Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Sales: $150 million (2003 est.)
NAIC: 511130 Book Publishers; 511210 Software Publishers; 512110 Motion Picture and Video Production
While Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. has been known in the Christian publishing industry for decades with its popular Living Bible, the firm gained widespread recognition with the fictional Left Behind series first published in 1995. Located in the western suburbs of Chicago, Tyndale is a full-service Christian publisher, offering an ever-expanding line of Bibles, devo-tionals, fiction and nonfiction titles for adults, teens, and children, as well as videos, calendars, and stationery. With sales estimated at $150 million for 2003, Tyndale House has proven itself in both the ecumenical and mainstream publishing arenas.
In the Beginning: The 1930s to 1962
Kenneth Nathaniel Taylor was born in Portland, Oregon, on May 8, 1917. He attended local schools and met his future wife, Margaret, while in high school. The couple ventured eastward for Kenneth to attend Wheaton College, a religious establishment located in Chicago’s western suburbs. After graduating from Wheaton College with a B.S. in zoology in 1938, Taylor studied at the Dallas Theological Seminary from 1940 to 1943, then enrolled in the Chicago-based Northern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned a doctorate of theology in 1944.
In Chicago, Taylor worked as director of Moody Press, commuting via train from his Wheaton farmhouse. Moody Press was a small part of Chicago’s thriving publishing and printing industry, part of the Moody Bible Institute and one of the few Christian publishers of the day to offer a variety of inexpensive Christian literature. While at Moody in 1949, Taylor and fellow employee William Moore created a Christian bookselling organization modeled after the well known and larger American Booksellers Association. The new group, the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA), grew into a nonprofit force within the religious publishing community.
Kenneth Taylor’s work at Moody proved a valuable and fertile stepping stone to his later endeavors. On his daily commute he began to rewrite passages of the New Testament in simple everyday language, since his children had trouble understanding the archaic words of the King James version of the Bible. After seven years, Taylor’s Living Letters was finished and he approached several publishers—including Moody—but no one was interested in his updated, informal Bible. Discouraged but not defeated, the Taylors were determined to make Living Letters available to those who wanted it. The couple set up a small press in their Wheaton home in 1961, calling it Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
The Tyndale name came from a 16th-century cleric and thinker named William Tyndale, who had translated the Bible from the difficult language of his times into words he reportedly said “even a plowboy could understand.” The Taylors mortgaged their home and used their savings to make Living Letters a reality. They found a printer who produced 2,000 copies on credit and a prayer, then set about spreading the word, literally, in 1962. Using the CBA and a network of family and friends, the Taylors placed Living Letters in as many hands as possible.
Like Manna from Heaven: 1963–79
The Reverend Billy Graham, one of Wheaton College’s most famous alumni, endorsed a copy of Living Letters in 1963. Graham gave copies of the book to thousands of Christians who attended his evangelical revivals, and also to audiences of his televised sermons. Correspondingly, sales of Living Letters soared and Tyndale earned its first profits. Whenever Kenneth Taylor was asked about the income earned from Living Letters, he replied, “The Bible is the word of God, so He should get the royalties.” By the time royalties had begun to flow in earnest, the Tyndale House Foundation was created to distribute Living Letters around the world in as many translations as possible.
By 1965 the Taylors had moved Tyndale’s operations out of their Wheaton home and into offices nearby. During the year a new Tyndale title appeared, The Living Prophecies, followed by Spirit-Controlled Temperament in 1966, and The Living New Testament in 1967. Also in 1967 Tyndale moved into larger offices in nearby Carol Stream, Illinois, having outgrown its Wheaton headquarters.
In 1972 Tyndale published The Living Bible, Taylor’s revamped version of the entire Bible in colloquial language. While Tyndale had experienced success with several of its titles, the fervor over The Living Bible was nothing short of amazing—selling eight million copies by the end of 1972 and becoming the best-selling book in the United States by 1973. To keep up with demand Tyndale House added more than 10,000 square feet of warehouse space to its offices in Carol Stream, a move it would repeat several times in coming years as the small publisher gained nationwide acclaim.
While Tyndale House became a household word for many Christians, not all of the attention the publisher received was good. Several religious groups and scholars decried Taylor’s informal language in The Living Bible, and others found fault with his interpretation. Tyndale and the Taylors, however, stood by the book as did millions of the faithful who bought The Living Bible and its message.
Growth and Change: The 1980s
After years of selling at a steady if not phenomenal rate, sales for The Living Bible eventually declined. Tyndale had no immediate replacement for this megaseller, though varying marketing approaches kept it selling far longer than expected. Tyndale titles were highly visible through distribution deals with such major bookselling chains as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Barnes & Noble; discount stores Target, Kmart, and Wal-Mart; and major supermarkets. In addition, most Tyndale titles were available in a variety of bindings—hardcover, paperback, and deluxe editions—to fit the budget and taste of virtually everyone. The beautiful, specially bound or “deluxe” editions were designed to hold up to repeated use, with padding and fine leather covers.
