Bible Translation Sales Rankings (June, 2021)

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bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
Per the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, here are the top ten sales rankings for Bible translations, as of June, 2021. The number in parentheses is that translation's ranking ten years ago (2011).

1. NIV (1)

2. KJV (2)

3. NLT (4)

4. ESV (5)

5. NKJV (3)

6. CSB (6)

7. Reina Valera (Spanish) (-)

8. NIrV (NIV reader's version) (9)

9. The Message (8)

10. NVI (Spanish version of the NIV) (-)

The two biggest drops are the NKJV (which has fallen from 3 to 5 over the last decade) and the NASB (which has fallen off the list completely; it was at 7 ten years ago). Also, unlike ten years ago, there are now two Spanish translations on the list. The two Spanish translations are not ranked.

The NLT, ESV, and the NIrV have moved up in the rankings. The NKJV and The Message have moved down in the rankings. The NIV, the KJV and, interestingly, the CSB are all unchanged in their rankings from ten years ago.

Also, more than $400,000,000 worth of Bibles are sold in the US every year.

Personally, I also think it's interesting that, despite relentless marketing by Crossway over the last 20 years [the ESV turns 20 in September, 2021], the ESV has never (to my knowledge) risen above 4 or 5 in the rankings.
 

Lukemk824

Puritan Board Freshman
Am I wrong to assume that ESV saying they had finalized the translation and then going back on their word and revising it probably killed off a good chunk of their readers?
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Sophomore
Interesting. Even though I don't use the translation, I live in an ESV-onlyist bubble.

I thought the second Bible on the list was supposed to be, in a practical sense, unreadable today. ;)
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
Interesting. Even though I don't use the translation, I live in an ESV-onlyist bubble.

I thought the second Bible on the list was supposed to be, in a practical sense, unreadable today. ;)
Although I would wish it weren’t the case, I do wonder how much of the KJV sales and thus ranking are due to its cheapness and availability as a gift Bible and other such uses, maybe purchased by people who really don’t know the difference.
 

Lukemk824

Puritan Board Freshman
Although I would wish it weren’t the case, I do wonder how much of the KJV sales and thus ranking are due to its cheapness and availability as a gift Bible and other such uses, maybe purchased by people who really don’t know the difference.
I wonder the same thing. Also I’m sure KJVO churches, of which many still exist, drive sales for the translation. It will be interesting to watch and see how long it takes for it to drop out of the top 5, if it ever does.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Am I wrong to assume that ESV saying they had finalized the translation and then going back on their word and revising it probably killed off a good chunk of their readers?
The NIV probably had the most controversial update (1984->2011 edition) out of the major translations and it's still on top.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Graduate
The NIV probably had the most controversial update (1984->2011 edition) out of the major translations and it's still on top.
In my humble opinion, I think the ESV's problem lies in the fact that it's not that different from the NIV. An NIV reader isn't likely to switch to ESV unless they find themselves in a more Reformed-ish environment where the ESV has been anointed as "The Received Translation".
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
I bought the CSB recently and really like how it reads more natural. When I read the ESV it sometimes feels like YODA is talking to me. CSB was a blending of literal translation with thought for thought. I guess it really depends on your usage. For rigid study I never just stick to one interpretation and usually gravitate towards ESV, NASB and KJV.

EDIT ---***

I should add that I find that the CSB interpretation favors a baptist perspective on covenants. I caught this in some of their dealings with the law/gospel topics. Its not so apparent in the translation itself. I have the ancient faith study bible which incorporates comments from theologians from antiquity. Very interesting to read but it does favor a specific type of translation.
 
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Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Am I wrong to assume that ESV saying they had finalized the translation and then going back on their word and revising it probably killed off a good chunk of their readers?
There are a number of things that they've done that have turned off some people, myself included. These include, in no particular order:

