Last week I read some advice that a seminary student was giving to potential Logos users. It went something like this: when trying to decide whether to invest in Logos, calculate the print value of the books that you think you’d actually use and, if that amount exceeds the cost of the package from Logos, buy it. But in your calculations make sure to exclude any books that are available for free elsewhere (e.g., from Google Books or Amazon’s Online Reader).
I think the first part of the advice is generally* sound, but the second part has problems. While it’s often a good idea not to spend money for something you can get for free, this is not always the case. The advice above leaves out two important factors: quality and convenience.
First, the advice above is not really comparing apples with apples. The quality of Logos digital books exceeds the quality of books available at Amazon’s Online Reader, Google Books, and other places on the internet.
So it may very well be worth paying money for books that are available for free online, if you want the ability to perform incredibly powerful searches, copy and paste text into papers or sermons with automatic citations, get instant access to Bible passages with a hover or a click, jump to cited books and articles, and all the other things that make Logos digital books so valuable.
So the advice would have been better if it had said, “Exclude any books that are of equal quality and available for free elsewhere.” But that still doesn’t quite do.
Second, even if we were comparing apples with apples, that is, books of equal quality—or let’s assume you are the rare person who doesn’t need any of the benefits I mentioned above—there is value in the convenience of an integrated digital library. When your digital library is spread across multiple platforms and websites (e.g., Google Books, PDFs and Word docs on your computer, Amazon, and other places), it takes time (1) to remember where you have access to x, y, and z books and then (2) to perform multiple searches on multiple websites and desktop applications. That extra time spent can be quantified in terms of value, so it may be worth the money for the added convenience and time-saving benefit.
Let’s say you use iTunes for your music library. Numerous legal sources allow you to listen to music for free online, but you have to be connected to the internet and go to the website to listen to it. You can’t download it and integrate it into your digital music library in iTunes—or listen to it on your iPod. Perhaps for many songs that would be fine, but the benefit of convenience may make it worth it to purchase some music that is available for free elsewhere.
So I think we could further improve the advice by saying, “Exclude any books that are of equal quality and available for free elsewhere in a medium that offers equal convenience.”
Everyone has different needs and different financial abilities, and there are definitely times when it is financially wise to be content to use good secondary tools like Google Books and Amazon’s Online Reader. But if quality and convenience are important to you, it may very well be worth paying for something you can get for free elsewhere.
* However, I think you could make a case for why it might be wise to buy Logos even if the digital cost exceeded the print cost, but that is perhaps for another day and another blog post.