The Top Ten Best Selling Bible Translations Compared to Ten Years Ago

There is a lot of stability in the preference of Bible translations, at least from the perspective of sales. The latest data I have is from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association as of January 2020. The numbers in parentheses represent the rankings in 2011. As a caveat, I understand that some Bibles may be paraphrases rather than translations.

Rankings as of January 2020 (numbers in parentheses are 2011 rankings) 

  1. New International Version (NIV) (1)
  2. King James Version (KJV) (2)
  3. New Living Translation (NLT) (4)
  4. English Standard Version (ESV) (5)
  5. New King James Version (NKJV) (3)
  6. Christian Standard Bible (CSB) (6)
  7. Reina Valera (RV) (not ranked)
  8. New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) (9)
  9. The Message (Message) (8)
  10. New American Standard Bible (NASB) (7)

 Observations:

    • The rankings are amazingly stable since 2011. One translation dropped three spots (NASB). One dropped two spots (NKJV). No other translation dropped or gained more than one spot. Technically, the CSB was the HCSB (LifeWay) in 2011.
    • The TNIV was discontinued in 2011. It was ranked 10 that year.
    • The NLT is “the quiet Bible.” The translation continues to gain readers without as much attention as other translations. It is now 3 in the rankings. I started reading the NLT this year and I love it.
    •  Obviously, the RV is a Spanish translation.

Posted on June 14, 2020


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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67 Comments

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    Dear Thom,

    I think my (short!) appended schedules may not have reached you; but I hope that this summary does!

    Evangelical Christian Publishers’ Association (ECPA) – US Bible unit sales

    2017……………………2018…………………….2019……………………2020………

    TOP 4 BIBLES PREFERRED BY SERIOUS STUDENTS

    ..KJV………NKJV……..”KJV”………..NIV……….ESV……..TOP 4 cp.NLT

    US

    2017 43 13 56 10 15 81 4

    2018 37 18 55 10 16 81 4

    2019 33 14 47 10 21 78 6

    2020 35 16 51 9 17 77 9

    UK

    2017 22 24 46 14 24 84 4

    2018 19 26 45 12 27 84 4

    2019 26 23 49 11 21 81 3

    2020 31 19 50 9 24 83 6

    consider pairing? consider pairing? to displace NIV?

    Regards,
    Alex.

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    I know this can be a lot to take in; but I do hope that some readers will comment and contribute to the topic!

    Many thanks to all patient readers!

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    All these results tell me to concentrate my resources on these 4 (or 5) versions; and not to worry about version-chasing!

    For years, I have advocated paired-version Bible study; and it seems obvious to me that the two top “natural” pairs have been KJV+NKJV and NIV+ESV . (WE may see soon NLT+ESV.)

    The CSB has achieved only 2-4 percentage points in both countries.

    The NASB, achieved around 4/5 points in each country, and the NRSV around 3/4 : these would be the “natural” “seriuos/academic” pairing.

    Would it be hoping for too much to have a good edition of at least the two of the top four versions –indeed, why not one with all four? We need serious Bibles!

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    TOP 4 BIBLES PREFERRED BY SERIOUS UK STUDENTS

    Year……KJV……NKJV……”KJV”……NIV……ESV……TOP4………..NLT

    2017…….22……….24………..46……..14………24……….84 …………..4

    2018…….19……….26………..45……..12………27……….84………….. 4

    2019…….26……….23………..49……..11………21……….81……………3

    2020…….31……….19………..50……….9………24……….83…………. 6

    The “KJV” total is safer than the separate KJV and NKJV numbers,
    as (in all surveys by whomsoever) individuals are (only) sometimes
    a little confused whether it is the one or the other that is required –
    and often they read both versions! That said, it seems that the KJV
    has recovered some ground, because of (eg) the excellent and
    inexpensive Westminster Reference Bible published by the Trinitarian
    Bible Society.

    The NIV is not a much-preferred version. Is this a surprising statistic?

    Will the NLT advance, and will it eclipse the NIV?