  • Announcing that the 2016 text was permanent, then shortly afterward changing their mind. There have been no updates since then, however.
  • The rendering in Gen 3:16, which was included in the 2016. The controversy over this may have led to the abandonment of the Permanent Text idea. But that's just a guess. Ironically, this is what some have termed an "NIV move." They chose one possible interpretation and excluded all others. The ESV was originally sold on the idea that "essentially literal" translation doesn't do this, that it provides "transparency" or whatever for the original text. Ironically, if I'm not mistaken, it was a woman, Susan Foh, who first advanced this translation or idea, and I think that was in the 70s.
  • It is alleged that it has a complementarian bias. See above. We might say that the originals have a "complementarian bias" or a "patriarchal bias." But the charge is that the translators have gone out of their way in certain passages. Gen 3:16 is the worst, but this has been alleged with some others.
  • It is still widely considered to be a "Calvinist translation" although I've seen no slam dunk evidence of a Calvinist bias. More people who aren't Calvinist (or LCMS) use it than before. But that still seems to be a minority.
  • The ESV Study Bible teaches ESS or EFS or whatever it is called. It was basically produced by the same people that produced the ESV itself, Grudem in particular. So that controversy soured some people on the whole ESV brand.
  • Their treatment the word slave (doulos.) There's a video that has been much maligned where the committee discusses the issue and appears to be timid and uncomfortable.
  • Some people who may have used the NIV originally and switched to the ESV after the NIV2011 was published (although this applies to some others) decided that the language in the ESV is too awkward and archaic (e.g. "fret not," "shall") and have switched to something like the CSB instead. The NASB has always been considered "wooden." The ESV was sold as being just about as literal but also more elegant and literary, and "sounding like the Bible." (What that means is that it sounds more like the KJV, which it does in many cases compared to the NASB.) But what some people find to be literary and elegant or whatever, other people see as awkward and wooden and "Biblish" and they prefer something in more familiar language.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
While the top 6 in the rankings is pretty stable, the bottom 4 are pretty volatile. The NASB is sometimes in the rankings and sometimes not. The same goes for the Message and the NVI. I think that the Reina Valera is consistently in the Top 10 though, as is the NIrV. The NASB is usually if not always in the separate Top 10 ranking that ranks $$ spent as opposed to units sold.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
The NIV probably had the most controversial update (1984->2011 edition) out of the major translations and it's still on top.
I understand that their market share eroded by maybe 5-10% but with a more crowded market now, they are still on top. Around 2000, the main choices for conservatives were the NIV, KJV, NASB, and NKJV, as well as the NLT since that is aimed at an evangelical audience. Since then the ESV and (H)CSB have been added, along with some more obscure options.

I've also seen some people say that the gender neutral controversy was overblown. Some were using the ESV but have now gone back to the NIV. Some are reading the 2011. Some are clinging to the 84. The 2011 was sort of radioactive 10 years ago. No longer. See who the contributors are to the Biblical Theology Study Bible, for example. There's also a new study Bible edited by Albert Mohler in the NIV2011. Even the MacArthur Study Bible was issued in the NIV2011 shortly after MacArthur publicly denounced the translation. Various theories have been advanced as to why they made that move. The one that is more or less official was that they wanted to get it in the hands of as many people as possible. If that's the case, I eagerly await the KJV edition.
 
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Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
In my humble opinion, I think the ESV's problem lies in the fact that it's not that different from the NIV. An NIV reader isn't likely to switch to ESV unless they find themselves in a more Reformed-ish environment where the ESV has been anointed as "The Received Translation".
Although I'm not a fan of it and rarely consult it, I disagree. I think even some people who reprobate all critical text translations would disagree. The ESV is much closer to the NASB than it is to the NIV, especially the NIV11. But that applies to the NIV84 as well. When it comes to translation philosophy, the NKJV, NASB, and ESV are basically in the same class, although the NKJV and NASB are somewhat more literal. (Most of the biased charts have the KJV and NKJV being much less literal than they are.) The NIV is less literal than the CSB, and the CSB clearly has a different philosophy than the ESV.

The NASB is so similar to the RSV in many places that it seems pretty clear that they substituted synonyms at times when the RSV carried over renderings from the KJV and ASV in order to differentiate the translations. And the ESV is still a light revision of the RSV even thought it is now in the 4th "text edition." This is one reason why some prefer the ESV to the NASB because the ESV "sounds like the Bible." I think it is safe to say that some of those differences have nothing to do with accuracy.
 
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Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Just goes to show the NASB is clearly still the best...may the Lord open blind eyes :D
Which one would that be? 1977? 1995? 2020? Or MacArthur's Legacy Standard Bible, which is a light revision of the 1995? All four of them are currently in print.

