A (Bible) Reader’s Manifesto

For awhile now, I’ve wondered if it would be helpful for us all to collaborate on a set of suggestions for publishers hoping to meet the demand for better quality Bibles. I’m no insider, but in my brushes with those who fit the description, I sometimes get the impression that the industry’s view of the consumer and what he or she wants doesn’t come close to the real thing.

WANT SOME HOLY WATER WITH THAT?
Stephanie Simon’s December 25 LA Times piece about Bible marketing reinforces the feeling. Here’s a taste of a Zondervan marketing discussion of the upcoming anniversary edition of the NIV Study Bible:

To celebrate [the anniversary], the company is producing an update of the NIV Study Bible, with thousands of revised footnotes. Formatted with extra-wide margins for note-taking, bound in premium leather, the new edition has been tentatively priced at $119.99.

But Randy Bishop, vice president of production, has cold feet. The existing NIV Study Bible comes in a dozen sizes and bindings, priced from $25 to $80. He wonders if customers will pay so much more for the anniversary edition.

“If you put chocolate coating on an Oreo, it’s a different cookie, and you ought to be able to charge more,” Caminiti argues. “The packaging has to scream that this is something really new: First time! Fudge-dipped! Chocolate-coated!”

Todd Niemeyer, vice president of sales, chuckles and murmurs, “Smoke and mirrors.”

The team kicks around inexpensive ways to make the new edition stand out.

“We could put in an extra ribbon marker. . . . Maybe special parchment paper at the beginning?” Bishop suggests.

“There you go!” says Brian Scharp, vice president of Bible marketing. “The list of premium features is growing and growing.”

“Gold-plated bling?” Niemeyer asks mischievously.

“A vial of Holy Land soil attached to the back?” Bishop offers, as the room dissolves in laughter.

The Zondervan staff has turned down a few ideas — a 3-D pop-up Bible, for instance — that they found too gimmicky. “There is a line, because it’s God’s word,” Scharp says.

Later, though, he admits: “It’s hard to draw the line in any one place and say, ‘We’re never going to cross that.’ “

Nothing against the folks at Zondervan. I’ve been in marketing meetings before, and if I’d been present for this one I would no doubt have had a few wry cracks to make. But we find ourselves at a point in history when we’ve never had so many choices, and yet the options are mostly arrayed along a horizontal spectrum — a thousand different flavors of the same basic thing. I’d like to see more vertical choices, and that might require a shift in perspective. Instead of speaking to end-users as consumers, we might have to start thinking of them as readers.

ONE MAN’S MANIFESTO
With that in mind, I’m going to offer what I think are essential starting points for any publisher hoping to satisfy our little segment of the market. I invite you to add your own and to take issue with mine, too. In time, I’d like this conversation to be a resource for people inside publishing organizations who need to back up their design and quality sense with anecdotal evidence from the market.

So here goes . . .

Starting Points for Marketing High-End Bible Editions

1. We want real quality, not the illusion of luxury. Don’t approach the Bible as yet another luxury brand. At the moment, such brands are increasing prices while cutting corners on quality. The marketing exec’s job is to “build the brand,” making up for the decline in quality by selling cachet. This works, but it also creates a dissident market consisting of people who miss the old durable, well-made standard. The market for high end Bibles is such a dissident group. We’re ready to spend more to get a quality product. Don’t make us pay a premium for fancy packaging, though. We’re looking for real, not perceived, value.

2. Treat us like readers. The Bible isn’t a fashion statement. It isn’t a reference work, either. First and foremost, it’s a book meant to be read. Design and binding choices should proceed from that assumption. Right now, we often have to choose between the bland and the kitschy. We’d prefer tasteful contemporary approaches to the tradition. Modern typography and layout, quality materials and construction. Since most of us hope a high end Bible will last a lifetime, give us something we can live with. You wouldn’t try and sell us a house with a cracked foundation, so don’t sell us a Bible with a glued binding. And if you wanted to sell us that house, you wouldn’t tart it up with glitter and faux painting, either, so don’t go overboard chasing trends.

3. Give us features — and quality control. First, we have expectations about what a quality edition should include. Sewn bindings and quality leather covers resulting in a limp, flexible Bible that will open flat out of the box. We want clean, thoughtfully-designed text printed on opaque paper. In other words, we’re measuring today’s editions against an older, quality-driven standard, and we expect them to compare favorably. How do you tell the difference between real features and gimmicks? Easy. Look at what readers really need. (Extra ribbon = essential; vial of holy water = not so much.) Second, at this price point, we expect excellent quality control. Most of us will be buying sight unseen, so we expect you to weed out inferior samples before they reach us. Uneven impressions, poor gilding, damaged pages — all of these are unacceptable in a high end edition.

4. Let us look before we buy. The market for high end editions is increasingly online, but it still seems to be approached with a bricks and mortar mindset. When researching a purchase, we want to see what the layout and binding really look like. Instead, we tend to see photos of packaging, which tell us nothing. Make extensive photos of your editions available, and be open about specifications, binding styles, cover material, and so on. If the market for high end editions seems weak, it might be because readers who aren’t fortunate enough to have a bookstore in the area that displays your line are reluctant to purchase blind. Help us out!

5. Give us choices. Give us a choice between goatskin and calfskin. Give us a choice between black, red or tan. Give a choice between single or double column, and whether we want a wide margin or not. Or if you can’t, give us the option of buying an unbound text block we can customize to our preference. There are lots of choices in the marketplace, but most of them are at the bottom end. The more variety you give us, the better — we tend to be repeat customers, after all.

