Is my investment in e-books safe?

A potential customer emailed me his concerns about investing in an electronic library:

“I have had the desire to invest in an electronic library, but I am terrified of investing all of this money into one and then losing my money’s worth because new computers will not be able to read them. How does Logos deal with this? Will my grandchildren be able to use my electronic library?”

This is a fear we hear regularly, but one that quickly goes away once we explain how Logos licenses the content, not the file-format.

It’s true that digital data can be lost if it is not constantly migrated to new storage media and kept in up-to-date or easily parsed formats. Paper books can be lost, too — just look at New Orleans and the libraries lost to flooding and mold.

The key issue is, who is ensuring your continued access? With paper it’s you — you have to keep it dry and away from fire, and you have to be willing to store and move it. (Most books are “lost” when people don’t want to move them yet again.)

I can’t make guarantees about the future; nobody can. But in Logos’ case, we’ve got a 17 year track record, we’re a strong business, and we’ve honored users licenses to the electronic books through various format, media, and operating system changes for more than a dozen years. That’s a pretty good record.

Moreover, what we sell you is the license to the book, NOT the digital file. When we change formats (which we’ve done) you don’t have to re-acquire a license. When music went from vinyl records to cassettes to CD’s, you had to re-purchase the album each time. But we aren’t selling you “today’s format” — we’re selling an electronic license. With Logos, it’s as if you’re provided the song free on cassette, CD, and then digital download, all because of your original vinyl purchase.

Can you loan the book, and can your grandchildren have it [see the clarification below]? No. But not because of the electronic format. It’s because we offer a really good price in exchange for licensing to one user. We sell our electronic books (in collections) at a huge discount from list price.

The big question is, what is your goal? To have beautiful books on your shelf that you can pass as heirlooms to your descendents, or to get convenient, useful access to a large library of content with a powerful set of tools for searching and reports?

I can “acquire a movie” in several ways: $9 at the theater, $1.99 VHS rental later, $29.95 to own the DVD, or (maybe) hundreds of dollars to acquire a film print. Each format has strengths and weaknesses. The theater experience is the best way to see it, but when it’s over, it’s over. The rental lets me rewind and pause and watch it a few times, but it’s on a small screen and later in the release cycle. The DVD is also on my home screen, costs more, and might still go obsolete years down the road. The film is physically simple — shine light through the film to project — and actually the “safest” format to ensure my descendents can watch it, but it’s more expensive, more awkward, etc.

The biggest risk with our electronic books is that we go out of business and then, some years later, computers change in a way that doesn’t let you run our software. We intend, of course, to stay in business, and (to the best of our knowledge) we’re the largest and strongest player in Bible software. But still, A) virtualization technology will probably ensure the ability to run this generation of applications for a long time and B) we have a large enough customer base that even in a bankruptcy someone would probably acquire and retain our product line and/or customer relationships.

So is your investment in e-books a safe bet? I believe so. Plus, it’s easier on the back when it’s time to move your library.

Comments

  1. Joseph Clayborne says:

    Thanks for that great information. However, I have another question regarding the use of Logos’ products I have purchased. Currently I am only able to acces my electronic library from my desktop computer. Is Logos compatible with any portable e-book readers? If not, are there any plans to develop a “portable” Logos?
    Thanks,
    Joseph

  2. Steve Maling says:

    Bob,
    Thanks for a great post that addresses concerns I’ve had. It was reassuring to read of your “migration” of content. And in the present business climate I especially appreciate your candor in the next to the last paragraph. May Logos/Libronix go on from strength to strength under its founding owners:) We loyal and well-served customers give praise and hearty thanks to our Lord for raising you all up.
    Steve

  3. Bob,
    Thanks for the great info. I certainly appreciate your honesty…I believe that you are being more honest than most people would be about their product. I have gone “digital” over the last year. I only purchase print books when Libronix cannot license them. Anyway, I just wanted to say that what happened with Katrina was a deciding factor for me- so many print books lost forever, yet Libronix users were soon back with their full library. God bless you all and keep up the great work!
    your brother,
    Rick

