For many Americans wrapping up their Easter and Passover celebrations, April showers and May flowers have a spiritual tone. Holidays can revive consumers’ interest in related genres—for example, romance genre sales rise around Valentine’s Day. And this spring’s celebrations were no exception: the religious genre’s popularity—and sales—grew this month. By exploring how consumers connect with this genre—whether through music, religious television specials, Bibles and everything in between—over the holidays and year-round, marketers can identify new opportunities to extend the reach of both religious and mainstream content.
In 2013, over 10.3 million Christian/Gospel music titles were sold. While this is small in comparison to music market as a whole (3.5% percent of total album sales), the genre is healthy, with hits coming from established artists and new talent alike. And sales for some titles from this genre can reach levels comparable to those in the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. For example, the Christian R&B chart ranges from GRAMMY-winning artists like Gospel crooner CeCe Winans (who has sold over 2 million albums to date) to Christian rapper Lecrae (who has sold over 2.2 million tracks to date). On the Christian rock charts, Casting Crowns, a GRAMMY-winning group of minister rockers, has sold over 7 million tracks and 3.3 million records to date. These artists have all thrived while staying true to their religious roots and without the intention crossing over into mainstream genres—a decision that’s typically made to garner more exposure and revenue.
Nevertheless, Christian/Gospel music genre artists can also win mainstream fans. The Australian worship band Hillsong United’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” recently gained mainstream attention when it peaked at No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on March 15, 2014. And this past week, the Christian rock band MercyMe debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart with their newest album, Welcome to the New. And these are the latest of many. From rock to rap, many religious music artists have also done well in crossovers and charted songs on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including Skillet (whose Awake album has sold over 924,000 albums to date), Switchfoot (whose appeal came early with The Beautiful Letdown, which has sold over 2.2 million albums since its release), and newcomer singers Britt Nicole and Francesca Battistelli, to name a few.
Similarly, mainstream artists have done well in the religious genre. Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” (2.3 million tracks sold to date), Flyleaf’s “All Around Me” (1.4 million tracks) and Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (1.4 million tracks) have all resonated well with both religious and mainstream consumer groups.
Over the years, religious themes have seen their fair share of depictions through the video camera lens. A decade ago, Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was a huge commercial hit. Even 10 years later, its effect is evident: the title has sold over 100,000 discs this year alone. And this year has brought Hollywood’s biblical adaptations of Son of God in February and Noah last month, with more religious-inspired films planned for release later this year and in early 2015.
While companies have commercialized Easter, it remains a religious celebration for many Americans. And many of consumers’ purchases around the holiday over the past few years reflect this spiritual sentiment. In 2012, religious* DVD/Blu-ray title sales increased 34 percent in the three to four weeks before Easter, and in 2013, sales increased 61 percent in the three weeks prior to the holiday—double the previous year’s increase! However, 2013 also saw the new release of the History Channel’s Emmy award-winning Bible mini-series’ two days after the Easter holiday, changing the religious home entertainment landscape. Inspired by religious sentiment from the Easter holiday and the newly released Bible series’ popularity, religious title sales lifted during the week prior to the holiday and then remained positive for seven weeks after Easter**, increasing by a whopping total of 364 percent. But religious themes in home entertainment can also be popular year-round: The kid-friendly Veggie Tales series, which debuted in the 1990s, has sold over 200,000 units in 2014 alone.
Religion is also big business for book publishers. According to Nielsen book survey data, 14 percent of new books purchased in 2013 were religious. Of those 14 percent, an astounding 67 percent were Bibles (25% of which were purchased in a digital format), followed by religious nonfiction at a respectable 22 percent. However, there is no one size fits all profile for the religious book consumer. In 2013, 56 percent of Bible buyers were male, while Christian fiction and nonfiction consumers skewed female (73% and 60%, respectively). And religious books aren’t just bought by just one particular age group either: 76 percent of Bible buyers were under 45 years old last year.
When it comes to entertainment, marketers have the opportunity to take religious content mainstream and vice versa. In addition to traditional distribution channels, consumers can often be reached through specialty religious retailers and ministries. In music, we see artists who want to tap into new audiences release specialty titles that are well received by non-core fans. Similarly, books and movies can be promoted year-round to appeal to diverse age groups and genders.
*Nielsen Videoscan’s CompWiz search was utilized to identify top religious titles based off of relevant keywords.
**The Easter lift period studied is composed of sales for the weeks ending March 24, 2013 through May 19, 2013 over a baseline of the weeks ending Jan. 6, 2013 through June 23, 2013.