That’s my top five, for better or worse. How about you? If you could give some advice to your favorite publisher to help them zero in on your preferences better, what would it be? This is the place to share.

57 Comments on “A (Bible) Reader’s Manifesto

  1. Thankyou I totalily agree with all 5 points. I now more choices in binding etc. I have been rebinding Bibles since 1981 when I had my preaching Bible rebound for $350.00 from a professor @ The University Of Chicago. I like #5 the best as long as the Bible is sewn and ready for binding.

  2. Thank you very, very much. I heartily agree with all of your points. We don’t need any more devotional Bibles for the middle-aged female golfer in your life!

  3. 6) Get some people to work for you who have a thorough grasp of consumer expectations when it comes to Bibles. It’s like you’re carpenters trying to design and sell plumbing parts to plumbers. We know what we want. So get people who know what we want working for you.

  4. I am in complete agreement. One would think some of these publishers would be ashamed to put out a low quality product.
    The following would be nice:
    1. Minimum of two ribbons, preferably three.
    2. Not sure how to word this, but the inner margin should be sufficient for actually seeing the text when open flat.
    3. Extra blank pages at the end for additional notes, detailed gospel outlines, etc…
    4. Like you mentioned in your post of the Daily Reading Bible, it would be nice to have as an option the “marginal references for the reading plan…transposed into (the) Bible.”
    5. Option of having one or more confessions included and cross referenced.

  5. 5 hearty, enthusiastic CHEERS for 5 well-stated points!!! Thank you!
    These 5 points could potentially be added to, but I honestly believe that if publishers would just wake up and make the effort to give us even these 5 basic quality enhancements, they would be rewarded for it, both with “chache” and with happy, paying, repeat customers (they could learn a lesson from Apple on this! – Cambridge and Allan’s are the only ones so far who are even close to the pleadings of this manifesto!).
    As a pastor, I get a lot of chances to influence people on their Bible purchases, and so far, I’ve found that many of them are also frustrated by the lack of quality options. They want them, but just don’t know how to get them.
    This book is the most important one I own, and it’s the main “tool” I use as a pastor, so I want a good one. In fact, I want a bunch of them!

  6. On the lower end, give us more choice between black or red letter; give us more opportunities to upgrade to genuine leather instead of stopping at bonded, and give us more information about the different types of binding that are available.
    One of my biggest disappointments was discovering that the Bible I had used heavily for several years, Zondervan’s NASB personal size large print, was not available in genuine leather, nor in black letter. We need choices like that.

  7. 3. Extra blank pages at the end for additional notes, detailed gospel outlines, etc…
    This depends on whether we’re talking about a study Bible or something that is going to be read daily for the next 20 years. If I’m buying a reading Bible, usually all I want is the text, since extra maps, outlines, etc. go in and out of fashion quite quickly. On the other hand, my great-grandfather’s old Bible, with nothing but text, doesn’t have anything in it that wouldn’t be published in a modern King James Bible.
    Blank pages at the end, to me, are just a sign of laziness on the part of the publisher. There’s never enough of them to take any proper notes, and the binding usually prevents one from using them anyway.
    4. Like you mentioned in your post of the Daily Reading Bible, it would be nice to have as an option the “marginal references for the reading plan…transposed into (the) Bible.”
    The lectern Bible at my church (probably published almost a century ago) has the readings from the Book of Common Prayer lectionary marked in red in the margins. Although they don’t quite match the 1962 lectionary on occasion, they’re still handy when you’ve forgotten how far you’re supposed to read, and it’s also very interesting for getting a sense of how the lectionary actually works. I’d love to see an updated version of this in a personal size.

  8. Great list! I want the most important book in my life to be exude QUALITY in every aspect! And I am willing to pay for that QUALITY, and so are hosts of others. And just look at all those ‘Bible Stacks’ on this blog…the folks who prefer QUALITY are never ‘one Bible’ folks. We’re all looking for that perfect Bible, but the fact is we’ll never be satisfied with just one! We need different editions for different reasons. I’m really encouraged by this wonderful list and hope the publishers stand up and take note. Thanks Mark!
    Ron

  9. 3. Extra blank pages at the end for additional notes, detailed gospel outlines, etc…
    I was thinking of an “outreach” or “always have with me” Bible.
    In addition to a rather detailed outline of the gospel, I like to have outlines of references to different themes which helps in going through the text with specific cults. For instance, I would have a list of references related to the diety of Christ which I try to focus on when speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  10. Wow! Great list. I’m of a similar mind. I’ve already broken my last ESV and have been holding out hope for a single column / paragraph format edition. I’m happy to spend a good deal more for a Bible that will last me a lifetime.
    Oh, and can I have just the Bible text?

  11. I heartily agree with all five points and would second the notion of eliminating that awful red lettering for those of us who detest it. More options – cross references or not, wide margin or not, readable text with paper that has MINIMAL bleed through. Paper is a biggie for me. Many of todays’ Bibles have awful paper. I’m willing to pay more for quality. Just give me good quality for the price.

  12. Lined pages at the back of the Bible. I like to write out some favorite hymns, great quotes from books etc. Blank pages don’t keep the text neat and straight…how hard can putting a few lined pages at the end of the Bible be?
    Oh, and is anyone else annoyed by the first few pages of Bibles — marriage info, birthdates etc. Get rid of that garbage.

