Catholic publishers see boost from interest in Pope Francis

Libreria Editrice Vaticana's booth at the Turin International Book Fair, May 8-12, 2014. Credit: Luca Carusa/Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The “Francis effect” has invigorated Catholic publishing houses, and religious books are becoming less of a niche market, publishers at a recent international book fair in Italy have explained.

This year’s Turin International Book Fair, held May 8-12, was the first instance in which the Holy See had been invited as a special guest to the event; its publisher set up a booth featuring a large St. Peter’s dome made of books.

“The invitation of the Holy See as special guest at the Turin book fair should mark the beginning of a new approach to religious publishing in the world,” Fr. Giuseppe Costa, director of Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Holy See’s publisher, told CNA May 9.

Widespread interest in Pope Francis can help relaunch Catholic publishing; the boost from Pope Francis has built upon the success of the works of Benedict XVI, which began to spread in secular environments.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said May 10 at the book fair that Pope Francis’ “communicative strength is not the result of a ‘communications strategy.’ The source of his communication’s effectiveness lies in his evangelical authority.”

Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor, explained that “the Catholic market in the United States is difficult” since “it is fragmented by demographics, politics, and cultures, and many of these divisions impact how broadly a Catholic best-seller is likely to reach.”

At the same time, Erlandson said “all is not lost,” praising the “undeniable ‘Francis bounce’ that has invigorated Catholic publishing.”

“Books about Pope Francis, and collections of his homilies both before and after he was made Pope, continue to sell strongly,” he emphasized.

According to Albrecht Weiland, president of Verlag Schnell und Steiner GmbH, the situation is similar for publishers in Germany.

He said that “5.9 percent of the global production of books deals with religion,” since “readers, both believers and non-believers, show a great interest toward religion.”

Henrique Mota, president of the Portuguese Principia Publishing House, underscored that a Catholic publisher “must face two challenges: the first is the cooperation between Catholic publishers and booksellers, and the second is the acknowledgement of the importance of Catholic publishing houses, which are not second class.”
“Catholic publishing houses can play a relevant role in fostering an alternative mainstream in contemporary society, where the voice of Catholics is increasingly becoming a minority,” Mota said.

And in Italy, in the first year of Francis’ pontificate, there were published 111 books of his writings, and 139 about him.

Giovanni Cappelletto, president of the Catholic bookseller’s union in Italy, commented that religious books have “gained an important space thanks to the developing interest in religion,” while adding that they have yet to “rid themselves of the label of a ‘niche sector’ of the market.”

Cappelletto also said that Catholic publishers should foster the publication of books which will maintain readers’ interest over time, rather than “instant books,” which he said will make a difference with secular publishers “who tend to look for religious best-sellers only with a view to enlarging their market, rather than delivering a message.”


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