Oct 22, 2001

From the Archives

Different Groups Follow Harry Potter, Left Behind and Jabez

There is no predictable connection between public awareness and the sales of chart-topping books. According to a new study released by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California, books in the Harry Potter and Left Behind series, as well as the runaway best-seller The Prayer of Jabez, have radically divergent levels of awareness among adults – levels that do not correspond to the sales figures for those series.

Potter Tops Awareness

The Harry Potter series, written by British author J.K. Rowling, includes four books that have sold an estimated 24 million copies. Although the target audience for those books is children, more than two-thirds of American adults (69%) are aware of the series.

The apocalyptic Left Behind books, co-written by Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, have set various publishing records over the last several years. The eight existing volumes, along with special versions written for younger readers, have sold more than 45 million copies. That figure that will soon jump as the ninth installment is released October 30, with an initial print run of 2.8 million copies. Despite impressive sales, just one-quarter of the adult population (24%) is aware of the series.

The most recent publishing phenomenon has been Bruce Wilkinson’s small volume, The Prayer of Jabez. With sales eclipsing 5 million copies in less than two years, national awareness of the book is the lowest of the three publications tested. Just one-eighth of adults (13%) are aware of the Jabez book.

Niches Reached

The Potter books are best known among people under 50, whites, women, and adults living along the east and west coasts. In contrast, the Left Behind series has its greatest following among adults in the 35-to-55 age group, Protestants, born again Christians, and residents of the South and West. It drew its slimmest following from among Catholics, non-Christians and adults in the Northeast. Jabez is most widely known among those in the 35-to-55 age segment, Protestants, born again Christians, and residents of the South.

Overall, Baby Boomers (i.e., adults in the 37-to-55 age bracket) emerged as the age group that was most aware of each of the publications tested. For the two religious publications – Left Behind and Jabez – born again Christians had three times the awareness levels as those among non-Christians. Overall, less than one out of every five non-Christians was aware of either the Left Behind or Jabez volumes.

Christians Are the Dominant Left Behind Readers

The Barna survey also asked respondents if they had read any of the Left Behind books. To date, 9% of all adults – nearly one out of every ten – had done so. The types of individuals most likely to have read a book in the series were born again Christians (19% said they had read at least one of the books) and adults who attended non-mainline Protestant churches (18%). The adults least likely to have read a Left Behind book included non-born again adults (only 2% said they had read one or more of the books), Catholics (3%) and adults in the Northeast (2%).

Books As Religious Outreach

George Barna, who directed the survey, pointed out that while born again adults constitute the majority of the reading audience for the Left Behind books, an estimated audience of three million non-born again adults has read one or more books in the end-times series. The researcher noted that the series represents one of the most widely experienced religious teaching or evangelistic tools among adults who are not born again Christians. He pointed out that the series has reached a larger unduplicated audience of non-believers than most religious television or radio ministries draw through their programs.

“The survey suggests that nearly one-tenth of the audience for the series are atheists and people associated with non-Christian faiths,” explained Barna, “while more than two million of the readers are individuals who consider themselves to be Christian but have never accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Although three-quarters of the Left Behind audience attends Protestant churches, these books have also piqued the interest of hundreds of thousands of people who do not normally read books with religious themes that reflect one stream of Protestant theology.”

Barna also noted that book awareness does not automatically translate into book sales. “Developing consumer awareness is just one step in the process of selling books. Potter is better-known because of its longer lifespan in the marketplace and particularly for the moral controversy generated by the content. Left Behind has become a publishing phenomenon in spite of its heavy religious content and supposedly narrow market. Jabez flew off the shelves over the past year thanks to the nature of its message, the unimposing size of the book, and a fresh spin on an old theme (prayer). All three product lines have benefited from strong word-of-mouth promotion within their respective communities. The actual sales figures do not parallel consumer awareness of each product line.”

Survey Methodology

The data on which this report is based are from telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 1003 adults conducted in May 2001. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA and the questions related to the three publishing products were commissioned by Tyndale House Publishers. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again” or if they considered themselves to be “born again.”

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular tracking of the social, religious and political state of the nation.

If you would like to receive a bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service by typing your e-mail address in the field above located at the top of this page on the left-hand side.

Awareness of Popular Books
PotterLeft BehindJabez
all adults 69%24%13%
Born again724221
Non-born again67137
Age: 18-36722010
Age: 37-55713116
Age: 56+592010

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.