  4. Wow, I’ve always thought I can pass it down to my children when they get older. At least they will have access while they live at home with me.
    But this kinda makes me think it’s not wise to completely build an entire library in electronic form. Some books, that you want to pass around, or you want to allow for your children and grandchildren to read, might be better to purchase them in the hardback, Smythe Sewn, archival format by publishers who are still printing such things.
    Of course, the natural disasters are a big problem for those sort of libraries, but if God wants to allow for the destruction of a library, then not even the electronic format will be safe. His sovereignty is over all creation, even electronic format.
    The reality is, natural disasters that destroy peoples libraries are not the normal course for a majority of people. So, God willing, most printed books will survive for a long time. God willing And unless Jesus returns, computers and these electronic books will probably be around for just as long. But the license will certainly expire with the user. That’s a big limitation.

  5. Thanks for clarifying.
    I had always assumed that the difference between a book and an ebook is the format [paper vs electronic media], and I can pass on my ebooks to my next generation(s) [assuming they are interested in inheriting], very much just like passing on paper books.
    That reminds me of something I have read somewhere in Logos’ website [maybe from Logos' blog] quite a while back, something to the effect that one can (e)mail Logos explicitly to ask to change the licence to someone [now I cannot remember what are the exact condition(s) -- if it has to be a family member, and if there is any restriction on how close the family member must be, or it can be any one (like transfering ownership as a gift, similar to giving away a car)]. Maybe you could take this chance to refresh my memory and to inform those who have not known about this yet [or this no longer works anymore].

  6. Joshua Porch says:

    If the license is for the book and not the file format, then why do some of the partnering companies charge (in essence) for an update to the format (LLS to Libronix)? For example, Galaxie has a church history collection where the only way to acquire the new LBXLLS format is to buy the upgrade to Ver 2, so does AMG Publishers with their AMG Bible Essentials (Ver 1 is LLS and the new books do not update without paying a fee). I realize that these collections often add new content, but shouldn’t the license to the older version allow for an update to the newer format? Does the book updating apply only to products released by Logos? Just wondering.
    Thanks,
    Joshua

  7. I was a bit thunderstruck to read that I can’t give this to my grandchildren.

    “can your grandchildren have it? No”
    Bob Pritchett

    I’m hoping what you mean by that is I’ll only be able to give the license to one person, but I have had every intention from the moment I started buying Logos books to pass them to my son should he desire to enter the ministry. Clarify please? Will my son be able to take over my Logos library or not?

  8. We haven’t announced any plans for a mobile solution at this point. There are a number of good mobile packages from OliveTree, Laridian, etc.
    The technology separates content and license, so if you have access to Galaxie’s new LBXLLS files they’ll work with your old license. (Unless they changed the identifiers for the resource.) Releasing those new files is up to Galaxie, though — they may choose to only release them as part of a new product.
    Logos puts most (if not all) newly updated files up on our FTP site for download, but can’t guarantee that all our publishing partners will.

  9. I posted a comment earlier but it didn’t show up. Was it deleted? I wanted to get some feedback on whether it really is wise to invest entirely in electronic when the license expires with the user.
    In most cases, and for most people, written books are going to outlive them. They will not perish at the end of life, but can be passed down to the next generation. Granted there are those cases of disaster, but correct me if I’m wrong, that’s not the normal coarse events for the majority of the people who are buying these books.
    So it seems that there is still some wisdom in buying books in the physical format. And for those books which have great value to be in a computer, such as commentary sets and theological journals, etc. It makes sense to purchase an electronic version. But if you invest solely on electronic format, you loose at the end of your life and cannot pass on to your children. While the written format can provide continual returns on your investment long after your life has ended. Some of the better bound books are made to last over a century.

  10. What about titles like John Maxwell’s books on leadership. I purachased both those, but haven’t figured out how to transition them to the MAC platform because they were in the old logos format. Are updates available from Logos???