  13. Today a copy of the 2007-2008 Cambridge Bibles catalog arrived in the mail. When opened, the first item listed in a NKJV Pitt Minion. All that’s pictured is the box it comes in!
    In fact, the whole Cambridge catalog is a case study for #4: “Let us look before we buy.”
    Another example from the catalog is the KJV Lectern Edition. Now if my church is going to pay $575.00 for the goatskin, that decision ought to be made on more visual information than the 1.5 inch by 3.0 inch picture of the open edition included in the catalog.
    Overall, there are lots of pictures of 1 to 2 inch bibles and lots of pictures of Cambridge boxes as well as some texts samples in 2.25 inch boxes but nothing that conveys the sense of Cambridge Bibles seen on this blog.

  14. Great post Mark. Here’s my tuppenceworth:
    (6) Offer editions without chapters, verses and section headings (ala Books of the Bible).
    My Bible reading has been radically changed by the Books of the Bible project. Looking at a page with chapters and verses just totally jars with me.

  15. 6) take the money you spend on publishing ridiculous editions (like those magazine things) and unnecessary editions (we really have too many options) and spend it on translation projects for the thousands of languages that still don’t have any Scripture.
    I want my perfect Bible, too, but we could spend a lot more resources on getting these people at least the Gospels.

  16. How about if the people on the forum emailed the publishers directly with their input?
    It seems as if the marketing geniuses depicted in the meeting from the Times’article are simply throwing darts, hoping to hit the intended audiences’ desire. If they recieved actual input/feedback from the Bible mavens on this blog, perhaps we could actually affect some change?
    Mark, would you mind if we also included a link to this blog if we were to email a publisher? I think it would show them that there is a target audience out there who are willing to spend a fair bit more money for a really top of the line Bible.

  17. z Bible editor on board. we’re listening.
    many of us have been to seminary and listened to our cohorts, ministry colleagues and profs rant on red letter editions and rave about classic features — single column, black letter editions. many of us agree.
    keep posting. we’re reading you.

  18. I agree wholeheartedly with the above posters about the horrid red letter bibles. I’m so tired of seeing a bible I like and then finding out that it is only available in a red letter edition. I absolutely refuse to buy red letter bibles.

  19. I agree wholeheartedly with the above posters about the horrid red letter bibles. I’m so tired of seeing a bible I like and then finding out that it is only available in a red letter edition. I absolutely refuse to buy red letter bibles.

  20. My largest problems with bibles have to do with physically reading them. This is usually caused by one of three things, though frequently all three.
    One is the thin paper used. I’ve stopped carrying my NIV thinline bible because it is a strain on my eyes to read the type on the top page due to significant bleed through from the two pages beneath it. The paper in Cambridge’s Pitt Minions is a good example of a nicer quality paper in a thin package.
    Two is red letter editions. It is very frustrating to try to read red letters, especially combined with thin paper like I just mentioned. I prefer black letter text because it is just plain easier to read. Nothing more frustrating than finding a bible with everything you want only to realize that it is only offered in red letter.
    Third is bindings. It is frustrating when a binding prevents a bible from lying flat from its own weight. Bibles that close themselves and lose pages early in it’s life are very inconvenient to read out of. Now that I have a few sewn bibles I am pretty certain I’ll never buy a bible with a glued binding again.
    I could go on about the sad state of bonded and ‘genuine’ leather covers, but with the existance of the new cheap covers it’s not nearly as big an issue for me. Personally I’d rather have seen the new TNIV RB come in a synthetic black or brown instead of the stiff cover that it has now (kudos on it being sewn though). I think I’m starting to ramble so I’m gonna stop; nice post Mark.

  21. I have a few points of contention:
    1. I will begin from the inside out, paper first. There are two aspects about paper that I recently came upon while reviewing some of my Bibles, thickness and opacity. I measured the paper on my Bibles and found that most Bible paper is the same thickness yet have slightly different opacity. From my brief and maybe un-scientific research opacity is far more important than thickness. I would hope that Bible publishers would consider using paper that is more opaque than what they have been using of late. Along with better paper, the publishers really need to consider the print quality. This should not even be an issue to be discussing but why are there Bibles, costing more than $20.00 with poor print quality? From one page to the next you have differing type darkness. Is it too much to ask that all the pages in my Bible be printed in black not varying shades of gray and black? Finally, can you keep the text centered?! The type should be centered from page to page, the margins should be the same from page to page at least the top margins should align.
    2. Offer more editions with a binding that is Smythe sewn! There is no reason for the expensive Bibles to be the only ones that last more than two years. Glued bindings are atrocious and should not be anywhere near The Holy Bible, I only hope you do not have to account for that to God. A sewn binding with these new faux leathers are a great combination, you get the best of both worlds, a binding that will not fall apart and a cover that is softer and more limp than the leather from plastic animals(genuine leather)… don’t even get me started on bonded leather.
    3. Premium leather is not limited to black calfskin. I am not asking for a Bible wrapped in mink or lavender stingray. If you are so adamant about using black calfskin try using one that has a sheen to it and move away from the matte black, use something that will develop a patina with use. Better yet, why not offer different color calfskin… isn’t brown the new black? Scarlet, tan, chocolate brown, burgundy should be part of any premium leather line up. Finally, goatskin. Aside from Cambridge why are not any other publishers using goatskin? If you are already making calfskin editions, why not go all the way with premium leather and start using goatskin.
    4. Ribbons. At least two and they should be of a width and thickness that is in proportion to the size of the Bible itself. What a joke it is to use a ribbon that is 1/8″ wide in a bible that is 6″ x 9″ x 1.75″. Do you think we don’t notice that you skimp on the ribbons? Remember, at the very least TWO ribbons and make sure they are wide enough and thick enough!
    5. Aesthetics. Keep all gaudy printing off the exterior! Add raised bands on the spine, especially on larger editions. Consider doing away with the birth, death, marriages, family tree and presentation pages. Well, maybe not the presentation page. Add lined blank pages to the back. Use a readable font, clean and unencumbered. More wide-margin Bibles with margins that are wide enough for taking notes. More single column, especially single column paragraphs.
    6. Hire an art director that is an artist not a careerist.

