Reaching a Critical Mass

Today’s guest blogger is Dale Pritchett, vice president of sales and marketing for Logos Bible Software.
User Mark Alison wrote in the Logos Newsgroup, “I don’t think Logos or anyone else will ever have rights to every publisher’s works.”

While this is certainly a true statement, at Logos we continue to pursue rights to as many books as we can in the field of biblical studies. It is our fond hope that one day we might include works from Zondervan, and the denominational publishers now unavailable to us.

We are running as fast as we can. We have two full-time publisher Reps, plus support staff, licensing new books every day. We have thousands of contracts to be maintained and reviewed, royalties to calculate, technology licenses to execute and data processing projects to specify, key, tag and proof.

We process millions of pages of data annually and yet feel the pain when a simple typo is reported. We work in both modern and ancient languages. We employ approximately forty people in-house who are on digital book design and production. All of these efforts are directed toward the single goal of creating digital books to reach a “critical mass” for biblical studies.

It is not about building a monopoly. It is not about favoring a particular theological school or doctrinal position. It is not about favoring one publisher over another or refusing to work with other publishers. It is not about greed or competition or pride of accomplishment. It is about “critical mass.”

There is no such thing as a digital library alternative for biblical education until and unless there is a digital library for biblical studies sufficiently extensive to enable meaningful work in the field. This is the key. It is like saying there can be no alternative to the railroad until there are sufficient airline seats to carry the passengers. It is like saying television will never be as popular as radio until everybody who owns a radio can afford a television.

Logos is about realizing the dream of a portable digital library that makes biblical publications accessible and practical at any point on the planet. This is our passion, our dream and our daily work.

It will not be accomplished until there is a “critical mass” of books in the digital library. Look at
how many digital library initiatives have failed because they had wide breadth but insufficient depth to do real work.

We publish more digital books than all the others in our field combined. This is a simple statement of fact. Among the reasons we have been able to accomplish this are a clear focus on the task and a clear understanding of the special technical challenges involved in dealing with biblical reference works.

The task required us to define a new digital publishing standard in which we could display, search and link all kinds of books, with all styles of organization in all languages from all publishers. To accomplish this, we set a hard course for ourselves that involved doing things the “hard way” demanding attention to detail that could only pay off in the long run with a very large, cross-linked library — critical mass. It has taken a long time to reach the point where the critical mass shows off the benefits of those years of detailed effort. This whole end result usually translates into a simple user comment like, “I would really prefer to own the book in Libronix format.” Thank you. We share your thoughts.

If we are ever to have additional titles from Zondervan, Eerdmans and others it will be because of simple statements like this, “I would really prefer to own the book in Libronix format.” Believe it or not, publishers hear you. They really do care.

Postscript: What is Critical Mass?

While there may be many answers to this question, we basically think in terms of book replacement. Critical mass is a sufficient volume of titles to represent the equivalent number of volumes in a corresponding paper-based library. On this basis, critical mass may be different for a pastor’s library and a Bible college or seminary library. In time we hope to have sufficient digital resources to equal a large seminary library. When that time comes we will be able to think in terms of “brick and mortar” replacement or real estate savings.

Comments

  1. Excellent post

  2. I want to congratulate you all on a wonderful product and a brilliant idea. I truly hope that you all continue to seek this very important goal of “critical mass.” One of the greatest needs of our time is more churches in more places. One problem is not enough trained seminary ministers and pastors. To be able to make an electronic library equivalent to a seminary library could make possible a new paradigm shift in seminary education and also support kingdom growth.

  3. Gary Belhomme says:

    This is not a criticism of digital books. I myself am a big fan of digital books (I purchased the Gold library along with other titles). One issue that has always stumped me concerning digital books is the costs. The costs are regularly identical (sometimes more expensive) to printed editions. Should they not be cheaper since publishers save on production cost normally associated with books (printing, ink, paper etc…)? Are the publishers demanding high returns in royalties that make it difficult for digital book producers such as Logos to pass on savings to its customers? However, we customers do save when we purchase books in bundled packages, but this usually entails customers spending more than they originally intended to.

  4. Dale Pritchett says:

    Costs would be lower in a totally digital environment. The problem for print publishers is in some ways like the problem of the railroad getting into the airline business without shutting down the railroads first. There is no savings in being in both worlds at the same time. There is actually incremental cost. The savings comes from being out of the print business. That is a risk few are willing to take.
    Even when the publisher decides to not be in the digital publishing business and licenses digital rights to specialists like us, we need to maintain the publisher’s pricing strategy on their behalf to insure that we are not creating a financial crisis in place of a revenue stream.
    If our digital books kill print sales for publishers we will soon have no titles to license. The pricing supports the industry, not just the title. Untill publishers go totally digital, the cost remains.
    We are grateful that publishers allow us to include their titles in large collections with pro-rated royalties. This allows us to give the user great value in exchange for purchasing a collection of books that one might not ordinarily select.

  5. Keith Larson says:

    Thanks for the very interesting blog. As I was reading the article I could not help but think of the possibility of a subscription service. I recently purchased a Sansa c240r mp3 player and received a two months trial membership to Rhapsody. I have been blown away by how much I have enjoyed having access to a library of over 2 million songs. I have discovered music I never would have heard if I did not belong to such a service. For $15 a month I am able to stream or download any song in the entire library and play on up to three desktop and four mobile players. If I want to burn any song to a CD I must purchase it first (at a 10 cent per track discount for subscribers). My guess is that the recording companies get a royalty for every time a track is played by a subscriber. Perhaps they divide the total plays by all subscribers by the total income to reach the amount the royalty holder receives.
    Such a system would work very well for a digital book library. The publisher receives income based on the time their books are used and the user has access to the whole library without having to purchase each and every book.
    As a side note I think the key to the success of such a system is the user interface and experience. I have read online that people who do not have the “r” version of the Sansa or other brand of mp3 player have had less than a positive experience with Rhapsody. Another example: last year I subscribed to Christianity Today’s online library and found myself rarely using it. If it had been integrated into Logos as Sermons.com, is I am sure I would have gotten much more mileage out of it. As it was it was just too much trouble to use. The bottom line is that users are naturally suspicious of subscription services and have little tolerance for a poor user experience. If however a company can pair great content with a great user interface as Rhapsody did with the Sansa they can have a killer combination.