NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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 percent of their Bible manufacturing expenses in China, Schoenwald said. Together, they command 38 percent of the American Bible market, he said.
The full size of that market is difficult to gauge. A spokeswoman at HarperCollins said they believe around 20 million Bibles are sold in the United States each year.
The NDP group, which includes NPD BookScan and PubTrack Digital, captured 5.7 million print Bible sales in the United States in 2018. But that figure doesn't capture all sales, including the large number of Bibles sold by publishers directly to congregations.
Regardless, it's clear the Bible is the top-selling book in the United States. By comparison, the next-best seller in 2018 was Michelle Obama's "Becoming," which BookScan estimates sold 3.5 million copies.
The proposed 25 percent tariff would apply to all books, but critics say it would disproportionately affect Bibles and children's books. Both tend to have specialized printing requirements that Chinese printers are set up to meet while many domestic printers are not.
"U.S. printers moved their Bible printing facilities abroad decades ago, leaving no substantial domestic manufacturing alternatives," Schoenwald said.
Stan Jantz, president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, said in a phone interview that over half of worldwide Bible production takes place in China. The tariff would hurt organizations that give away Bibles and also make it difficult for publishers to sell the Bible at a price people can afford, he said.
"Traditionally, historically, books have been excluded from tariffs," Jantz added.