  22. I agree that one of THE most important things for a truly readable Bible is having very opaque paper!
    I’ll take a Bible that’s a 1/8″, or even 1/4″ thicker if that is what it takes to stop the bleedthrough from the next page.
    My favorite Bible I own is Nelson Signature Series NKJV printed in the USA, and it has fabulously opaque paper. SO nice! My other Nelson Signatures, however, do not share this level of fabulous quality.

  23. In related news:
    I just sent in some comments to Nelson publishing in regards to what I’d be looking for in “my” perfect edition (for me, I tend towards the NKJV).
    I also found this survey that others may be interested in taking, as that way you can give a little bit of feedback, and also have a chance at winning a Signature Series Bible (I simply must have yet another one in my stack!)
    http://www.nelsonbibles.com/survey.php
    But that really doesn’t allow for the level of input that I was looking for, so I also contacted them using their “feedback” link.

  24. I read with great interest your comments on what you are looking for in a quality Bible, as well as your comments on our recent US catalogue.
    I take on board your comments about the benefits of seeing the Bibles out of their packaging before you buy: in the case of the NKJV Pitt Minion Edition, the Bibles had not been produced when we went to press, so we were only able to show a box and text sample.
    The Web provides the opportunity to display more pictures – PDS and others can see a photograph of the NKJV Pitt Minion Edition on our UK site: http://www.cambridge.org/bibles, and our North American distributor the Baker Publishing Group also shows several Bibles out of their packaging.
    I will continue to lurk…

  25. Tyndale checking in. Thanks to Mark for the great post and everyone else for the comments–we’ll take them seriously. We spend a lot of time thinking about what makes the best Bible bindings, so it’s great to hear from others who do, too.
    @Don: Feel free to contact us directly at NLT at tyndale dot com.

  26. For me, the photos on the Cambridge website would be more useful for making a purchasing decision if I could click on them and see a larger version with more detail, as with the photos on this site. For another example of what I’m talking about, see the photos that Jesús Saenz posted in his review of the NASB Pitt Minion:
    http://souldesaenz.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/77/

  27. Several comments:
    1. Ultra-premium Bibles do not sell except to the handful of people who read this blog. Seriously. Some Christian bookstores will order an ultra-premium and it will sit for years on their shelves. Years.
    2. Most regular buyers start balking at $75. A price point of $100 is the “take a deep breath” stage, which usually leads to the “I’ll buy it when it goes on sale” stage (which, of course, never happens). Zondervan wishes to mass market this Bible, not cater to a select few.
    3. Not to sound overly cynical at the materialism that besets Evangelicalism today, but if Zondervan marketed their revised NIV Study Bible as having a cover by Coach (the high end handbag manufacturer), they’d probably sell a bazillion.
    4. Paper opacity is a huge issue for me and the main reason I have not purchased a new Bible in years. The bleed-through on Bibles today is simply insane. I don’t know how most people can tolerate these recent edition with the translucent paper. It’s like reading onionskin.
    5. Secondary to the paper opacity issue, nothing frustrates me more than the poor font choices publishers are making for their typography. Too many Bibles today feature clumsy mishmashes of fonts. The ESV has been plagued with this issue for years. Crossway’s design department can’t seem to get over that hump no matter how many editions they devise. Each one features a terrible font set. (I’m surprised they haven’t tried to use Comic Sans in some of their editions!) About the closest they’ve come to getting it right is their Children’s Bible. It’s not just Crossway, either. Most publishers do a poor job. Zondervan does better than most, as the original NIV Study Bible had excellent typography. But even Zondervan monkeyed with that in their last revision and made it worse. Oh well.

  28. Speaking to Dan’s point #1 above, this is why I think a “bricks and mortar” marketing approach isn’t the best for this kind of Bible. Compared to the mass market, this is definitely a niche, and reaching it by putting one or two dusty “ultra premium” editions behind glass at the book/gift store doesn’t seem like the best approach. Focusing on quality as opposed to luxury, and making the marketing web-friendly (i.e., visual) would be a good way to reach the niche better. Otherwise, you’re left with the “sit on the shelves forever, sight unseen” approach, which only reinforces the impression that there’s no demand.

  29. Mark’s comment seems right on.
    If a publisher is only going to do a limited production of premium Bibles (I have no idea what that number may be, let’s say 500?), the chances of one of the Bible afficianados like are found on this blog wandering into the particular store they get shipped to is rather a remote possibility.
    It would perhaps be best to not distribute this type of item, but rather market it directly from the publishers website.
    Or, if Nelson wants to print a single paragraph NKJV, non-reference, opaque page, black letter text, Signature Series calfskin beauty (British tan is pretty sweet, but I’d suffer through a black binding too…), they can simply direct market it to me by letting me know when it was done and I’d gladly whip out my credit card.
    :^)

