Are Catholic Ebooks the Future of Publishing?


Digital media has changed the landscape of the entertainment industry.  Traditional music albums have been replaced by MP3s, and streaming services are now delivering movies to your home instantly.

Will the same hold true for the book publishing industry?  Will ebooks become the new medium of choice?

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA),  Catholics are not yet engaged in new media the way we hoped.  While there is a lot of buzz about using new media to reach the masses, the study shows that few have actually been reached.

Based on the report, significantly more Catholics have used traditional media compared to new media.  For instance, the report shows that 10% of millennials – the target audience of new media – have read a traditional religious print book in the past three months, while 0%, yes 0%, have read an ebook on the same topic.  Shockingly, only 1% of Catholics overall have read an ebook.

Is the problem limited to ebooks?  No.  In general, Catholics do not seem to be engaged in new media – yet.  For religious books and magazines, 5% of millennials read them online versus 13% in print.  For the Pre-Vatican II generation, only 2% get them online versus 49% in print.  The print versions are still doing much better than their online alternatives.

What is the problem then?  Is the use of new media all hype?  Should we forget the whole thing and stick to traditional print publications?

I think not.

According to The New York Times, is now selling more ebooks than print books.  Similarly, Barnes and Noble is seeing the same results.  People are reading ebooks at a rapidly growing rate; they are simply not choosing to read religious or spiritual ebooks (Catholic ones anyway).

So, are ebooks the preferred format these days?  Not yet.  According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults had read a print book in the past year, but only 21% had read an ebook. This number is up from 17% compared to the year before, however.  Ebooks are still not the preferred media, but they are gaining ground.

Now that I have thrown all of these statistics at you, what does it all mean?

There is no doubt that print books still dominate the number of readers, but ebooks are selling more copies.  How can this be true?  Well, according to the Pew Research Center, it is because the average ebook reader reads 24 books a year.  Print readers only read an average of 15.  This suggests that the convenience of ebooks allows people to read and purchase more – good news for the publishing industry.

Some feel that ebooks may be the end of traditional publishing.  Their normally lower prices will cut into the profit margins of publishers.  For Catholic publishers (who operate on thin margins anyway), this could be a disaster.  However, while the price may be lower, the potential increase in volume may make up the difference.

The Catholic publishing industry, according to CARA’s report, has only scratched the surface with ebooks.  While the rest of society is quickly moving towards digital media and ebooks, we seem slow to adapt.  If we can begin to compete in that market, it may open up more readers to religious books.

Personally, I think that ebooks will be an essential part of the Catholic publishing industry in the next couple of years.  The number of ebook sales will rise as Catholic publishers understand the digital marketplace a little better.  At the same time, print books will never go away completely – an ebook simply cannot replace the feeling of crisp pages between your fingers.

What needs to be done for Catholic books to compete in the modern publishing world?

As someone with experience in the industry, step one is providing more titles.  For many publishers, only their newest titles are available as an ebook.  An effort should be made to convert older titles as well.

The next step is finding a competitive price.  Many feel that the $2.99 to $9.99 price point set by Amazon is too low, and I understand that.  Still, I have seen ebook prices based on their hardcover counterparts, and no one is going to pay $24.99 for a 250-page ebook.  We need to find a happy medium somewhere.  As an avid ebook reader, I am fine with paying between $8-15 for an ebook.

Finally, we need to find the right distribution methods.  Amazon holds the largest part of the market share, while Barnes and Noble come in a distant second.  But many complain about their unfair pricing and exclusivity deals.  As a Catholic market, we should turn to Catholic-run organizations that support Catholic publishers.

Ebooks are on the rise; it is time the Catholic market took notice.

We need to make a greater attempt at competing in this market, if we want to reach more people.  The new media is more than a buzz word.  It is an important part of the future of the Catholic publishing industry.


