In The Beginning There Was The Bestseller

To the Christian faithful, the Bible is the absolute, incontrovertible word of God. For centuries, the Good Book has been celebrated, revered and wielded by men and women of the cloth.

Today, the sacred text is being sold in an assortment of designer colors.

In the beginning, there was the King James Bible: 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,173 verses — usually bound in sober black leather. The King James Bible was the English language standard for more than 400 years.

Bibles used to be made and sold in limited quantities. But in recent years, more translations and versions have become available. The demand for new and different Bibles grew, and publishers looked upon the Bible market and saw that it was good.

Simply put, the Bible is pretty much the best-selling book of the year — every year.

"The Bible always sells well," Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, told Saturday Early Show anchor Tracy Smith in an interview for Sunday Morning. "If it were a traditional book, we'd call it a backlist blockbuster, because it sells year after year after year — and it's been selling for 2,000 years. So it's not necessarily the top 10 on people's top 10 lists of sales in any given year, but it is a consistent seller."

"It's the best seller of all times," Abyssinian Baptist pastor Dr. Calvin Butts said. "It has to be. It's got everything you would want in a book: sex, violence, intrigue, mystery, the supernatural — it's all here."

In the book business, consistency pays: In 2006, sales of the Bible — in all of its different versions and translations — amounted to nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. Not bad for a book that many potential customers already have.

"Well, it's amazing that people seem to have an unquenchable thirst for having more than one Bible," said Rolf Zettner, who runs the Christian book publishing house, Faith Words, "that people aren't content to have just the one Bible that they have on the coffee table or on the bookshelf. But they seem to want to have several copies of Bibles. And so I've seen statistics as high as 10 — 10 Bibles in an average household. So it does have the opportunity for a publisher such as ours to look at ways to be that second, third and fourth Bible in the home."

The notion of owning several Bibles is relatively new: For more than 400 years, the King James version was the first — and for many, the only — Bible.

"Now of course many scholars and others will laugh at me when I say this, but it just sounds more like the Bible to me when I read the King James Version," Dr. Butts said. "It's what I was raised on."

The formal language of the King James had always been a stumbling block for some readers, and in September 1966, an alternative was created with today's English version, known as "Good News for Modern Man," published by the non-profit American Bible society.

"Well, I think it was huge," Nelson said. "I think it was maybe the beginning of the democratization of Bibles — and at the beginning of the understanding that there were a lot of different ways you could publish a Bible."