  30. You folks have done a great job of explaining what makes a Bible useful, readable and desireable. I have been on that quest for the perfect Bible for years and have found that it isn’t out there. Of course I will continue looking.
    In the early 1980s when I was a teenager, my parents took me to a Christian bookshop and let me pick out a new Bible. I selected a Nelson Bible bound it brown leather. I used that Bible for about 12 years and replaced it not because it was worn out, but because I wanted something different. This second Bible was black goatskin, and it was my primary Bible for about another 10 years.
    When I was back on the Bible market in 2005 I discovered that brown leather was out of fashon, so even though I really wanted a top quality brown leather Bible, I setteled for a black Cambridge. While I am sure I will use this Cambridge for many years to come as a reading Bible, I decided in 2007 to add a study Bible to my line-up.
    I was searching for a Bible with a study system I liked, printed on good quality paper with ample room for my own notes, well bound in top grade leather and I was willing to pay whatever it took to obtain. Sadly, there is no such animal on the market.
    The Bible that I purchased in early 2008 did have room for notes and was on pretty good paper, but the binding was shameful. The “genuine leather” is thin, yet hard. It is unpleasant to look at and to touch, but when I bought it the idea in the back of my head was to have it rebound in proper materials but a first rate bookbinder.
    I have also thought about vintage Bibles as a solution to the current lack of quality.

  31. Some of these points are very applicable to bibles of all price ranges. Due to budget i have to stick towards the bottom end of the price range and some of the bibles i’ve seen and brought have been terrible! I’ve seen better paper in newspapers than some bibles. I’m sure it also wouldn’t add that much cost to have enough center margin that its possible to easily read and underline the text closer to the center. And then theres the binding and cover materials… It especially concerns me in editions marketed for outreach use. What does it say to seekers about the worth and importance of the bible and its message when the bible we give them has bad paper, bad design and generally looks like every effort was made to cut corners in the design and manufacturing process. I fear it does not reflect well.

  32. Mark, I think the Bible design blog is my favorite of your blogs, and one that is much needed. (Now if only it could become much heeded…)
    I agree with your five points and would like to add a sixth: readability. This is the book I read more than any other and it shouldn’t feel like work. So, I’d like a font without too many seraphs or the “El Greco” effect (all letters long and tall) in a size no smaller than 10, and preferably 12. I don’t care if that adds more pages.
    I like the layout of Nelson’s Legacy Study Bible very much. The font, though tall and slim, is readable, and the positioning of the text on the page is terrific as far as wide margin practicality. However, it’s only available in NKJV/double column/red letter, the red letters aren’t dark enough, the opacity of the paper is a joke, and the cover is a disaster.
    If I could meld this bible with Crossway’s ESV large print reference bible and throw in some decent paper, I’d have it rebound and declare victory.
    Meanwhile, I have high hopes for Cambridge’s upcoming wide margin ESV, but if it hits the shelves in 8pt Lexicon, count me out.
    Tim Greer
    UU ’91

  33. Very interesting article and posts. I, too, am looking for that one incredible bible; some in my possession have come close, but are not quite there.
    I only have three Dake bibles, several Nelsons (one being a Signature Series Reference Bible, # 2009), one Holman, one Thompson Chain and one Dugan. Only one is a NKJV; everything else is a KJV.
    My eyesight isn’t as good as it once was, so a larger font would certainly be welcome. The Cambridge Presentation Bible comes in either 11 or 11.5 point, I think. Can you imagine the size of a Dake Large Note with 11 point type?
    [/rant]I certainly don’t want to start something here, but it was shocking to read a few descriptions regarding Christ’s words in red letter. I absolutely know the intent was not to demean His words, just the color they were printed in. Some sounded quite harsh, IMHO.[/rant]
    Would it be possible for publishers to send a sample page to those interested, in order for a customer to make an informed decision? I have never bought a bible without actually picking it up and spending some time looking at the features. Just a thought.
    Again, great posts, everyone.
    Pastor Ron

  34. A good quality hardback is far better than bonded leather, and as wonderful as cascading goatskin is, a hardback is meant to be held and read. Books of the Bible is on the right track – give us a low end Bible that can be held, read, and carried.

  35. I would love to find a well made wide margin spanish bible with extra pages for notes and the center column. I prefer the Reina Valera 1960 version.

  36. I completely agree with the above manifesto, and most of the followup comments. I am particularly frustrated by these red letter editions.

  37. The bible of my dreams does not seem to exist. Beleive me, I have looked and I have settled for less, repeatedly.
    It is an NIV, text only, large font (11-12pt), black letter, single column, high quality opague paper, calfskin or at least quality genuine leather, smyth sewm, and thumb indexed. I don’t care if it has to be thicker to give me a large font and opague paper.
    I have a beautiful Lewis KJV that has all of these features and it is the nicest bible I own – now if I could only get it in NIV.
    Actually, I would buy a bible like this in NASB, and ESV too if I could get them.
    And I am willing to pay for it!

  38. If only thumb-indexing weren’t a deal-breaker for you, David! Otherwise, I would say that your dream Bible does exist in the Cambridge Single Column Text NIV. It is a text only (reference-less), large font, black letter, single column, opaque, calfskin, and smyth sewn Bible. You can find it here an there on used book sites and eBay (I’m selling one shortly and bought one that way so I can attest to both methods). You should check it out if you can get your hands on one! It’s just a bit big for me to be my carry-around Bible.
    As for my dream Bible, it would be an Allan’s ESV, single column, references in the center (gutter), semi-yapp, black letter, smyth sewn (as if Allan’s would do anything else), 8pt font or higher, and the height and width of an ESV or NIV thinline. Is that too much to ask for?

  39. Hi David. The Cambridge NIV single column Bible is available new in black goatskin, isbn #0-521-69118-4. The type is 10/11 pt, very readable. I believe this is one of the editions in Mark’s stack waiting for review.

