The “System” of Evangelical Publishing
Recently Skye Jethani absolutely knocked it out of the park in a two-part series entitled The Evangelical Industrial Complex and the Rise of the Celebrity Pastor. It’s one of the most poignant reads we here at 3DM have read in the last year. Here’s an excerpt from Part 2, but make sure to read the whole thing by clicking here and interact with the comment field.
Are the publishers evil for focusing on sales potential more than quality? Of course not. They’re businesses that have to sustain themselves. They are simply reacting to the realities of the market. But sometimes they fail to see how they also shape the market by their decisions. And am I saying all megachurch pastors’ books are subpar? Not at all. Some of them are my friends and I’ve deeply appreciated their writings (Dave Gibbons and Tim Keller immediately come to mind.) But we mustn’t be naive–the system is rigged to favor a writer/speaker’s market platform rather than his/her content, maturity, or message.
Yes there are exceptions, but they generally prove the rule. And we’ve all been to ministry conferences where we’ve scratched our heads wondering why that yahoo is on the platform…oh yeah, he’s got a big church and a book to sell, just like the guy before him, and the one before him. It’s a system that rewards sizzle whether or not there’s any steak.
Consider the scale of the evangelical industrial complex that survives by perpetuating this system. The Christian Booksellers Association, representing 1,700 Christian stores, sells $4.63 billion worth of merchandise a year. And that doesn’t count retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Some estimate the total evangelical market to be over $7 billion a year. Evangelicalism is a very, very large business.
And this massive market has grown in conjunction with the rise of megachurches since the 1970s; they rely upon and perpetuate each other. Megachurch leaders offer publishers pre-existing customer bases (their own congregations), and publishers make megachurch pastors into celebrities to perpetuate and expand their bottom lines. As a result, evangelicalism is not a meritocracy where talent, gifting, character, or wisdom result in a broadening influence. It is an aristocracy where simply having a platform entitles you to ever-increasing influence regardless of your talent, gifting, character, or wisdom.
I think there might be some push back on some points, but he’s really hitting on something here, right? Thoughts?