Digital publishing presents the Church an opportunity for the distribution of solid Biblical materials not seen since the age of Gutenberg.
In previous posts we looked at the rapid expansion of opportunity — an estimated 4 billion first-time internet users coming online due to expanded wifi coverage and low cost smart phones. We also considered the great impact books have both in personal spiritual growth as well as for leaders in the church.
E-publishing presents the Church an opportunity for the dissemination of solid Biblical materials not seen since the age of Gutenberg.
The Church is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the e-publishing boom.
With its historic emphasis on literacy and education, as well as groundbreaking work in linguistics and translation, the Church already has books and written materials in many languages around the world. Wycliffe is known for its pioneering work in Bible translation, but even smaller organizations translate and write materials to be used by the local church in many languages.
Amazon continues to expand the languages that can be published on its e-readers and apps. Currently, Amazon distributes e-books in over 35 languages, and my understanding is that they support dialects related to those languages as well. Kobo claims e-books in 60+ languages in 190 countries, and is really focusing on the Asian market. While iBooks and Google Play are smaller players at this point, once a book is formatted for e-publishing, it takes just a few more clicks to get it on those platforms as well.
The strategic key here is that the hard work of writing or translating has already been done. Churches, affiliated schools, and mission organizations already have the creative capital of written books and materials. In the past, the production and distribution of physical books has been an expensive and logistical barrier to getting them in the hands of people. But with e-publishing, those barriers are coming down.
Case Study: India
India provides a great case study for considering how the Church can use digital publishing to distribute sound Biblical materials to many people. It is especially relevant because a great many of new internet users will be coming from Asia, Africa, and the sub-continent of India.
English is one of the official languages of India, and a significant number of new internet users worldwide will be either native English speakers or know it as the language of business and education. However, e-book distributors are also targeting markets in other languages. Amazon recently announced that it now is offering e-books in five of the regional languages of India — Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam, Both the Kindle and mobile platform Kindle apps are able to support these languages.
Amazon says it has “thousands” of books in its India store in these regional languages. Thousands? While that is great — it sounds as if Amazon still has a rather small pool of books for these languages. When we consider the materials in these regional languages already written and translated by churches, schools and seminaries, it could easily add many more thousands of titles to Amazon’s regional language stores.
An inquisitive reader looking for e-book deals in his own language does an Amazon search — and what could they find? Not just the Bible, but study materials and Christian living resources in their own language available at low cost. If Christian organizations are are early adopters of widespread e-distribution, the likelihood that they will be found and read goes up.
Early Adopters — Big Fish in a Small Pond?
Since mission organizations already have materials in multiple languages, they are poised to be early adopters of e-publishing. Consider the 60+ languages available for publishing through Kobo — how many of these languages have limited number of books available? If Christian organizations can work towards digital publishing of their materials, they will represent a great percentage of the books in some of the smaller language groups. The likelihood that they will be found and read goes up.
I’ve heard (but can’t confirm) that Amazon is the world’s second most powerful search engine — second to Google. The more theologically solid materials that are available on Amazon, the more people who are curious will find them. This is where people are looking for materials — let’s be where people are looking.
Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play are leveling the publishing playing field worldwide — the church needs to take advantage of that.
Use the Existing Distribution Infrastructures
Amazon and the like are building amazing international distribution infrastructures for commercial use. Barriers are continuing to fall to the spread of information. Christian organizations can use the international distribution infrastructures which are being developed for commercial use.
In my initial research, I’ve been unable to find out which organizations are utilizing worldwide e-publishing to disseminate sound theological resources. (Note: If you know which organizations are pursing this, please let me know!)
Some organizations offer materials free or low cost — but only from their website. This is true of one of my favorite publishers, Banner of Truth. They have some really excellent materials, but aren’t leveraging the existing distribution networks.
Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play are leveling the publishing playing field worldwide — we need to take advantage of that.
Digital Publishing isn’t Complicated
My husband’s first book, Knox’s Irregulars, was initially self-published. This was in the early days of Amazon working with indie authors, and we didn’t quite know what we were doing. But you know what? The formatting and uploading process was straightforward, and it was low cost to get a book on Amazon. The learning curve to use other distribution sites such as Kobo is pretty small. (This is a great how-to for getting e-books to the major distributors.) While John’s book is now with a traditional publisher, it is still available worldwide — I just saw it on Amazon India the other day. The barrier to worldwide publishing is lower than it has ever been.
Perhaps a mission organization may need to designate a person to develop the skills of e-formatting and navigating the uploading process to e-book distributors. Mission organizations can charge the lowest sale price allowed to cover the download fees. Some books may be able to be put on sale for “free,” and others may require a nominal fee. It’s easy to imagine a pastor in India finding a commentary on Romans and downloading it to his smart phone for 99 cents.
One caveat on it isn’t complicated. . . When publishing rights have been acquired for translated materials, it is important to double check that those include digital distribution.
The barriers to distribution are low, and the potential impact is so great.
I know there must be some organizations working on getting solid Biblical materials more widely accessed via mobile devices worldwide, but I’m not hearing about it. I’d love to know who is working on this sort of project even now.
Digital Publishing, the Church, and Reformation: Part 1
Digital Publishing, the Church, and Reformation: Part 2
Digital Publishing, the Church and Reformation: Part 3