  40. In reference to the average consumer Christian: it amazes me that we will spend up to or over $100.00 on a pair of shoes, more than that for a suit, and more for and iPod or iPhone yet we will baulk at paying the same for God’s Word in a quality binding that would last our lifetime. It is all a matter of where our priorities lie. I enjoy my iPod, but I would trade it (if need be) for a Bible of quality workmanship.
    It’s sad that our culture’s recognition of what is well made and good is topsy-turvy and Christians (since we came out of the culture) are no different. This is especially true when it comes to art, music, Bibles, etc.. Walk into most Christian bookstores and this is obvious (that’s another rant!). We don’t “think on those things that are excellent.” We have lost the capacity to appreciate and value things that are well done and well made. For example, my nephew plays this popular song for me the other day and says, “this is one of the best songs ever!” I just laughed and said, “I’m glad you enjoy it but I don’t think people will be listening to it 100-200 years from now. It’s not Mozart!” Now I’m no music snob and I enjoy some popular music, but let’s discern the difference! I enjoy a bag of potato chips now and then but that is not a steak dinner. With advertising, the masses (including Christians) are duped into thinking that they are buying a steak dinner when what they are really buying is a bag of potato chips. What’s sad is that they don’t even know the difference. It’s cool if you put potato chips on the shelf and advertise them as potato chips. It’s cool if you munch the bag and enjoy them, but don’t market them as a steak dinner. If enough people know the truth and see the real difference in a “potato chip” Bible and a “steak dinner” Bible then a least they can make an intelligent decision. Some, or most, may still choose the “potato chip” Bible but at least they know that’s what they got. They choose the “potato chip” Bible because of several reasons: their budget at the time doesn’t allow them to have a “steak dinner” Bible, or they don’t see the value of buying something that will last – not to mention, it is the Word of God – why not clothe it nice? ’nuff said!

  41. Martin and Kathy, THANK YOU both for the suggestion. Ya’ know, the thumb indexing really is not a deal breaker for me. I am going to go ahead and try to find the Cambridge NIV single column Bible you both suggested. I will let you know how I like it. I love this website! God bless all.
    David

  42. David, my pleasure. If you would like to see pictures of the NIV Single Column in action, send me your email address and I’ll reply with the pictures I took for eBay. I actually went crazy with the photos and couldn’t use them all. Never knew that eBay placed a limit on uploading. But I can email them to your heart’s content! I’m at icthus at mac dot com.

  43. Martin and Kathy. I received my Cambridge NIV Single Column today and I am very pleased. It feels good in my hand, it is very readable, and as you pointed out, it has most of the features I wanted. I think this is about as close as I can hope to get to my “dream bible”. Thanks again for the help.

  44. Have really appreciated all the comments, and this forum. It seems to me the main component of request from this blog is mainly…quality! My frustration with finding the right size for holding without the use of a podium, a decent source of referencing, readability, etc., was mostly handled by the Broadman and Holman Ultrathin reference. But the bonded leather lasts about a year before coming apart like a wet newspaper, and the “genuine leather” upgrade disengages from its glued binding in even less time. So,… I bought the Pitt Minion NIV, and though utterly pleased with the quality of binding, the 6.75 pt. font is virtually unreadable, and the referencing scant compared with my Holmans. Tough to tuck your notes into as well. What I would like is the size/font/referencing of the Holman, but the quality of the Cambridge Pitt Minion.

  45. How about a flap or an enclosure of some type. I have been unable to find a quality example that includes a flap or a fastener to keep the Bible from opening when you don’t want it to accidentally open, like when you drop or someone knocks it off the counter, or in my case when my 1 year old daughter gets hold of it and easily opens it up and begins tearing out pages.

  46. If anyone out there knows of a publisher that sells signature printed Holy Bibles unsewn, unbound, and unglued (preferably KJV) please reply to this comment. I will buy said Bible, bind it on raised cords, cover it in leather, blind and gold tool it and send to you in thanks. I have been practicing the art of fine binding and would infinitely prefer to bind unsewn, unglued signatures, to avoid having to pick apart older Bibles.

  47. I totally agree with the list of 5. I actually think it may be Divinely inspired 8-).
    My perfect bible (so far) is the Crossway ESV Classic Reference in Tan Calfskin. I am eagerly awaiting my Allan brown highland goatskin ESV Readers edition.
    I really wish that companies would make an effort to create larger gutter margins when they print (usable writing gap in the fold of the page). Also, if everyone would just add another 1/8″ to 3/16″ (3-5mm) to their margins it would make a ton of difference. Wide margin bibles are fine for something you don’t want to tote around, but I really don’t need the extra size of a wide margin.
    As far as study bibles (I know, tool of a week mind), I have the Zondervan NIV 30th Anniversary edition that as far as content is wonderful (IMHO the 2008 update is the mother of all study bibles). The new subject index is my favorite feature. It reminds me of my old Nelson Open Bible Topical Index. The size of the bible is just too large and the wide margins are shifted to one side where the wide margin is really just on one side of the page which is really disappointing.
    Cambridge did a great job on a version of the NIV Study bible, but it’s the 2002 update.
    I recently purchased the NIV Study Bible in genuine leather, but again, if there was an extra 1/4″ in each margin, it would have made it really great. Also Zondervan, how about an ESV version???
    I have the ESV Study Bible in calfskin, but that is NOT a bible to tote around. it’s just this size of a Family bible!

  48. I recently purchased the ESV Reader’s Edition from R. L. Allan and it has all of the positive features that have previously been mentioned. Black Highland Goatskin Binding, 3 ribbons, blank lined note pages to the back, behind a fairly comprehensive concordance. Font is 10.5 and quite readable. Sown binding, very limp cover that lays open at any point right out of the box. Very simple but elegant gold lettering on the spine. Could say more, but let me summarize by saying, it is a binding that approaches being worthy of the glorius content and message of Redemption.