Editors Note: This article was originally published at



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  • Elizabeth Swift

    Okay, I’m clearly in the minority. I love my Kindle, I’ve downloaded a lot of specifically Catholic books onto it, some classics, some brand new. I love the fact that I can access GK Chesterton’s works, Hillaire Belloc’s works, RH Bensen’s work’s, JH Newman’s works without paying out of print prices. I downloaded Maisie Ward’s biography of Chesterton that I hadn’t even been able to find in anything other than antiquarian editions before. I appreciated the fact that I could download Dale Alquist’s latest book for less than the cost of print, and not have it take up space on my already crowded shelves. I’m not a spring chicken either. I’m 63, and I’m the only one in my family (other than my son-in-law) who even owns an e-book reader. My son does download stuff onto his computer to read and my daughter occasionally uses her husband’s Kindle, but they in general prefer print.

    I love being able to take my “library” with me. It includes all sorts of wonderful stuff from Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah (which I also own in a print edition), to Saint Francis de Sales, St. Therese, and a copy of the Douay Rheims edition of Sacred Scripture.

    However, I read way more than 24 books a year, and I did even before getting an e-reader. So, I’ve been odd for a long time. I would agree about pricing, however, publishers have got to create an incentive for people to buy an e-book. After all the publisher doesn’t have to spend money on the physical book, so it stands to reason that the price should be significantly lower.

    • I agree with all of what you’ve said, Elizabeth. I’m in the minority myself. Many readers still love the feel of a good book, and it’s one that I thought I would miss, as well. Now, I love having my library with me wherever I go.

      Thanks for the comments!


    • Jan. 1st, Hi Elizabeth, I’m glad you noticed that the prices of e-books on amazon especially are going up. I love carrying all my favorite books on my Kindle when I travel…it is not the same experience as holding a paper book in my hands….I love the fragrance and the feel of paper books but – love my Kindle. However, prices are going up and up on Amazon as they sell more Kindle books than paper books and that is not fair. We were told they would be much less but now, at times, they are much more. There is no reason for this since there is no shipping and handling, no printing, no binding, etc…there are a lot of older books that you can get for free though…Dickens, for instance, a lot of Catholic books…

      • CDville

        Another reason I believe amazon’s price structure is unreasonable is that you never truly own an ebook. You merely own a license to read it. You cannot sell it, pass it to your heirs, or even donate it to the church rummage sale. While nook allows you to lend some books one time only for as long as two weeks, most are restricted to the one account.

  • CDville

    I was impatient and purchased He Uses It for Good and A Little Way of Homeschooling for instant download on my Nook, but I cannot share them the way I could with a print edition, so I avoid ebooks. My 25-yo dd refuses to read ebooks and prefers ancient, yellowed books. Her married older sister, otoh, loves books, but lives in a tiny apartment and reads her nook on the way to work. She bought me a nookbook for Christmas. What does that mean? I think people who loan or give books to evangelize will continue to prefer paper, but millennials in the big cities will buy ebooks out of necessity. And perhaps Catholic ebooks are not doing so well because Catholics (except me) tend to be patient enough to wait for the hard copy rather than the instant download.

  • CDville

    I am curious whether the statistis are different for protestant books. I noticed Family Christian Stores has started selling ebooks and Kobo readers.

  • Cheryl Dickow

    As a Catholic publisher (Bezalel Books) all our titles are available in formats for
    Kindle and Nook. We’ve taken on this expense for our authors in an attempt to engage Catholics in new media. Our e-book prices are always much less than our paperback prices in our attempt to entice potential readers.

    For instance, Peggy Bowes’ The Rosary Workout is $19.99 in paperback but $9.99 in Kindle and Nook. Our recent fiction book He Shall Be Peace is $15 as a paperback and $9 in Kindle.

    However, my own experience is that there is no clear or easy way for Catholics to learn about all these wonderful books unless cost-prohibitive marketing efforts are employed or an author has a “platform.” Unfortunately, many incredibly wonderful books that could entertain and edify Catholics never even make it into the Amazon or Barnes and Noble marketing machine–or ever get the attention they deserve.