Seriously, I have probably been reading more from the 1995 NASB than any other version over the past decade. But much of that is because the Side-Column Reference Bible is my favorite text block of all time, although some new rivals have emerged in the last few years. (I used to prefer the NKJV but until about 3 years ago it was impossible to find one in black letter that wasn't a study Bible, and red letter causes too much eye strain for me these days.)
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Although I would wish it weren’t the case, I do wonder how much of the KJV sales and thus ranking are due to its cheapness and availability as a gift Bible and other such uses, maybe purchased by people who really don’t know the difference
Yes, I suspect there's a difference between most-purchased and most-read, and the KJV probably gets significant sales among the crowd that wants to have a Bible but might not be planning to read it much.

I also suspect, just from informal talks with publishers, that bulk sales are important to these numbers. With other Christian books, sales figures are highly impacted by churches or other organizations that will buy a title in bulk, and I have to think this might be doubly true with Bible sales. I wonder if the NIV and KJV lead is driven in part by being traditional choices made by traditional churches that still supply pew Bibles and and classroom Bibles, and by the Gideons who purchase a ton of KJV Bibles. I'm guessing that younger, less traditional churches where worshipers are more likely to open a Bible app on their phone during the sermon or Sunday school, so that you don't have hundreds of printed Bibles in the building, are also more likely to be ESV- or CSB- or even NASB-leaning churches.

It'd be interesting to see if the publishers have any hard data on this, but I would guess that the ESV, CSB, and NASB all skew toward younger Bible readers, while older consumers are more likely to choose the NIV. Might younger readers also be more likely to download a free app rather than actually buy a printed Bible?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
It'd be interesting to see if the publishers have any hard data on this, but I would guess that the ESV, CSB, and NASB all skew toward younger Bible readers, while older consumers are more likely to choose the NIV.

Given that Moses translated it into Hebrew, who would want to ignore the wisdom of one's elders? :stirpot:
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Yes, I suspect there's a difference between most-purchased and most-read, and the KJV probably gets significant sales among the crowd that wants to have a Bible but might not be planning to read it much.

I also suspect, just from informal talks with publishers, that bulk sales are important to these numbers. With other Christian books, sales figures are highly impacted by churches or other organizations that will buy a title in bulk, and I have to think this might be doubly true with Bible sales. I wonder if the NIV and KJV lead is driven in part by being traditional choices made by traditional churches that still supply pew Bibles and and classroom Bibles, and by the Gideons who purchase a ton of KJV Bibles. I'm guessing that younger, less traditional churches where worshipers are more likely to open a Bible app on their phone during the sermon or Sunday school, so that you don't have hundreds of printed Bibles in the building, are also more likely to be ESV- or CSB- or even NASB-leaning churches.

It'd be interesting to see if the publishers have any hard data on this, but I would guess that the ESV, CSB, and NASB all skew toward younger Bible readers, while older consumers are more likely to choose the NIV. Might younger readers also be more likely to download a free app rather than actually buy a printed Bible?
I think it is quite the opposite with the NASB. I think that definitely skews older unless 55 is younger these days. The NKJV probably does too. I think its drop in the rankings is an indication of that. The popularity of the NASB has really dropped over the past two decades. The NASB was somewhat popular with Boomers and Gen-X. The NIV was the Bible that Gen-Xers were raised on more often than not. I think it is more diverse with millennials.

Pew Bible sales are likely a factor in the ESV sales as well. It is widely used in the LCMS as well as Reformed churches and Calvinistic Baptist churches and others. The Gideons are now printing modified ESV Bibles. I don't know whether or not they are still printing KJV. They printed some NKJV for a while. I don't know if their license expired or what.

The KJV is still the choice by far in Black churches. It's not just IFBs. Southern Baptist churches in some areas (typically rural) practically veer toward KJVO as well, or so I've heard. They might not be Ruckmanite, but its just what they've always used and others would be viewed with suspicion. I suspect many of those are older congregations, but perhaps not all of them are.

