'Bible Experience' Wins Audiobook of the Year at Secular Expo

NEW YORK – An audio Bible project took home Audiobook of the Year after beating out all its competitors at this year's Book Expo America (BEA) 2007, which ended Sunday in New York City.

Speakers on behalf of the Audio Publishing Association gave the accolade to Inspired By…The Bible Experience New Testament at the annual Audies awards dinner last Friday. The book, published by communications company Zondervan, also won in the Inspirational/Spiritual category.

The Bible Experience is Zondervan's fastest selling Bible ever and includes a cast of more than 200 African-American actors who voiced the dramatic reading. Among the performers were Blair Underwood (Jesus), Samuel L. Jackson (God), Angela Bassett (Esther), Denzel Washington (Solomon), and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Judas).

"Listeners will be engaged by this new audio Bible because it takes the passion and spirit of the New Testament and gives it the production and quality of a major motion picture," explained Paul Caminiti, vice president and publisher of Bibles for Zondervan, in a statement.

The book has been receiving its share of accolades since it was first released early last October. It has become the No. 1 audio Bible in all history, won "Outstanding Gospel Artist - Traditional or Contemporary" in the 38th NAACP Image Awards, instantly rose to the top of Amazon.com's "Bible and Other Sacred Texts" category, and has received strong reviews by both Christian and secular media.

Since it first came out eight months ago, the audio rendition of the New Testament has already sold 300,000 units, outselling most perennial best-sellers, according to company officials.

Despite the positive responses, The Bible Experience has also had its share of negative attention. The audio Bible ran into some controversy at the beginning of March when screenwriter Paula Neiman sued the company for not paying in full for her services. Neiman accused the executives of cutting her after the addition of the all-star cast, not wanting to share in the unforeseen profits.

"The business people behind a project; even a faith-based project, are ultimately still business people," argued Neiman in the statement. "When a great deal of money is involved, even for a lovely project, people might not be immune to corruption."

Also, The Bible Experience adopted a translation that many Christians have found controversial – Today's New International Version (TNIV).

When initial publishing of International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House's TNIV began in 2002, fundamentals and evangelicals rejected the version's rendering of male terms, replacing "son" and "father" to "child" and "parent."

The Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America had passed resolutions saying the TNIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards.

Nevertheless, the translation was launched in 2005 with a million-dollar media effort and hailed by some as the grand solution to bring back young Bible adherents to church.

According to Zondervan Vice President and Publisher Mark Hunt, Christian audiobooks have an annual revenue of approximately $50 million, with 49 percent of that from Bibles, 24 percent from fiction, and 27 percent from nonfiction.

Christian publishers had a fewer number of booths at this year's BEA, but it was reported that they had increased traffic from the previous year. Christian-themed seminars at the expo tended to focus mostly on audiobooks and evangelical fiction.

On the web: 'The Bible Experience' website at Zondervan.com/TheBibleExperience.