August 5, 2020

The iMonk/Centuri0n Interview: Part 4

Question 1
Question 2
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5
Question 6
Question 7

pdlgif.jpg8. How did the Purpose Driven Life phenomenon change Christian publishing?

I don’t think it did, really. You might think that naive, but the only thing that happened with PDL that never really happened before was that after CBA got to sell it for about a year at full retail and get 1 or 2 million copies out, WMT picked it up and forced CBA to decide if it was going to play the price game or not. When you could get PDL at SAM’S Club for $10.88, you had to make a special choice: do I sell it as a loss leader, or do I move on?

See: that choice is hard when you think about it as a cold retail fact. But if you think about it from the position that, in the best case, that book is no better or worse than any given Dr. Laura book, you can let Big Blue sell all the copies it can steal from Zondervan at $0.20 above cost and not think twice about it. If you’re in the business to sell “stuff”, you can get mad when WMT takes your “stuff” and knocks it off. If you’re in this business to equip the church, you stay focused on issues like service, and whether your employees can tell the ESV from tNIV, and whether your store is providing a doctrinally-sound buying choice.

I get a big laugh out of PDL at WMT. In the store in Springdale, AR, it sits on a section of shelves right next to a section with the header “LDS”. If they’d let me, I’d take a picture for you to post here on your blog, Michael. It’s classic. If that’s the way someone is going to make their spiritual diet choices, there’s no sense complaining that they made a price-based buying choice. They weren’t looking for spiritual meat and potatoes: they were looking for the cheap bags of chips.

One of the secrets, IMO, of PDL’s success is that the SBC sort of adopted it because Pastor Warren is “one of our own”. If you do the quick math, there are about 16 million SBC members in the US. In the “first wave” of sales, about 5 million got out – and that was when everyone was “doing” the “40 days”. Another secret is that a lot of those copies – and you can’t get a bead on this because ECPA doesn’t break out the numbers this way – were at the “church” price of $9 sold by Saddleback to sister churches for the “40 days” campaign. Along with the other stuff like banners and video feeds which were (of course) upsells.

What PDL did, IMO, is get people talking. Didn’t Larry King do something with Rick Warren? All things being equal, I think stuff like that is foundationally a “good thing” even if Warren is a little glib when he talks ex tempore about the Gospel. Most people don’t live in the insulated world of a “Christian” business like I do – where you have to believe that most people are at least inside the net of “goes to church at least twice a week” – and when Warren or Joel “Brent Spiner” Osteen (note to Marc Heinrich: where’s the SAB on that one?) gets on Larry King, it gives us – you know, the Christians and not just the TRs – the chance to say something to somebody about the Gospel when it comes up the next day. Because it’s going to come up.

And for whatever this is worth, PDL died a very ugly public death when the book by the girl who read it to her murderous kidnapper came out. That book tanked, and its obvious attempt to remerchandise PDL for another 10 million copies or whatever proved that whatever is wrong with CBA and ECPA and the chain in general, people still can’t be fooled all the time. Amazon can’t sell it at 70% off.

PDL is a fad, just like Purpose Driven Church was before it. We’ll get over it – and then Zondervan will find a way to reincarnate it again after about 8 or 10 years. By then, we can only hope that the T4G movement will be more than a convention that gets held every other year and it will be instead an awakening of the Gospel in our churches so that people’s lives are changed.


  1. Michael,

    Great article. Good questions, and Frank really has done a great deal of thoughtful thinking on this…kudos, Mr. Turk. You guys collaborating together, I’m still grinning and happily incredulous over this, may just blow T4G out of the water!


  2. Histrion (Jay H) says

    T4G? I’m so proud of myself, I was able to follow pretty much every acronym in the piece until that one. 🙂

  3. Histrion (Jay H) says

    Oops, never mind — happened (completely by chance) to find the answer over at centuri0n’s blog.

  4. centuri0n says


    I still owe you a nuggie for something, so let’s not get carried away.