  11. Scott Kral says:

    I was greatly disappointed by a competitor’s business model, which in contrast to Logos’, required me to pay a substantial upgrade fee to update the software engine in order to keep up to date with the changes in computer operating systems. But the commentary series text would remain the same. I have sworn never to buy another software product from them again. With Logos, I have peace of mind that come what may (barring Logos going belly-up), I won’t be charged to re-buy the books I’ve already purchased. Thank you, Logos.

  12. Andy Naselli says:

    Bob,
    Thanks for your transparent post.
    I’m about as enthusiastic a Libronix user as you’ll find. My Libronix library is 3200+ volumes and growing monthly. I recommend Logos products constantly. It’s the only product I advertise on my blog’s home page. I’ve enthusiastic written two reviews of Logos products for theological journals. So please read what follows in light of that.
    I was really frustrated when I read this: “Can you loan the book, and can your grandchildren have it? No. But not because of the electronic format. It’s because we offer a really good price in exchange for licensing to one user. We sell our electronic books (in collections) at a huge discount from list price.”
    1. This seems to contradict what I’ve been told previously by Logos employees. Here’s an example in writing: http://blog.logos.com/archives/2005/12/heirloom_books.html
    2. Most Pre-Pubs are not discounted much more than print books, so your argument really doesn’t work there.
    I hope you’ll reconsider this policy, which dampens my enthusiasm for Libronix and makes me think twice about continuing to invest heavily in it.

  13. threegirldad says:

    I second, third, and fourth both of Andy Naselli’s points. That policy is very perplexing — and disappointing.

  14. Anna Gheen says:

    After reading the comments posted here, I thought I’d take a moment to point out that in purchasing Libronix books, you’re not simply paying for a book, but for software. As a youth leader and freelance writer, I have found that the ability to cross reference within my entire library has dramatically reduced the amount of time required to prepare lessons and articles. I no longer have tables filled with open books or waste time thumbing through indexes looking for information which may or may not be useful. Instead, in a few seconds, I’m able to sift through everything in my library and choose what suits my current needs. Even if Libronix and Logos aren’t around forever, the investment has been worthwhile.

  15. Yes, you can pass your books to your grandchildren.
    Logos already transfers licenses (for a small service fee) when someone needs to pass on their entire library. It’s happened when people die, or retire, or change roles in an organization. The technology doesn’t (at this point) support this directly, so it’s a bit of a hassle involving database manipulation, but we can do it.
    The bigger point is that electronic books are still a bit different: while you can pass your library along to someone, it’s not really like a paper library where you can loan or give an individual title to someone by just pulling it off your shelf. And while we’re happy to transfer libraries, and always want to do the right thing by our customers, we do not want to support people re-selling every $10 title in their large collection (purchased at 90% off retail) for $1 each.
    Sorry for the confusion.

  16. Bob,
    Now I have a question. According to the post that Andy linked to, the Logos employee states that shipped products are transferrable. Does this imply that downloadable products are not? I had never really considered this before. The reason for this inquiry is that I have been choosing to download purchases when given the choice…this might make me rethink that policy. Please let me know.
    Your brother,
    Rick

  17. So, I am not paying for the content as much as I am paying a license fee to use the content on a system that is not interpolatable with other systems by which the same content could be readable?
    I therefore don’t own the content;
    I therefore don’t have the ability to pass it down;
    I’m licensing (leasing) the software’s ability to read said content.
    Interesting…

  18. Regarding borrowing books, I’m sure this has conceptually been exhaustively considered by Logos (which employs most of the smartest people I know). Just in case, here is an idea for how to create the functionality:
    1. Owner could “export” a copy of the book file to a specified user’s LibronixID.
    2. The owner’s copy is locked, and both the owner and borrower’s copies are time-bombed (to a date set by the owner… maximum of three weeks or so).
    3. The owner emails the exported book file to the borrower via email, and he saves it in a special folder.
    4. At the expiration date, the owner’s copy is unlocked and the borrower’s copy is locked or deleted.
    From the position of the user, no copyright laws are broken and everyone is happy. Of course, this assumes a lot of the license agreement Logos makes with publishers.
    Just thought I’d throw that idea in there.

