An open letter to Tim Challies, in response to a recent blog post.
The people in my office at Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software, read your post “Going All-in With Ebooks” with excitement—and not just because we sell ebooks (including quite a few of them to you, and some of them by you). We read with interest because we are interested in reading. We like books, as do our users, and we like all kinds of books: biography, history, fiction, memoir, and, preeminently, theology and biblical commentary.
And we like all kinds of books: digital, paper, even papyrus scroll and clay tablet (well, some of us). A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the Logos blog asking, “Do We Have to Choose Between Print and Digital?” I argued that we don’t; I think some books are better read in print and others in digital form. After more than a hundred insightful comments from users on that post, I feel even more sure of my stance. I actually haven’t gone all in with ebooks. Interestingly, Faithlife itself recently began publishing in paper-and-ink. (There was a rumor going around that flying pigs were sighted that day above our offices; not true.)
But I have gone almost all in with ebooks. Nearly all the books I have actually purchased with my own American money in the past several years have been digital. Even if a given book might, in an ideal world, be better consumed on flattened tree pulp, price and convenience have won out for me. Because of digital platforms, I buy more books with the same cramped book budget, and I read more books within the same crammed schedule.
You and I appear similar in our reading habits. We’re on precisely the same page (or pixel arrangement) when it comes to the major ebook companies, Logos and Amazon. You buy “Logos for reference and commentary works and Amazon for most other things.” Me too so far (more on that in a minute). I also do just what you do, saving my digital book highlights to Evernote.
But, just like you and a lot of your readers, I’m a theological writer and Bible teacher, and I wanted to add one more significant point to your analysis. One of the biggest reasons I am driven to read in the first place is love for my neighbor, specifically my readers and my adult Sunday School students. And for that reason I go to some trouble to make sure I can get to useful information when I need it. For reading and highlighting, e-ink devices like the Kindle and Nook provide a great experience (Logos books can actually be sent directly to Kindle). But for getting back to and using my books in order to better minister to others, Logos wins.
The other day I was desperately searching for a particular sentence in my Kindle version of Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching; I was preparing an article relying on his careful criticism of Be-Like Messages. My memory told me that he had said something like “The Bible does its best to tar the reputation of even the most saintly characters.”
So I searched the book in my Kindle app for the words “Bible does its best.” I got nothing.
I searched for “tar.” I got everything: “commentaries,” “targets,” start,” “mustard,” “Unitarian,” “altar,” “solitary,” “staring,” “secretarial,” “military.” If I had had the patience to look through all 93 search results, I would have seen that hit 77 was “tarnish”:
A difficulty with much biographical preaching, however, is that it typically fails to honor the care that the Bible also takes to tarnish almost every patriarch or saint within its pages.
I had misremembered the quote.
It’s a pretty simple but very significant difference, but when I search for “tar” in my Logos copy of Chapell’s book, I get one hit. It’s not the quote I was looking for, but at least I know that immediately rather than having to wade through so many false positives. If I use some of Logos’ simple but powerful search capabilities and add an asterisk (“tar*”), I quickly find “tarnish” and the quote I want. Logos provides an extensive suite of search tools and relies on a system of custom hand-tagging that allow you to find what you need.
The Kindle ecosystem provides two methods of accessing the information in your library: the library home page and search. But as you noted, organizing your library is cumbersome, and as I’ve suggested, searching books is difficult, too. These weaknesses are actually okay if all you want to do is read a book once and never touch it again. But I need my books; I use my books. I find myself frequently frustrated and/or giving up while searching my Kindle resources. (And don’t forget that you can search only one book at a time. I’m forever forgetting which C. S. Lewis essay collection some particular great line was in.)
I go to the trouble of sharing these details because I have to imagine my experience is similar to that of others who don’t just read their books but continue to rely on them long after moving a given book on from “Currently Reading” to “Read” on Goodreads. It’s in the nitty gritty of daily use that an ebook ecosystem distinguishes itself from competitors.
A great conversation to have
As for your concerns about longevity, it’s the equivalent of the year 1484 in ebook history. Our Gutenberg got its first ebook off the presses in 1971, and ebooks didn’t really take off publicly until the introduction of the Kindle in 2007. Logos, meanwhile, has been around since 1992. We’ve got pretty much as long a track record as you can have in this business. To make that tangible: the company was founded when I was 11, and I’m now a married father of three at an undisclosed age from which I can now see just over the top of the hill. No bet is sure under the sun, but our first customers still own their books. And we, unlike Amazon, have not been coasting on investor capital.
This is a great conversation to have, and I was excited to see your post. You’re a bellwether, a classic “maven” in the Gladwellian sense, and I believe that many people will be following your example and investing more time and resources into ebooks.