But I think that the KJV and NIV both probably have a higher percentage that are given as gifts that are never read. Those are the two versions that are most recognized by people who themselves might not read the Bible much.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Also, as I continue to think about it, I suspect the top two on the list, NIV and KJV, both appeal to a particularly broad consumer base. I'm guessing that both of those translations have a strong following among traditional evangelicals, due to their heritage, and at the same time also pick up large numbers of sales in mainline churches and among Bible readers who are uncomfortable with evangelicalism. I've been inside a few mainline churches recently where the RSV has been replaced in the pews with the 2011 NIV (which is now acceptable to mainliners), but I was also in a conservative and Bible-believing church just yesterday that has NIVs in the pews. Very different churches, but both using the NIV.

Given that Moses translated it into Hebrew, who would want to ignore the wisdom of one's elders? :stirpot:
It's hard to convey to you youngsters the passion with which my generation of evangelicals embraced the NIV when it first came out. That kind of excitement leaves a heritage and has made the NIV a hugely popular brand—even though it isn't the same Bible anymore.

The KJV is still the choice by far in Black churches.
Yes, an excellent observation, and a significant slice of the market, I would guess.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Also, as I continue to think about it, I suspect the top two on the list, NIV and KJV, both appeal to a particularly broad consumer base. I'm guessing that both of those translations have a strong following among traditional evangelicals, due to their heritage, and at the same time also pick up large numbers of sales in mainline churches and among Bible readers who are uncomfortable with evangelicalism. I've been inside a few mainline churches recently where the RSV has been replaced in the pews with the 2011 NIV (which is now acceptable to mainliners), but I was also in a conservative and Bible-believing church just yesterday that has NIVs in the pews. Very different churches, but both using the NIV.


It's hard to convey to you youngsters the passion with which my generation of evangelicals embraced the NIV when it first came out. That kind of excitement leaves a heritage and has made the NIV a hugely popular brand—even though it isn't the same Bible anymore.


Yes, an excellent observation, and a significant slice of the market, I would guess.
The NIV has long been used by some mainliners who were sort of evangelical or conservative by mainline standards, although I don't know what percentage that would be. I'd hate to stereotype, but maybe the percentage is higher among those who actually crack open a Bible on a semi-regular basis. I don't think it has ever been mandated that the RSV or NRSV had to be used, at least not in the UMC. The mainline denominations produced the CEB about 10 years ago, which is supposed to be sort of a NIV for mainliners, although it is not quite that literal. But it was aimed at those who find the NRSV to be too formal. They had the Today's English Version/Good News Bible, but maybe what was contemporary in the 70s is considered out of date in the 21st Century. Congregations bought a lot of those in bulk back in the 70s and 80s.

I'm in a lot of Bible groups on Facebook. It's interesting to see some of the comments about versions. You're right about some mainliners and others who probably wouldn't have used the NIV in the past but who are using the NIV11 now, at least as one of their main versions if not the main one. A number of them had been fans of the TNIV, which was a bit more radical than the 2011 is with gender neutral renderings. You'll see an evangelical or Reformed person here or there who expresses admiration for the NRSV. Every now and then I'll say "Come on man, you're not supposed to like that for reasons X, Y, and Z." Sometimes they know the issues and sometimes not. Then you'll get some people who don't seem to realize what the issues are and why versions came into existence. Some who are more mainline but who like the NASB will wonder why more NASB fans don't like the NRSV, etc. Not being from any kind of Bible-believing background, one of the first things I did after being converted was to research Bible versions. I think I already had some knowledge of the controversy over Isa. 7:14.
 
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Lukemk824

Puritan Board Freshman
It's hard to convey to you youngsters the passion with which my generation of evangelicals embraced the NIV when it first came out. That kind of excitement leaves a heritage and has made the NIV a hugely popular brand—even though it isn't the same Bible anymore.
I would love to hear more on this, if you haven't already exhausted yourself in other threads.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
It's hard to convey to you youngsters the passion with which my generation of evangelicals embraced the NIV when it first came out. That kind of excitement leaves a heritage and has made the NIV a hugely popular brand—even though it isn't the same Bible anymore.
And there were people a lot older than you who were excited about it too. I remember Francis Schaeffer saying good things about it, and he used it in later books.