  49. Thank you for this post. I cannot say enough about how hard it has been to find a quality bible. I have been seeking one to purchase for my Mother as an Easter gift. There have been some good suggestions in the comments and hopefully I’ll find a quality bible.

  50. Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distribution of literature such as The Watchtower and Awake!, and for their refusal of military service and blood transfusions even in life-threatening situations. They consider use of the name Jehovah—one of the common English-language pronunciations of the Tetragrammaton—vital for proper worship. They reject Trinitarianism, immortality of the soul, and hellfire, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines. They do not observe celebrations such as Christmas, Easter or birthdays, which they believe have pagan origins that are not compatible with Christianity. Members commonly refer to their body of beliefs as “the Truth”, and adherents consider themselves to be “in the Truth”.

  51. Some major features of my dream Bible which sadly will never be published:
    Start with the ESV Study Bible:
    * Use the Black Highland Goatskin cover with raised spine;
    * Retain the single column text layout;
    * Remove the footnotes unique to the “Study” edition and place map inserts at rear of Bible;
    Now grab one important layout from the ESV Personal Size Reference Bible:
    * Use the PSR’s gutter margin cross reference column with lined border;
    Now shift gears to the Allan ESV Reader Reference Bible:
    * Bump up the Study Bible’s font size to the Reader’s 10.3 point with words in Christ in black;
    * Use the Reader’s leather inside cover lining with gilt line;
    * Add one more thick Reader ribbon to make four (yeah, 4) ribbon markers;
    * Use the Reader’s soft semi-yapp;
    And finally, take up the Cambridge Wide Margin Reference
    * Use Cambridge’s 24 lb India paper (at the very least);
    * Use Cambridge’s red-under-gold pages;
    * Use Cambridge’s “Holy Bible” embossed cover.
    * Keep Cambridge’s extra ruled note pages
    One final note: My alternate Bible cover would be the Buffalo Grain calfskin from Allan’s Oxford Brevier Clarendon Reference Edition (6C). If anyone is selling that version, talk to me!

  52. I’m new to your blog, so I suppose I’m late in commenting. Nevertheless, the subject interests me. I work in a spiritual/religous bookstore and have for many years so I have a fairly wide experience with various editions and approaches. Here are some suggestions based on that background and the fact that I’m a daily reader of the Bible:
    1. In all Bible listings, in catalogs, at amazon, etc., please clearly tell us the point size of the type. Make sure major distrutors such as Ingram and Baker and Taylor (and perhaps smaler distributors as well that specialize in Bible sales) display this information. The term “large print” has, unfortunately, lost all meaning as publishers vary hugely with regard to the type size the terms signifies. Personally, I do not consider 10 pt. to be ‘large print’, though many 10 pt. Bibles are listed that way. This is a serious consideration for many elderly Bible readers, but it also applies to people who normally wear glasses or have contacts, or have other visual impairments, as well as those who simply prefer a larger typeface for their Bible reading. It is frustrating as a retailer to order a ‘large print’ Bible only to find the print still too small for the customer.
    2. I would like to see a trend towards publishing sections of the Bible as separate books. For example: The Pentateuch, the Histories, the Prophets, the Wisdom Books, the Apocrypha, Gospels, and Acts through Revelation. That would make seven volumes.
    My reasoning is this: the high-end market for Bibles would, I believe, be better served by having the Bible published in a multi-volume edition. For the price of some single-volume deluxe editions, it would be possible to issue a multi-volume edition, but with thicker paper, wider margins, larger type, and other benefits, such as more secure binding, that a smaller volume would have. From the readers’ point of view it would be easier to hold and in general less cumbersome.
    Such an edition could be marketed in two ways: the whole set at an overall reduced price, or each volume separately.
    Thanks for your fine spot on the web,
    Jim

  53. I agree wholeheartedly with all five points. My biggest desire is to see premium binders like Allan (which I regard as the best) to offer more single column, paragraph style, regular size (as opposed to small, personal size with smaller fonts) text blocks. For the life of me I cannot understand why the double column format ever became the traditional standard for Bibles. My sister got me a single column paragraph style Bible for Christmas when I was in college and it was my favorite Bible for years until it fell apart. I couldn’t figure out why I liked reading it so much better than any other Bible I had seen until I realized that the single column paragraph format looked like every other book I read. Allan offers the Personal Size Reference (which is single column paragraph style) in the ESV, but nothing in a regular size, more legible font. Neither does Cambridge, although their Clarion edition is due out in August (delayed due to a printing error). I am anxious to see what the Clarion looks like. My only other comment is that I wish there were more true large print (i.e., at least 12 point font) premium bound Bibles, especially in the ESV translation. These are almost impossible to find.