    But it just isn’t engaging the new media; I also believe that Catholics are far behind their Protestant brothers and sisters in general reading habits of faith-based books, particularly fiction books. We forget that these can be as important to our faith walk as a non-fiction book.

    Nonetheless, we at Bezalel Books keep plugging along and will continue to offer all our titles in both paperback and e-book formats and pray that the Catholic reader discovers the treasures of Catholic fiction and non-fiction in both paperback and e-book formats.

  • GuitarGramma

    It’s funny, my husband was absolutely certain that I would never “convert” to eBooks because he knows how much I enjoy “the feel” of everything from to animals to quilts. But I embraced convenience very early in the eBook game. I far prefer reading a lightweight eBook to balancing the pages of anything more cumbersome than a slender magazine.
    We purchased a signed copy of Michael D. O’Brien’s newest book but, at over 1,000 pages, I knew I’d never finish it. A quick, relatively inexpensive download on my Kindle allowed me to read the book at a leisurely pace, finishing it in less than a month.
    One of the advantages of an eBook is that you never know how much of the book is left. Somehow that keeps me more engaged on every page. I’ve heard others say the same thing.

  • Jan. 1st – yes, Amazon is selling more e-books and so the e-books are slowly going up in price, often costing more than the paper versions. Amazon has received many complaints about this but so far, has done nothing. There are instances where the e-books are more expensive than the paper versions which just doesn’t make any sense. But, as usual, we know that when something sells well, the prices go up…sad. I wonder if people know that they can borrow e-books from their local libraries onto their Kindle? Just bring your computer to the library and they will set you up…

  • Tarheel

    eBooks are something I have not “gotten use to yet”. I enjoy a good book and many of them I will either highlight a passage in the book and or make a note in the margin. I have an iPad and have downloaded a few books for free. But I must say I miss the “feel” of a book. And can I share an eBook with a friend? Our bible study group does this frequently, so can I share? If a book is on a Nook can it be shared with someone with an iPad or Kindle?

    I see some advantages with eBooks but this old “analog” guy has a difficult time moving to this format.

    • CDville

      As i note in my previous post, few nook books allow lending, and lending is highly restricted. I do not think kindle books have any lending function. To share, you would have to share an account and password, so make sure it is someone you would trust with your credit card. That way i share with my husband and adult daughter. A nook cannot accomodate a kindle book, and vice-versa, but an ipad, iphone, or pc can have both nook and kindle apps. I know my nook allows me to highlight and make notes, and I am almost certain the notations are readable and editable on my nook apps on other devices. The kindle app is probably much the same. The only real advantages i see to ebooks are physical size, instant access, and reading in the dark.

  • Tarheel

    Ok, Last night I downloaded the ‘Kindle’ and ‘Nook’ readers for my iPad. Any recommendations or suggestions on what book to purchase and download?

  • Ian Rutherford

    At we started pestering the Catholic publishers about e-books five years ago. At the time, most either didn’t have it on the radar or were having meeting discussing what to do.

    Since then many of them have farmed out their e-book conversions to distribution houses that require an exclusivity contract which shuts Catholic book stores out of the e-book market. This is something I spent years trying to convince them not to do.

    Only a couple of publishers are actually willing to let Catholic businesses sell their products.

  • I didnt know there was so many Catholic books out there until I started watching EWTN. I like EWTN Bookmark, Women of Grace, The Catholic View for Women these shows have authors on and recommend books so does Defending Life. I buy books to have on the shelf to read & hopefully family members that are not Catholic will see something they might want to read. Also I share them with family members who are Catholic who dont have the money to get ebooks or any book for that matter. Ive also won a few Catholic books through Catholic book giveaways. I do have an ereader that has different formats I can read since you can find free Catholic stuff online.