The E-book revolution

E-books are popping up everywhere suddenly.  As I write this,’s e-book summit is livestreaming on my office PC.   The hot nearly-new gift for Christmas this year is an e-reader — a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, or one of the others coming soon.  The entire publishing industry is all abuzz about e-books.  Simon & Schuster announced last week that they would delay e-book editions for four months, giving breathing room to their print editions. Stephen Covey has just broken ranks with his print publisher, asserting his ownership of digital rights, and has struck a deal with Amazon to sell his books at the Kindle store.

What does all this mean?  Here’s my take, for what’s its worth:

  • E-readers are transition devices. Just like PDAs and netbooks, dedicated e-readers are going to bridge the gap between the non-technology generation (baby boomers and older) and the technology natives (those who grew up with all this digital stuff).  In less than 5-years (maybe sooner) e-readers will look as quaint as PDAs do now.
  • Print publishing and print publishers are going away. Just like newspapers, it’s not the content people don’t want, it’s the format (print) and the super slow delivery system.  Even daily newspaper delivery looks really slow compared to instant access to anything you want to read or see. Having to go to a store to buy a book, or even wait for the Amazon delivery 1-2 days later will quickly fade.  This is the always-on era, including all media — books and magazines are just late to this party.
  • Creators will own the entire process, if they want to. People can now create, format, and upload to Amazon and other epub bookstores.  Good stuff will still find its market.
  • Creators may not want to own the entire process, and may outsource the editing and epublishing technicalities to others.  Hence, epublishers are born to deliver as much or as little assistance as needed, both editorially and technically.
  • Distribution can work across multiple channels like Amazon, Sony’s ebookstore, B&N’s ebookstore, and lesser knowns such as Boooklocker, etc.  But, Amazon rules the day now.  They created the instant delivery, the first e-reader that did not need to hook up to a computer, and the “first instantly available with no hassles” delivery system.
  • Print publishers are still trying to protect a dying format — the hardcover first edition.  Note the ill-conceived plan of Simon & Schuster to delay ebooks for 4 months after the hardcover edition.
  • New epublishers who do not think “print” will offer new perspectives on the whole publishing industry.
  • It’s all going mobile soon. Back to my fascination with mobile phones.  Obviously the iPhone was the game-changer that set a new paradigm of multiple uses for a mobile phone.  Tomi Ahonen had a piece last week citing stats that Americans now use their phones more for texting than for voice calls.  The transition has already started of mobile devices as total communication tools — voice, text, data, reader, video, photos, music, internet, pda, etc, etc.  Depending on what Apple does with its iTablet, if it exists, this could be another game changer.  However, the new, rumored Google Phone (bigger screen than the iPhone), which is set to work seamlessly with Google Books is really the future.  One device, that fits in your pocket, that does everything you want to do.
  • What, you ask, does this have to do with small churches, or churches of any size?  For the first time ever in the history of humankind (drumroll) you will be able to communicate directly, personally, and at any time with anyone you choose to.  This has huge implications for how churches communicate, gather people, do ministry, and publish their message.  What do you think are some ways churches could benefit from the epublishing, ebook, and mobile phone revolution?

    16 thoughts on “The E-book revolution”

    1. Most illuminating – and refreshing. I particularly like how you focus on the proximity to unlimited person-to-person communication aspect which you home in on at the end.

      As an atheist (Boo! Hiss!) even I can see the historical parallels which this technological moment has in the progress of the Christian faith – how its spread was much facilitated by the presence of (by the standards of the day) ‘universal’ languages like Greek and Roman, and the shift from belief systems in which meaning is mediated by gnostics and soothsayers to one of a personal and direct relationship between deity and man.

      Anyway, best wishes from Britain, and I hope to pop by and continue reading your blog 🙂

    2. Bristle, thanks for dropping by. Atheists are always welcome, and I have been known to be extremely kind to them. Plus, I hope you find this not the typical church blog. BTW, nice insight into one of the factors in the spread of Christianity. I love this technology stuff! -Chuck

    3. Thank you for the gracious welcome, Chuck – I found your blog via a tweet by Mike Cane, whose just posted about you on his own blog, as per ping above.

