Saturday, 25 November 2006

On books and sales figures

About three years ago, I completed the last of my projects with the British evangelist, J. John. It was a summary of the life, teaching and work of Jesus called The Life: a portrait of Jesus. It was meant to be a ‘one-stop’ shop for everything on Jesus and the something of an antidote to 'Jesus was an alien, Jedi Master, mythical figure, ancestor of the royal line of France etc' book. So there was a chapter on Jesus’ birth, teaching, miracles, trial and resurrection, etc. Originally, we set the word limit at 80,000 words but it got squeezed down to 60,000 in order to make it a small book. It was a tough challenge, but I was fairly pleased with the result. It was released in the Christian bookshops and never seems to have got beyond them. This was a source of some irritation, particularly as it got extremely good reviews from people and filled an obvious empty niche in the market. This week, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from the publishers to say that total sales had now reached 50,000 and they were going to give it a new cover. (Perhaps, this time, they can actually get it into the secular bookshops, which is where it was designed for).

So there was much rejoicing. But it also gave rise to some thinking about the value of books. Let's say, I went into the ministry and did regular preaching slots, two times a week. So let's do the math: thirty minutes a time to the typical British Baptist congregation of fifty people; that’s fifty contact hours a week or 2,500 a year. Now consider the book: although a light read it is densely packed and will probably take at least five hours to read. So 50,000 copies times five hours gives you 250,000 contact hours. Now unless my math is very dodgy that is a hundred years worth of preaching.

Of course, it might be argued that some books are unread, but we can probably also assume that some books are read by more than one person. (You have no idea how my heart sinks when I hear someone say ‘We like your books, someone got one and the whole church read it.’) And you can't daydream while reading a book. So the statistics suggest that I have reached numbers that only big star preachers get. Gratifying, hey what?