Trump, China tariffs and God's holy word: Is there really a chance of a Bible shortage?

This Associated Press story got really wide play this week, so you — like me — may have read it in your local newspaper, assuming you still subscribe to your local newspaper (and as a journalist, I hope you do).

I’m talking about AP’s news report out of Nashville, Tenn., on Bible publishers’ concerns about President Trump’s trade war.

It’s a fascinating piece on an industry that — I’ll admit — I don’t think about as much as I used to. It’s not that I don’t consider the Bible important anymore. As a Christian, I most certainly do.

It’s just that I personally do most of my Bible reading on my iPhone and iPad these days. I don’t even own a personal copy of the Scriptures in written form anymore.

But what about those people who do? Is there really a chance of a Bible shortage?

Here’s the news from AP:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Religious publishers say President Donald Trump’s most recent proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could result in a Bible shortage.

That’s because millions of Bibles — some estimates put it at 150 million or more — are printed in China each year. Critics of a proposed tariff say it would make the Bible more expensive for consumers and hurt the evangelism efforts of Christian organizations that give away Bibles as part of their ministry.

HarperCollins Christian Publishing President and CEO Mark Schoenwald recently told the U.S. Trade Representative that the company believes the Trump administration “never intended to impose a ‘Bible Tax’ on consumers and religious organizations,” according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the publisher.

The two largest Bible publishers in the United States, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, are owned by HarperCollins, and they incur close to 75% of their Bible manufacturing expenses in China, Schoenwald said. Together, they command 38% of the American Bible market, he said.

In a separate post this week, I mentioned the word-count constraints faced by AP reporters. Given those, it’s not a surprise that the wire service’s story on printed Bibles sticks pretty closely to the topic at hand.

I did find myself wondering, though, what the emergence of Bible apps has meant for the Bible publishing industry. My suspicion is that YouVersion and its closest friends have had a bigger impact than tariffs on Chinese imports ever will, but I could be wrong (wouldn’t be the first time).

My Christian Chronicle colleague Erik Tryggestad reported last year on the distribution of thousands of solar players with self-contained speakers connected to hard drives that bear complete, spoken-word Bibles. We really do live in amazing times, technologically speaking.

I wrote a feature for Religion News Service last year on the 10th anniversary of YouVersion, which was celebrating 330 million downloads.

That story noted:

Nationally, the use of technology to read the Bible has grown steadily, according to the 2018 State of the Bible survey, conducted by the Barna Group in partnership with the American Bible Society.

About 42 percent of Americans who read, listen to or pray with the Bible on their own have a Bible app on their phones, the survey found.

Still, 89 percent of Bible users say that a print version remains appealing to them, Barna reported.

But at what price?

That might be an interesting question for an enterprising journalist to pursue, given the concerns over the proposed tariffs.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

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