lutherans think it’s still communion even if the Devil gives it to you, what’s wrong if the devilish little Murdoch controls much of the Christian publishing business?

    The main concern should be, would he use his financial control to influence the theology, doctrine, etc. of the content?

    My guess is that he would not, similarly to how he does not try to influence the content of his news outlets :)

  • Dust

    Gee, if Lutherans think it’s still communion even if the Devil gives it to you, what’s wrong if the devilish little Murdoch controls much of the Christian publishing business?

    The main concern should be, would he use his financial control to influence the theology, doctrine, etc. of the content?

    My guess is that he would not, similarly to how he does not try to influence the content of his news outlets :)

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Perhaps he paid your cousin to organize data, results, etc., that he had already collated.”

    No, he did all that. She just made it coherent. He was a terrible writer. She was not a research assistant. She was supposedly an editor but it ended up as much more than that. The project work and stuff was his, just not the writing.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Perhaps he paid your cousin to organize data, results, etc., that he had already collated.”

    No, he did all that. She just made it coherent. He was a terrible writer. She was not a research assistant. She was supposedly an editor but it ended up as much more than that. The project work and stuff was his, just not the writing.

  • Bradley713

    With all of the garbage that Murdochs companies spews out on a daily basis they are not the ones you want in control of your Christian Publications. They already manipulate a huge majority of Christians that follow Fox News closer than they follow The Bible. How long will it be until Christ and Chosen 12 are replaced by Oreilly, Palin, Limbaugh, Bush, Cheney………………………

  • Bradley713

    With all of the garbage that Murdochs companies spews out on a daily basis they are not the ones you want in control of your Christian Publications. They already manipulate a huge majority of Christians that follow Fox News closer than they follow The Bible. How long will it be until Christ and Chosen 12 are replaced by Oreilly, Palin, Limbaugh, Bush, Cheney………………………

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Michael, I come down hard on plagiarism with students. Yes, I did write all of my books all by myself. I also disapprove of ghostwriting when no credit to the actual writer is given. I do realize that lots of public figures and big names of various kinds (politicians, athletes, movie stars, “Christian leaders”) have things to say but do not have the skills or the vocation to be a writer. The proper way to handle that is to give joint credit: “by Sarah Palin and Lynn Vincent”; “John F. Kennedy with Ted Sorenson,” etc. That should preferably go on the title page, but it is sometimes put in the acknowledgments: “Thanks to Lynn Vincent for her help in organizing and drafting the manuscript.” Again, the issue in both cases you mention is not getting help but not giving credit.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Michael, I come down hard on plagiarism with students. Yes, I did write all of my books all by myself. I also disapprove of ghostwriting when no credit to the actual writer is given. I do realize that lots of public figures and big names of various kinds (politicians, athletes, movie stars, “Christian leaders”) have things to say but do not have the skills or the vocation to be a writer. The proper way to handle that is to give joint credit: “by Sarah Palin and Lynn Vincent”; “John F. Kennedy with Ted Sorenson,” etc. That should preferably go on the title page, but it is sometimes put in the acknowledgments: “Thanks to Lynn Vincent for her help in organizing and drafting the manuscript.” Again, the issue in both cases you mention is not getting help but not giving credit.

  • Pingback: Murdoch Now Owns 50% of Christian Publishing - Word of Truth Radio Show

  • Pingback: Murdoch Now Owns 50% of Christian Publishing - Word of Truth Radio Show


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X