    4. Electronic media generally enables us to save on spending. Think, for example, of what’s happened with MP3s and podcasting. We can record and distribute sermons much more broadly than in the past at far less cost. Epublishing may enable similar savings on items like curriculum and books. I recently directed people in a Bible study to some good older commentaries available on Google Books. Perhaps we’ll get to the point where all of our newsletter/bulletin type content is distributed electronically rather than in hardcopy. This kind of savings will allow those of us in small church to direct more funds to ministry and staffing.

    5. The issue is that it is not “person-to-person” communication in most instances. Most who are using this technology are still using a one to many model. Look, the biggest audience Jesus ever had was a few thousand on a Palestinian hillside. My concern–and it’s not a matter of being a Luddite–is that we lose the person-to-person tangible. You can communicate “person-to-person” with this technology but it’s not a replacement for a warm hug or a strong handshake and a look in the eye. And that is my big concern is that these technologies that link will only further serve to isolate us and to make use more lazy as, “Hey, all I gotta do to reach 1,000 people is just push this here button.” I believe that we are slowly creating societies drowning in information and communication and starved for attention. I like the take on what you say and I believe that content does continue to win out and that formats are simply changing. But I fear some of the consequences of this thinking we are communicating “person-to-person” here. It’s a myth of marketing of electronic media.

    6. The fact that a minister or ministry with something worth saying can upload to Amazon and begin selling their work within about 72 hours opens new doors for promoting ideas and, in theory, generating revenue. Ministries with printed materials should already be formatting them for this publishing platform if they’re serious about getting the word out!

    7. Beautifully written and right on target. I especially like your insight into the fact that content owners don’t always want to do all the work, and will be using epublishers to help. I disagree that print is dead though, inventory is what’s dying. Print is just one more format and is still a very nice technology. Print-on-demand is cleaning up all the inventory overhead and waste issues in the industry. Together with ebooks, pod, epublishers and better distribution channels the future is very exciting for people with a message 😉

    8. I vaguely remember C. S. Lewis once recommending that Christians should make a rule to read one old book for every new one. I’m thinking that the spread of e-book technology might make it a lot easier to follow this advice. Right now if you go into any print bookshop (religious or secular), you’ll find that the vast majority of the books (excluding bibles, obviously!) were written within the last generation. Try looking in your public library or local bookstore for one of the Church Fathers (even St. Augustine), or one of the great mystics of the middle ages (maybe Julian of Norwich), something written during the reformation (Luther), or one of the pioneering biblical scholars or theologians of the 19th century (say, Schleiermacher) — you’ll probably be out of luck. With Project Gutenberg or Google Books, it’s a whole different story. Imagine having a small book discussion group in your church where everyone has a mobile reading device — suddenly getting 12 or 15 copies of something obscure is no longer a problem; it could really open up some interesting possiblities.

    9. I see the possibilities of older titles being shared around with the electronic book readers out there and I see the vast potential for the technology. But, my, how lazy we have become. Right after the surface of the earth cooled when I was in grad school we had this thing called interlibrary loan where you could get most anything you wanted within a week or so by just talking to your librarian–gasp, human interaction! And that librarian would often do a little more research and suggest several more titles for you and order them up right there. And soon after that, when the dinosaurs stopped roaming the suburban streets I learned of this magic thing where you could talk to a bookstore clerk and they could order up a book for you that the store didn’t have but that was on something called a “backlist” that rumor has it still exists–in fact, it’s called the Amazon bookselling business model. And these amazing companies called Ingram and Baker & Taylor have warehouses situated in most parts of the country such that 48 hours later the book is waiting for you at your local bookstore. It’s quite amazing actually that we think all of this stuff is so readily available to us when it’s been thus for years now. I guess it’s the microwave age at work. I like that rapid access as well but we’ve lost an ability to think, dig, research and learn for ourselves along the way and that, I believe, is a dangerous place to be in.

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