‘Bible tax': Publishers fear Bible shortage if Trump's new tariffs go into effect

Hundreds of millions of Bibles are printed in China each year, and President Donald Trump’s most recent proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could create a Bible shortage in the U.S, some publishers say.

The Bible is the top-selling book in the U.S., and well over 5.7 million print copies were sold in the U.S. in 2018, according to data collected by the market research firm NDP BookScan. And that number doesn’t account for the large number of Bibles which publishers sell directly to congregations each year.

In comparison, the next best seller in 2018 was Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” which BookScan estimates sold 3.5 million copies.

Stan Jantz, president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, says that over half of the Bibles produced worldwide are made in China. He’s worried that the proposed 25 percent tariff would negatively impact the evangelism efforts of Christian organizations that give out free Bibles as part of their ministry, and that they might force publishers to sell the Bible at a price point that many people can’t afford.

"Traditionally, historically books have been excluded from tariffs," Jantz added.

Some critics are arguing that the tariff on books doesn’t even contribute to the purported goal of Trump’s trade war with China.

"The printing of books does not require significant technology or know-how that is at risk of theft or appropriation by China," Tyndale House CEO Mark Taylor said in written comments on the tariffs.

All books would be affected by the proposed 25 percent tariff, however, critics are arguing that Bibles and children’s books will be slammed the hardest. Both require specialized printing that Chinese printers are capable of handling, but most domestic printers are not.

"U.S. printers moved their Bible printing facilities abroad decades ago, leaving no substantial domestic manufacturing alternatives," HarperCollins Christian Publishing President and CEO Mark Schoenwald said.

Schoenwald doesn’t believe it was an intentional target, however. During a recent conversation with the U.S. Trade Representative, Schoenwald said that he believes the Trump administration “never intended to impose a ‘Bible Tax’ on consumers and religious organization,” according to documents provided by the publisher.

Thirty-eight percent of the entire American Bible market is supported by the two largest Bible publishers in the U.S. — Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, both owned by Harper Collins. According to Schoenwald, 75 percent of the manufacturing costs for both publishers are incurred in China.

Biblica, the International Bible Society, is a charitable religious organization that gives away Bibles to people in 55 countries and relies on China to handle 72 percent of its Bible publishing.

Biblica President and CEO Geof Morin told the U.S. Trade Representative that the proposed Bible tariff would “dramatically affect the number of Bibles we are able to print and give away, impacting the religious freedom of individuals in countries where Bible access is limited and often nonexistent.”

The U.S. Trade Representative held hearings to field public comments regarding the new potential tariffs, which came to a close last Tuesday.

Now, publishers will have to wait and see if their concerns resonate with the USTR and President Trump.Trump and President Xi Jinping of China agreed at a recent meeting of the Group of 20 major economies to resume trade negotiations, a decision that puts all the proposed tariffs on hold. Forecasters warned, however, the two sides still face the same differences that caused talks to break down earlier this year.

This story was reported from Los Angeles, the Associated Press contributed.