  19. 2008/10/29
    Hi,
    I think this comment belongs in this thread, so here goes!
    One of my favorite Libronix DLS books I have is called “More Light On The Path”. It has a daily Hebrew and Greek scripture plus a daily devotional that relates the passages.
    The version that I got is not set up like a devotional though, meaning that it doesn’t open to the daily reading. You have to access a table at the very beginning that sends you to the correct reading by selecting “Week of Year” and “Day of Week”.
    When I first bought this resource, I noticed that the table only went up to 2007, so in late 2006 I contacted Logos to see if there would be an updated version for after 2007. I was told that I had to call Baker Books, the publisher of the original work. I contacted Baker Books and they told me that Logos was responsible for the electronic version. So, I called Logos back and was told they put the contents of the original book into electronic form exactly as it appeared in the original work. So, I said, “Well, what about the Logos customers (like me) who purchased this reference work and want to continue to use it after 2007?” I was told that I could suggest or recommend an upgrade/update but that I wouldn’t be contacted individually when or if that might become available.
    So, basically I have a great reference work that is too hard to figure out which day I should go to, because it’s not “Day based” and the table only went up to 2007! I suggested that it be made into a form like: “God Is Enough” by Hannah Whitall Smith, which has an embedded link on the Title Page which is “Today’s Reading” which you click on and it automatically brings you to the correct reading for today’s calendar date.
    So, I’m disappointed that “More Light On The Path” is outdated with no plans to update it/make it current. It was a great way to brush up on my Hebrew and practice my Greek! It’s still being offered on the Logos site too, at:
    http://www.logos.com/ebooks/details/MORELIGHT
    But anyone who buys it now won’t be able to get to the correct reading easily! At least I had a few years of accessing the readings by the table.
    I think this is an example of a reference work falling by the wayside because of lack of support.
    Thanks, David

  20. I’m considering the purchase of Logos Scholar edition so this post is encouraging. I’ve always hated any form of DRM (I guess enough Christians pirate books that it’s even necessary on Logos). I think Libronix does an excellent job at licensing the content instead of the content+format.
    If the following were in place I know I would be more eager to purchase Logos:
    1. Gabriel’s suggestion for lending books out is excellent.
    2. As Joseph said… I would like Logos to partner with an ebook reader (like the Kindle). I love using the computer to do research (especially searching), but it’s not easy to /read/ from a notebook computer when I’m in bed.. and I do like to carry my books around without lugging the notebook around and staring at a non-reflective screen.
    3. Offer the content online (like the ESV Study Bible) so any device could access it.
    4. I’m sure there isn’t the user base for this, but I would love to see a Linux version of Libronix. If it’s written in .NET it could be ported over to Mono.

  21. We have an 800 volume paper library and a 2,400 volume Libronix library. We are looking at moving in the future. We are looking at ways to give the library away so that a many thousand dollar investment doesn’t turn into cardboard. Fortunately we can take our Libronix library with us. If we didn’t have Libronix, we would be picking out 50-150 books to take wtih us (we are overseas) and getting rid of the rest some way.
    I have heard of a number of preachers who when they retired got rid of most of their books. With Libronix, I will be able to take my books with me to retirement. I only intend to transfer my library after death or some type of disability.

  22. I know this is a bit late, but I agree with the above comments: I would LOVE to see Logos team up with the Kindle. I love to study on the computer, but I really can’t pleasure read on there. If they won’t partner with them it would be really wonderful if Logos offered a way of (easily) copying your library and turning it into text. Please, please consider this for your customers who keep asking.

  23. Russell A. Wilke says:

    Logos is really been a blessing for me as a new believer. I am trying to find out all I can before I invest in a program like logos 5. Has there been any answers to Gabriel comment / idea. I have a whole family I am trying to save and it would be very helpful if I could Loan one of my ebooks to them.