Throughout the 1980s Tyndale House continued to find new ways to inspire men, women, and children to read the Bible and follow its tenets. In 1981 Margaret Taylor, cofounder of the firm, retired; three years later, in 1984, husband Kenneth followed suit by turning the company over to their son Mark D. Taylor. Although Kenneth Taylor retained the title of chairman and was still Tyndale’s “idea man,” Mark Taylor became president and chief executive in charge of daily operations. The only one of the Taylors’ ten children to play a role in the family business, the younger Taylor never set out to be in the executive office. He graduated from Duke University in 1973 and reluctantly became the director of the company’s charitable organization. Within a few years Taylor segued into Tyndale’s management, using his business skills to turn the firm into a major international publishing house.
Early in Mark Taylor’s tenure came an updated version of The Living Bible simply called The Book. Unveiled in collaboration with Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network (home to the very popular 700 Club television show) in 1984, The Book was a hip, updated Bible with even less flowery language than its predecessor. For Robertson, who pitched in to the $2 million-plus advertising campaign, being involved with Tyndale and The Book was a business coup, since it was sold on-air to millions and became the Christian must-have of the decade. For Tyndale, it ushered in a new era of products, including videos and gift items themed to go along with The Book, which was marketed as though it were a snazzy bestseller rather than a staid religious text.
The Book featured a bright blue paperback cover and instead of the traditional dual columns of verse was styled like a novel. Several children’s products and a series of calendars came from The Book, including the very popular “Verse a Day” tear-off block calendar, which had imitators in every genre. Next came another of Kenneth Taylor’s ideas, The One Year Bible, published in 1986 to cater to increasingly harried consumers who had less time to devote to Bible reading. The One Year Bible was designed to get readers through the great book in 15-minute daily increments. Although many at Tyndale were reportedly less than enthused with the book, The One Year Bible surprised everyone but Kenneth by selling four million copies within six years.
Although Kenneth Taylor had long been considered the creative genius at Tyndale, his son Mark came up with the concept for a video series called McGee and Me for children in 1989. McGee and Me went on to sell exceedingly well, and Mark Taylor earned new respect in the Christian publishing industry. When asked about taking over for his father at Tyndale in a 1990 Inc.article, he said: “Was it difficult to succeed my father Only in the sense that I had to work harder to prove myself. . . . For me, my confidence comes in recognizing that I have different strengths from my father. I know I can complement his skills.”
A Coat of Many Different Colors: The 1990s
By the dawn of the 1990s Tyndale’s Living Bible had sold more than 35 million copies worldwide. The publisher now had the clout to pursue authors with established reputations, many of whom had been with some of the nation’s largest mainstream publishers. The firm bought dozens of Grace Livingston Hill’s romance titles from Bantam, then signed lauded author Francine Rivers in 1991.
“Tyndale House began with a revelation from God, and it has grown and prospered as serendipities and special opportunities have poured down upon us year after year.” —Dr. Kenneth Taylor, chairman
By 1992 the Living Books series (an imprint established in 1979) was generating upward of $30 million a year while other Tyndale titles attracted a legion of fans. Putting out around 100 titles annually, Tyndale also maintained a healthy backlist of more than 1,000 titles and had become the biggest producer of Christian calendars in the industry. In addition to the various Bibles and religious texts, Tyndale published self-help and parenting books, and a growing number of fictional titles as well.
An adult novel by Dr. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins called Left Behind was published in 1995, as the first in a proposed series of books dealing with the end times. The book generated much attention and considerable controversy—many mainstream Christian denominations taught an eschatology far different from that outlined in the series. With the publication of succeeding titles, the series was soon crossing from religious bestseller lists to the New York Times. By 1998, after the fourth Left Behind title Soul Harvest reached booksellers, Tyndale’s overall sales had reached almost $45 million and the series had a following in the millions. By the end of the decade after the fifth and sixth books (Apollyon and Assassins, 1999) were published, Tyndale rang up overall sales of more than $120 million. Each Left Behind title was so eagerly awaited that publication put them immediately on Publishers Weekly and New York Times bestseller lists.
The New Millennium: 2000–03
Tyndale House’s religious empire continued to grow in the new century. In 2000 the seventh and eighth titles (The Indwelling, The Mark ) of Left Behind were released amid much fanfare and a sizable advertising campaign on radio, television, and in print. Tyndale had earned more than $23 million on the series and its merchandise alone by late 2000 and the series had taken on a life of its own, generating an entire apocalyptic or End-of-Time industry. The Left Behind web site (http://www.left behind.com), included a daily quote, newsletter, message/chat boards, branded calendars and greeting cards, graphic or comic book versions of the titles, computer screen savers, the Prophecy Club (an electronic mixed bag of political thought and revelations related to the themes expressed in the books), audio and videotapes, apparel, and collectibles, and had even led to two Left Behind movies starring former television star Kirk Cameron and his wife Chelsea Noble.
