Something fascinating is going on with Christa Brown’s memoir Baptistland.

I’ve been in book publishing for almost thirty years, a career that allowed me to see many sides of the publishing business. My last corporate role was as vice president and publisher of a major evangelical publisher owned by one of the “big five” publishers.

My time in publishing has paralleled the big change in recent decades—the digital revolution. When eBooks first came on the scene, there was much hand-wringing that this new format would become the dominant one for book consumption. Publishers would lose significant revenue, retailers would go completely out of business, and even perhaps books would stop being read.

But none of that came true, not completely. The publishing business has changed a lot, but it’s still profitable. We still have retailers, though their numbers and market share are greatly reduced. And believe it or not, people are still reading a ton of books every year.

What instead happened when our worlds of media and communication were restructured by instant delivery, streaming, and searchable electronic devices wasn’t an eBook revolution, it was an e-distribution revolution.

Print Books Still Outsell Ebooks

Print is still king for most categories of books, but the way books are discovered and distributed is more reliant on our online universe than you can imagine. I’m now a publisher of an independent imprint, Lake Drive Books, working with entry-level authors, and I can tell you that more than 95% percent of their book sales are not through bookstores, nor through libraries, but through the environment of online retail.

So what happened with eBooks? They found success initially but leveled off, even declined. The percentage of eBooks in genre-driven fiction, for example, might get as high as 50%. But for nonfiction, where most religious books are published, eBooks make up around 13% of sales overall. What’s more, audiobooks that used to be perhaps 5% of sales, have caught up to eBooks.

So again, print is still king for key book categories. But that’s not true for Christa Brown’s Baptistland: A Memoir of Abuse, Betrayal, and Transformation.

Doing the math based on the above percentages, combined digital editions of nonfiction religious books should be no more than 25% of overall sales. But since Brown’s book went on sale May 7 of this year, combined digital editions total almost 54% (split almost evenly between eBook and audiobook).

We’re now over a month since the initial recorded sales of the book, where perhaps print is the edition was preferred by so many of Brown’s built-in audience. But as we continue promoting the book, as we drive awareness to those who don’t know Brown, we’re finding something quite fascinating is happening.

This week I checked just the last two weeks of sales and combined digital editions add up to a whopping 81% of overall sales. That number, even if an aberration for this book, stunned this veteran publishing professional.

Print isn’t king here, it’s barely in the royal court.

So the question is, why?

Why Would the Ebook and Audiobook Editions Combined Outsell the Print Book?

Christa Brown’s Baptistland is a story of survival in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse that happened to her and that exists in the culture of Southern Baptists. Her narrative shows how abuse can go unchecked and arguably thrive in a culture and fraudulent theology of patriarchy. It’s a culture that draws an authoritarian line from pastors to men, from husbands to wives, and from siblings to siblings. When you read this book, you also learn how Brown not only survived but also found personal transformation as she left Baptistland and embraced a life as a successful appellate attorney, wife, and mother. It’s an extraordinary story and a well-written book.

So can you guess as to why a book like this might be selling dramatically better as an eBook and audiobook than most books?

We can only speculate, but it’s a fair guess that people are reading and listening to Brown’s book discreetly. Sure, many might like the convenience and price of a digital edition, but many are choosing these formats because they want to take in the story without the prying eyes of their friends, other churchgoers, husbands, or even their local pastor.

I love Baptistland because it tells a story, one that I would likely have been prohibited from publishing when I worked at a major evangelical publisher.

The one thing so many of us have discovered as we leave the authoritarian religion that has revealed itself in recent times is that you can’t argue someone into a new position about faith. Our spiritual culture and institutions are about identity, and our allegiances are unconscious, and less examined than we might think.

Yet stories, like Jesus’s parables, break through our seemingly linear thinking. They help us see a new narrative, if not new nuances about real life. Stories can speak to more openness and a tolerance for ambiguity than the fly trap of right belief and sound doctrine. Rich, engaging, and authentic stories can change perceptions and reshape identities.

I’m so glad that rich stories of women like Christa Brown’s are being told. We need to listen more to women, especially now.

Christa Brown

Named as one of the “top 10 religion newsmakers” of 2022, Christa Brown has persisted for two decades in working to peel back the truth about clergy sex abuse and coverups in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. She has consistently demanded reforms to make other kids and congregants safer. Brown has been featured in The Houston ChronicleVice, writes for Baptist News Global, and has had numerous mentions in national media. She’s the author of Baptistland: A Memoir of Abuse, Betrayal, and Transformation, and This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. Brown is a retired appellate attorney, a mom, and a grandma. She lives with her husband in Colorado.