For those who wanted a modern translation, there weren't a whole lot of choices in 1978 when the full NIV was published. There was the KJV. I think Nelson may have still had the ASV in print. (Arguably that's harder to read than the KJV.) The NASB was respected but considered too difficult by many. Most of the RSV was fine (which is why Crossway revised it with the ESV) but the liberalism of the translators was obvious by how they translated several passages, especially in the OT. That was significant enough that relatively few evangelicals used it, especially in the USA. The Living Bible (a paraphrase) was very popular for a while. But all of those were considered flawed by people who wanted a conservative, accessible, and accurate translation. Some pastors eventually cooled toward the NIV when they realized that it wasn't as literal as they would have preferred in some places. But for regular folks, it was THE Bible to have if you were only going to get one. You got the NASB if you wanted to get "serious" about your Bible study.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
And there were people a lot older than you who were excited about it too. I remember Francis Schaeffer saying good things about it, and he used it in later books.

For those who wanted a modern translation, there weren't a whole lot of choices in 1978 when the full NIV was published. There was the KJV. I think Nelson may have still had the ASV in print. (Arguably that's harder to read than the KJV.) The NASB was respected but considered too difficult by many. Most of the RSV was fine (which is why Crossway revised it with the ESV) but the liberalism of the translators was obvious by how they translated several passages, especially in the OT. That was significant enough that relatively few evangelicals used it, especially in the USA. The Living Bible (a paraphrase) was very popular for a while. But all of those were considered flawed by people who wanted a conservative, accessible, and accurate translation. Some pastors eventually cooled toward the NIV when they realized that it wasn't as literal as they would have preferred in some places. But for regular folks, it was THE Bible to have if you were only going to get one. You got the NASB if you wanted to get "serious" about your Bible study.
Ding, ding, ding! Growing up in England in the 60's and 70's evangelical churches that didn't use the KJV generally used the RSV. No one would ever have chosen a pew Bible that had the word "American" in it. Liberal churches used the Good news Bible, complete with tacky line drawing illustrations. When the NIV came out, evangelicals generally welcomed its more conservative stance on hot button verses (less noticed but more profound was its return to the priority of the Masoretic Text over the RSV's love affair with the Septuagint). By the time the ESV came out, I was preaching regularly from the NIV and often wished for something slightly more literal. After using the ESV for a while, I generally liked it but wished they hadn't tried so hard to make it "sound like the Bible", which inevitably takes normal Hebrew and Greek and turns them into KJV language, rather than into normal English. Hence my interest in the CSB project when it came around.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
I would love to hear more on this, if you haven't already exhausted yourself in other threads.
As Chris said, when it arrived in 1978, the NIV was the only translation of its kind. It was written in our everyday English, yet it retained a sense of Bible-worthy seriousness and elegance that the everyday-English paraphrases (Living Bible, Good News Bible) lacked. And its evangelical credentials were solid, unlike the RSV. The marketing and packaging was spot-on, too. Other modern-English translations either tried to look like an everyday book with a hip cover (Living Bible) or included those silly drawings Iain mentioned (Good News Bible). But the NIV looked and felt like a real Bible for serious study.

By the time I started college three years later, I think every campus ministry I knew there was using the NIV except for the Navigators, who still held on to the NASB (published ten years earlier) as more accurate despite its clunkiness.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
After using the ESV for a while, I generally liked it but wished they hadn't tried so hard to make it "sound like the Bible", which inevitably takes normal Hebrew and Greek and turns them into KJV language, rather than into normal English.
I agree with this though it has to be said that Psalm 23 in the ESV sounds more familiar (I grew up with the KJV) than the CSB.
Hence my interest in the CSB project when it came around.
I am wondering if the New Legacy Standard Bible will nicely compliment the CSB? The CSB is esteemed because it aims to balance readability and accuracy. The LSB aims to be very literal and bring out the nuances of the original languages. Time will tell I guess.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
Which one would that be? 1977? 1995? 2020? Or MacArthur's Legacy Standard Bible, which is a light revision of the 1995? All four of them are currently in print.

Seriously, I have probably been reading more from the 1995 NASB than any other version over the past decade. But much of that is because the Side-Column Reference Bible is my favorite text block of all time, although some new rivals have emerged in the last few years. (I used to prefer the NKJV but until about 3 years ago it was impossible to find one in black letter that wasn't a study Bible, and red letter causes too much eye strain for me these days.)
The 1995. Ah, so you are an SCR guy. People will pay insane prices for those SCR Allen's on Ebay!! Never tried the SCR. But I've been working through the NASB Ultrathin Reference Bible for almost 20 years strong!
 
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