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    TOP 4 BIBLES PREFERRED BY SERIOUS US STUDENTS

    Year……KJV……NKJV……”KJV”……NIV……ESV……TOP4………..NLT

    2017…….43……….13………..56……..10………15……….81 …………..4

    2018…….37……….18………..55……..10………16……….81………….. 4

    2019…….33……….14………..57……..10………21……….88……………6

    2020…….35……….16………..51……….9………17……….77…………. 9

    The “KJV” total is safer than the separate KJV and NKJV numbers,
    as (in all surveys by whomsoever) individuals are (only) sometimes
    a little confused whether it is the one or the other that is required –
    and often they read both versions!

    The NIV is not a much-preferred version. Is this a surprising statistic?
    (The ABS reports from 2011 onwards, and other reports, confirm it.)

    The NLT seems set to advance, and it will probably eclipse the NIV.

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    Dear Thom,

    In June 2020, you posted, and commented on, the ECPA unit Bible sales for the year to January 2020. In turn, I submitted a number of schedules, arising from an in-depth project on Bible literacy, preferred Bible versions, etc., both in the US and also in the UK. Yes, the schedules did have a lot of statistics in them; but I hoped that some comments on them would be forthcoming. Alas! None was; so I exited, on 7th July 2020, with the following words :

    Dear Thom,

    I am surprised not to have received comment on the matter of the data on Bible literacy and preferred
    versions. I take it that folk are not really bothered about the matter. So, I’ll sign off, thanking you for the opportunity of putting forward the data.
    Every Blessing,
    Alex.

    An acquaintance, who follwed the matter, has noticed the following two queries to you, which are germane to what I had written :-

    Penelope says on November 30, 2020 at 3:04 pm
    Hi,
    I am doing research for my EPQ and was wondering if you knew the statistics for the most popular Bible used in the UK for private study compared to the United States?
    Many thanks,
    Penelope

    Greg Wenck says on May 13, 2021 at 6:01 am
    It would be good to know the true statistics, and not sequence. For how many preferred or used each translation over other translations?
    NIV is first, but by how many more sales did they make.

    May I again say that published sales figures, whether in dollar or unit value, often bear little relationship to the Bible version that is actually preferred and used by a serious Bible reader? For example, while the NIV figures as the US top seller, it has also figured poorly, in the American Bible Society’s reports , as the preferred Bible. The reason is, I think, rather obvious – many NIV’s published in the US are destined to be sent and read abroad! Conversely, although the KJV is consistently placed as the second or third best seller, its true readership is under-rated, as non-ECPA organisations publish and distribute this version! Of course, ECPA will not disclose any information related to its bare dollar and unit sales figures!

    The UK as far as I can ascertain, has never published the percentage figures of preferred Bible versions; while the US did so up to and including 2017 – through the Barna-generated results published in the American Bible Society’s annual “£State of the Bible “ Report. Alas! ABS will not publish the data beyond 2017!

    Am I being critical? Yes, I am! We are dealing with a subject that is very important to Christians:; and there should be only transparency about and in it!

    Since 2011, I have been involved in the in-depth project that I mentioned earlier. This was a very rigorous exercise, the results of which were externally audited, We have no doubt that only four versions are the preferred versions of those who read their Bible. These versions are : KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV. Together, in each of the four years from 2017 to 2020, they have totalled around 80% of the readership, in both the US and also the UK!

    Enough for now! If I can, I shall append a (short!) schedule of figures!

    Kind regards,

    Alex.

  • Greg Wenck says on

    It would be good to know the true statistics, and not sequence. For how many preferred or used each translation over other translations?
    NIV is first, but by how many more sales did they make

  • Charles David Smith says on

    Many thanks for your work! I have, on at least one accasion, heard you speak.

  • Love to hear your take on the NLT’s translation of Gal 3:13. It’s where I stopped using it.

  • Michael B. Smith says on

    While I enjoy almost all English translations I find myself reading and memorizing the ESV. Some years ago I learned Biblical Greek and the ESV just seems to “fit” Greek better. My second preference is the NLT. I like it for just reading for myself. For public reading I like the NKJV. I believe it retains the “Majesty” of the King James Version but is easily understood by a contemporary audience and my theological “tie breaker,” is the NASB. All this of course results in the traditional “stack o’ Bibles,” in our house. MikeinMinnesota

  • Hi,
    I am doing research for my EPQ and was wondering if you knew the statistics for the most popular Bible used in the Uk for private study compared to the United States?
    Many thanks,
    Penelope

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