Hipper Than Thou
Zondervan's youth-oriented packaging generates new sales for an ancient text.
By Georgia Flight

(Business 2.0) – Plenty of companies need to make old products seem new again, but few have pulled it off more divinely than Bible publisher Zondervan. The Good Book has been on the market for centuries. Yet Zondervan, the world's biggest Bible seller, has experienced double-digit growth the last two years by repackaging the Bible, effectively turning it into a youth-oriented lifestyle accessory. Consistently the top performer in the HarperCollins publishing group, Zondervan owns 27 percent of the $1 billion Christian book market. "Young people today may not go to church," says Brian Scharp, VP for Bible marketing, "but religion is important to them. We have to make it relevant." Here's how the company has proven that no product is too old or too familiar to be born again. — GEORGIA FLIGHT

USE SMALL CHANGES TO GET BIG RESULTS

Women buy more Bibles than men, so Zondervan created True Identity, a version bound in faux alligator featuring a "gender-corrected" text that takes liberties such as changing the word "sons" to "children." Dear Abby-style question-and-answer sections offer advice on career and relationship issues. True Identity has become Zondervan's best-selling new Bible.

DIG INTO DEMOGRAPHICS

It's no surprise that Bible purchasers tend to be Christians. But their sense of identity doesn't stop there. Zondervan markets products like the Sports Devotional Bible, which features comments about Scripture from famous athletes and covers that are textured to feel like a football or basketball. The company also offers more than 20 different Spanish-language editions of the Bible.

MAKE TIMELESSNESS TIMELY

In February, Zondervan unveiled a highly unorthodox Bible translation called "Today's New International Version" that renders the prose in contemporary English. The company has also reconfigured the text into a Tolkienesque epic novel called The Story. "It's a Baskin-Robbins world," says Paul Caminiti, Zondervan VP and publisher of Bibles. "Young people have so many choices, we need to keep things fresh to keep them interested."

DON'T CONFUSE THE MEDIUM WITH THE MESSAGE

To get the kids to go wild for a product, it's not enough to simply repackage old material in a new format. When Zondervan released its downloadable MP3 Bible, the reading remained consistent with the brand's youth-oriented sensibility. Different chapters of the MP3 Bible are read by voices of different ages, genders, accents, and nationalities—from a 35-year-old African American to a 26-year-old Londoner.

PUSH THE ENVELOPE TO PUSH SALES

The Word on the Street is an edgy edition that features tabloid-style headlines, epistles written as emails, and psalms structured as rock lyrics. Zondervan has also promoted its titles by advertising through MTV.com, the Onion, and Rolling Stone. "The media buzz created by our ads helped us almost as much as the ads themselves," Caminiti says.