The PurposeI am a New Testament Christian. In just over one month, I plan to be on a mission trip to the island of Jamaica. Some of the most wonderful people that I have ever met live there, and I look forward to seeing them again soon. While on this trip, I plan to make use of a few pieces of technology in different ways. Our group will likely use Skype over the small hotel's free wifi service to call home for very reasonable rates. I'll have an iPod with a few games and music for the journey there and back. Everyone on the trip will have a mobile phone to help during emergencies. These things are just a part of our lives now.
Tonight, I was looking over some material for a teenage Bible class that I will be teaching during this trip. It is contained in a very nicely published book from the Southwest School of Biblical Studies. As I flipped the pages, I wondered how much it would have cost the school to have an ebook version published along side the paper edition. I'm probably being a little bit selfish here, but I really want publishers of religious books from my religion to start formatting books as epub (iPad), mobi (Kindle), or at least pdf. How practical would that be? Am I asking too much?
The ProblemThe problem here is that often times smaller organizations, and in particular those of the not-for-profit variety have limited resources. Though in my working life I have a lot of acquaintances and colleagues with the latest gadgets (ebook readers in particular), there is a much lower percentage of those types of people in my religion. We are not Amish or anything like that, it's just that when you leave the "tech circle" (I am a software developer and technical trainer by trade) there are fewer people who enjoy gadgets. So while it may make sense for a school or church to do a limited run of a physical book of a lectureship or classroom textbook, it might not be worth it to do an ebook also.
Perhaps another problem is that some people are just not able to see the future need or the practicality of doing something like an ebook. While it may be true now that not a lot of "ordinary folks" have ebook readers, I doubt that will be the case for long. With Apple's iPad being a huge success so far (even if you are an Apple critic you have to acknowledge that the iPad is most definitely a success based on unit sales), and other companies such as Amazon trying to go more mainstream with their ebook readers, it is simply a matter of time until many people have access to an e-reading device.
The PossibilitiesWhy do I want these books in electronic form? Well, there are actually several reasons. First, I hate my bookshelf. Just say with me for a minute here, I promise that this will make sense. I have two bookshelves sitting in my office. One is a piece-o-junk made from particle board, and can't even seem to hold the books that I have on it now (keeping in mind it is definitely full). In fact, I had to put extra screws across several of the shelves to keep the shelves from breaking away from the sides. The other set I have is one that I made out of real wood. It is even uglier than the other. I am not a carpenter, and I realize now that I likely never will be. Both take up a lot of space in an already cramped office, are so heavy that you cannot move them without emptying the contents first, and are crowded with so many books that I know many books are getting damaged.
The second reason is that I am not always in my office when I want to look for one of my books. Sometimes I work on my lessons during my lunch break. Sometimes I am at someone else's home. Maybe I'm in the car while my wife shops for clothes at a shop I just have no desire to enter. I think you see my point. I'd like to be able to get a little reading done, and not just on a novel. I do read novels, but many times I need to read a book for my Bible class, or I want to finish a commentary, or an article that I heard about that an old friend had published in one of the publications I read.
Now imagine a student who is attending a school of preaching. A school of preaching is typically a school that offers a two year degree in how to preach and teach the Bible. These students normally are required to purchase many books to read during the course of their studies. They typically get support from various churches to help them with living expenses, and tuition is in most cases free. The cost of these books can add up to a significant amount of money over the course of two years. I just did a very rough count of the religious books on my shelf (which didn't include ones in storage, loaned out, or in other rooms of the house) and came up with 51 books. Let's average out the price of those books to be around $20 each. That comes in at $1020. What if these smaller publishers produced ebooks in addition to their print books, and sold them at 1/2 that cost. I don't think that is an unreasonable assumption, but I could be wrong. The way I see an ebook is once you have set up your website to handle the sale of the book, your work is pretty much done. That would be about $510, plus a high end ebook reader (16GB iPad for example) would run around $500. Of course you could go cheaper, but I'm just trying to prove a point here. That comes out to about the same amount as the print editions. Plus, if I buy more ebooks, I save money because I pay less for them than the print editions. Some of these ebook readers can even serve double duty as a note-taking device in class. And don't forget that if a student was loaded up with ebooks, he's going to be able to move much easier with an ebook reader than with a shelf full of paper books. Most preachers in my religion can't afford to hire movers, at least not ones that are just out of preaching school.
Remember that mission trip I was telling you about? We typically take a lot of print material to the local preacher with whom we will be working. How much easier would it be to simply add credits to his Amazon account, or send him an iTunes gift card in the mail, or wire them some money to make the purchase of ebooks themselves? It would certainly be easier than carrying them. It would also be great for those folks if they ever had a fire or other natural disaster (Jamaica gets hit with hurricanes frequently), to simply have to replace the ebook reader and not the books.
The PracticalityI really think that smaller groups do themselves a disservice by not at least considering the possibility of going "hi-tech" with their publications. After all, if you get in on the ground level, early adopters are more likely to buy your materials. More than that though, you are making use of the resources that you have available. This isn't applicable only to my religious family either. This is applicable to any small group that is trying to get materials out to consumers. I suspect that charities and people who have "causes" (think health food people, those who want to encourage others to exercise, etc.) would benefit from this type of thinking. Seems like it would make a lot of sense, so that you could have an established presence whenever your target audience starts to take up ebook readers.