  54. The Case for Text-Only Editions
    Ghost images from the printing on the back of the page (and from the pages below) reduce the contrast, and thus the readability, of a Bible. High-contrast Bible printing (good) means heavier Bible paper … which means either heavier Bibles (bad) or fewer pages. Fewer pages mean either smaller print (bad) or less content. Less content means excluding everything but the text itself. For large-print Bibles suitable for taking to church on Sunday, what we need are TEXT-ONLY EDITIONS.
    That means no Apocrypha, except in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. No concordance. No dictionary. No references. No wide margins. No lined writing paper. No presentation pages. Not even any maps … we’ll just have to listen to the sermon!
    In more detail:

    • Scope: This discussion applies only to large-print Sunday-go-to-meeting Bibles. Heavier Bibles are not bad if you’re using them in your lap or on a desk; and these are the places where you need cross references, wide margins and the like. Smaller print is not bad if your eyes are young enough, or your light is good enough, to read it clearly. (Young eyes in this context means those that do not yet need trifocals!)
    • Observation: Publishers of premium Bibles don’t like ghosting any more than we do. But they have to make a living, which means making Bibles that people will buy, and buy at a price which leaves an honest profit. There is a niche market (us!) that is willing to spend up to $200 on a high quality working Bible; we are most fortunate that there is now a handful of publishers aiming to meet that need.
      My perception is that the $200 working Bible tends to have large print and a good range of study aids, and that its weight is kept acceptable by using lightweight paper … which suffers from ghosting. What I’m proposing is changing the balance by using low-ghosting heavier paper … and keeping the weight acceptable by reducing the study aids.
      Would this work in the marketplace? Well, frankly I don’t know: I’m a retired mathematician, not a Bible publisher. I sent an e-mail to Nicholas Gray at R. L. Allan lobbying for more opaque Bible paper; I’m sure he has read it, but I’m conscious that he may find juggling options and constraints to be harder than I realize.
    • Assumption: Oxford India paper is gone forever … or at any rate for the foreseeable future. Bill and I have in the past lamented the passing, in about the 1970s, of the old rope-based lime-whitened Oxford India paper. This weighed about 30 grams per square metre (20 pound paper in US units) and had less ghosting than any modern Bible paper I’ve seen. Whether it’s prohibitively expensive or ecologically unacceptable, nobody prints on it any more.
    • Assumption: Reduced ghosting is possible at acceptable cost from heavier Bible paper. Confidence that this is so comes from a number of recent printings which have reduced ghosting — sometimes by a bit, sometimes by a lot. The new Schuyler ESV uses 32 gsm paper; the new Crossway Legacy uses 36 gsm Thincoat Plus; the new Crimond House Two-Version Edition uses 40 gsm paper. I have the Crossway Legacy … its paper, together (most importantly) with its good line matching, has the least ghosting I’ve seen for decades.
    • Data: The weight and line spacing of each of eight large-print leather Bibles. These come from my Bible shelf and reflect my battery of translations. (Your Theology May Vary.) The only tools used were a kitchen balance and an eight-inch ruler (used to help me count the number of lines in two column inches of prose).
      1. Allan KJV Long Primer — 33 oz — 7½ lines per inch
      2. Allan ESV Reader’s Edition — 37 oz — 7 lines per inch
      3. Cambridge KJV Turquoise — 40 oz — 6½ lines per inch
      4. Allan NASB1 Single Column — 41 oz — 7 lines per inch
      5. Crossway ESV Legacy — 43 oz — 7 lines per inch
      6. Moody NASB Ryrie — 52 oz — 8 lines per inch
      7. Cambridge NIV Study Bible — 53 oz — 8 lines per inch
      8. Crossway Cordovan ESV Study Bible — 64 oz — 7 lines per inch
    • Requirement: the maximum acceptable weight for a church-on-Sunday Bible is 42 ounces. This requirement is entirely subjective and based on personal experience. I realize that when I take an ESV to church, it is always the Reader’s Edition, never the 43 oz Single Column Legacy! On the other hand, the 41 oz NASB1 feels rather large, but acceptable.
      The ESV Study Bible feels too large for anything but desk use. So too, just, does the NIV Study Bible. The 52 oz Ryrie Study Bible is the heaviest acceptable for lap use.
    • Requirement: the minimum acceptable line spacing for suboptimal light is 7½ lines to the inch. Several factors make a Bible hard to read, not just type size. The black-on-grey of a ghost-ridden printing is one; the readability of the font used is another; so is the horizontal spacing of the letters. Type size itself, and line spacing (alias “leading”), are quoted in points … but point sizes seem to vary from font to font. (Both the Long Primer and the Turquoise are 10/11 point, but the Turquoise is noticeably larger.)
      So I’ve quoted line spacing in the more-easily-measurable lines per inch. Using the strict PostScript points of the computer world (72 points to an inch of 25.4 millimetres):
      – 8 lines to the inch corresponds to a leading of 9 points
      – 7½ lines to the inch corresponds to a leading of 9⅔ points
      – 7 lines to the inch corresponds to a leading of 10⅓ points
      – 6½ lines to the inch corresponds to a leading of 11 points
      The smallest line spacing I’m comfortable taking to church is that of the Long Primer. The 8 lpi /9 pt type of the NASB Ryrie and NIV Study Bibles, though fine at home in daylight or bright artificial light, is a little too small for church … and the Bibles are far too heavy anyway.
    • Observation: You can’t make the ghosting acceptable just by printing a large-print Bible on heavier paper. If you use 40 gsm paper, you’ll add 11 oz to the weight, and just make it too heavy. Even 36 oz paper, adding 8 oz to the weight of a 30 gsm text block, makes all but the Long Primer too heavy … and may not work even there. Part of the magic of the Long Primer is the flexibility and balance of the text block.
    • Observation: It is possible to satisfy the requirements while using heavier paper. If the Crossway ESV Legacy were stripped down by removing 37 leaves of concordance and 6 leaves of presentation and maps, its weight would probably come down by about 2 oz, to about 41 oz.
    • Conclusion: Something has to give … and that something is everything but the Bible text itself!

    If you have been, thanks for reading this. Any corrections or comments you may have are most welcome. In particular, I’d be interested to know how others would define their largest acceptable church-on-Sunday Bible.

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