By the end of 2001, six years after the original Left Behind novel was published, some 47 million copies of the books (in adult, teen, and children’s editions) had been sold, with the original novel having sold significantly more than five million copies itself. Yet Tyndale was not just about the Left Behind thrillers; it offered a multifaceted collection of bibles (The Book, The One Year Bible, The Life Application Bible), self-help and family-oriented titles (The Paradox Principle of Parenting, 1001 Ways to Connect with Your Kids, Traits of a Lasting Marriage), devotionals (Notemaker’s Bible, Men of Integrity Devotional Bible), romance novels (A Town Called Hope, Abounding Love, Finders Keepers, Heartquest, Northern Intrigue), teen series (Angel Wings, Choice Adventures, Forbidden Doors, Last Chance Detectives), and children’s books, videos, and CD-ROMs (McGee and Me, Little Blessings, Mars Diaries, Superbook Singles, Kids’ Ten Commandments).
While the Left Behind series took Tyndale from Christian bestseller lists into the mainstream, other titles garnered attention as well. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the widow of Todd Beamer (who died on flight 93 in Pennsylvania) chose Tyndale over all other publishers to share the story of her husband and their life together. Tyndale won the book partly because Lisa and Todd Beamer had both graduated from Wheaton College, Taylor’s alma mater, and also because of the Christian ideals Tyndale set forth. Lisa Beamer’s book, Let’s Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage, came out in August 2002 and sold more than a million hardcover copies.
Another title borne of tragedy, Gracia Burnham’s In the Presence of My Enemies, was published by Tyndale. The 2003 book told the story of Gracia and Martin Burnham, Christian missionaries in the Philippines, who were kidnapped and held captive by terrorists. Martin died in a rescue attempt and Gracia’s moving book, like Lisa Beamer’s and the Left Behind titles, made it onto the New York Times hardcover bestsellers list.
- Kenneth Taylor begins to rewrite the New Testament into simpler language.
- His work rejected by several publishers, Taylor decides to print Living Letters himself.
- Taylor and wife Margaret create Tyndale House Publishers, operating from their home in Wheaton, Illinois.
- Reverend Billy Graham endorses Living Letters and demand skyrockets.
- A new book, Living Prophecies, is published and Tyndale House opens its first office in Wheaton.
- Tyndale publishes an updated version of the New and Old Testaments called The Living Bible.
- The Living Bible becomes the best-selling book in the United States; Tyndale opens a warehouse to keep up with sales.
- Kenneth Taylor, cofounder and author, retires and son Mark D. Taylor is named chief executive.
- Tyndale introduces a video series called McGee and Me for children.
- Left Behind, a novel by Jerry Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye, is published as the first in an apocalyptic literature series.
- Sales of The Living Bible reach more than 40 million copies.
- The 11th “Left Behind” book, Armageddon, is published; sales of series books and tapes reach 55 million.
The Future for Tyndale and Its Believers: 2004 and Beyond
Despite its phenomenal success, Tyndale House had not changed its message nor its intentions. Tyndale books, of which more than 100 million in bibles and 55 million in Left Behind titles were sold, certainly brought more entertainment into religious writing—yet every book remained full to the brim with Christian thought and devotion. Faith and profit, it appeared, could go hand in hand for Tyndale House and its growing list of admirers.
Abington Press; Moody Publishers; Thomas Nelson; Zondervan Publishing House.
Barnes, Shirley, “Men with a Mission: Tyndale House Turns the Bible into an Easy Read,” Chicago Tribune, October 21, 1990, p. 1.
Breu, Giovanna, “In The Book Rev. Kenneth Taylor Converts King James from Holy Writ to Simple Prose,” People Weekly, December 17, 1984, p. 107.
Carlozo, Lou, “Apocalypse Soon: For Series’ Authors, the Ending Justifies Their Means,” Chicago Tribune, March 13, 2002, p. 5.
Cutrer, Corrie, “Left Behind Series Puts Tyndale Ahead,” Christianity Today, November 13, 2000, p. 26.
Garrett, Lynn, “Launching The Book,” Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1999, p. 38.
Goddard, Coleen, “New Ways to Spread the Word,” Publishers Weekly, September 21, 1992, p. 44.
Mannion, Annamarie, “Christian Readers Put Local Publishers on Map,” Chicago Tribune, March 5, 2003, p. 9.
Marlyes, Daisy, “Kudos for Tyndale,” Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1999, p. 20.
_____, “No End for End Timers,” Publishers Weekly, October 8, 2001, p. 22.
Wojahn, Ellen, “Fathers and Sons,” Inc., April 1990, pp. 81 +.