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Going digital with God’s Word Print Email
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Monday, 13 June 2011 09:36 AM America/New_York

Non-print Bibles—a growth category that stores need to understand


The digital publishing revolution isn’t just about newly written books. The Bible has been presented as an award-winning audio project in recent times and is proving increasingly popular among e-reader users. We discussed the growth of the non-print Bible market, and the opportunities and implications, with leading suppliers in the category.  Joining us for the conversation were:

Amari_CarlCarl Amari, producer of The Word of Promise audio Bible (Thomas Nelson) and the Truth & Life  Dramatized Audio Bible (Zondervan)

Shawn Carroll, COO of Immersion Digital (Glo Bible)

Marianne Gelski, vice president, retail channels, WORDsearch

Aaron Linne, executive producer of digital marketing, manager, B&H Publishing Group

Len Williams, vice president of sales and marketing, Danteck Group (NowBible)Carroll_Shawn


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: WORDsearch has been in non-print Bibles longer than anybody. How have things changed since those early days?

Marianne Gelski: WORDsearch has been publishing electronically since 1987. Our readers, which run on your PC or Mac, would be Bible Explorer and WORDsearch. Basically we electronically publish the books that we’ve licensed from various publishers. I think retailers looking at electronic publishing are probably overwhelmed: “What does this mean? Where are we going with this?” The younger generation is embracing it quicker than the older generation. You can do so much more with digital print.



CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Is the trend being driven by technology alone?

 Linne_AaronAaron Linne: It’s not just a technology-driven thing, it’s a lifestyle thing. For me, even though I work at a print publishing house—putting my job on the line here—I’ll admit that I haven’t purchased a print book in two or three years since I got a Kindle. For me, looking at things digitally, there’s not a divide there. It’s just digital is the way I consume media. Typically if it’s not an open thing where I can consume that media however I want, I’m not as likely to buy it. 

Carl Amari: I have to concur. I haven’t bought a paper book (in some time) other than The Men and Women of the Bible, which I found very useful in casting the roles. Other than that, I don’t think I have purchased one. I have a Kindle and that’s how I do it. I think it is absolutely a lifestyle and that’s where it’s all going. Already with the new Bible we just did, Truth & Life, we are getting email from people asking why it’s not on MP3 and when is it going to be on iTunes? So I definitely think it’s moving rapidly to all digital. 

Shawn Carroll: Absolutely, one of the things that we discovered is the nonlinear nature of digital media ... being able to dive in, explore and get context. Being able to share your experiences is also hugely Williams_Lenimportant in this era of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The idea of an interface that speaks to people in the way they want to interact with media and on the devices that they cart around with them is important. One of the things that we’re doing is going across devices, so the idea of having a seamless experience on your iPhone that then bridges to the iPad and that then bridges to your desktop.

Linne: Sharing is so important; that really is the future of reading even, I would say. I was working at a camp in 2001 and the pastor there, one of his messages was that at the core of us, we have this question of who am I and what do people think of me? Ten years ago you couldn’t control that. But in today’s world, I am what I tweet and I can broadcast the message of who I am to my followers and friends. So for me, I have it automatically set up that when I play a video game on the Xbox, it tweets what game I’m playing. But I also have it set up that when I’m reading a book on the Kindle for my master’s course, then I can share with people my notes. So people are saying, “Gosh, he’s reading some strange books.” That’s what I want people to know about me. 


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Should we lump all non-print Bibles into the same category, or do we need to recognize there are some differences?

Len Williams: I think it’s a lot about the word immersion. You just look at the capability of a (new) product versus a traditional print product. Look at WORDsearch, look at Glo—you can just learn so much more by using that software. Take a product like the NowBible or a portable device—they are giving you immersion because now can read and listen and follow along anywhere you go, on the train, on the plane, wherever is convenient for you. 

Should they all be lumped into the same category? Not necessarily, because the number-one question we get is, how can a product like the NowBible survive in Christian retail and onward with devices out there such as the iPhone and the Droid and the iPad and the Kindle? That’s where we very simply say the NowBible—it doesn’t try to be all things to all people. There’s still a generation out there, still a lot of users out there who are somewhat afraid of technology. They are not necessarily embracing the smart-phone craze, the e-reader craze, the tablet-PC craze, but they still want something cool. They want something to use in church, convenient text and audio. That’s how we have been able to establish a niche with the NowBible

Linne: A product like the NowBible is so essential for that. When I’m reading on an e-reader, that keeps me focused, but even still I have those optional things, I have other books here and things that can distract me, especially with something like an iPad or a smart phone. But with something like the NowBible that is so concentrated on this. It is my Bible, it’s just got a screen on it. That’s so important to have, to keep that focus. 


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Is there a danger that technology can become more about entertaining us with the Bible rather than taking us deeper into it?

Linne: You can use those same potential issues (of being able to skip from one thing to another) as benefits to studying the Bible. B&H uses a site called, where we use that ability for the rising generation (who) like things to be jumping and like things to be everything at my fingertips. So when you scroll to a passage on, we present to you a whole list of other places you can go look for deeper information.

Carroll: What we have actually seen is a term I used when I worked at Disney: edutainment. It’s kind of at the crossroads between the two. Truthfully you have to have the people engaged, first of all. However they get there, we are not quite that concerned. But what we found with Glo is that everything is based on the spine of the product, which is the Bible. Off of that solid core we have reading plans and journals that allow people to have that experience of study, using media to augment what they are doing in a nonlinear fashion, but at any point in time they bounce back to their reading plan.  

Amari:  When you talk about engaging the listener, I think a dramatized version has proved to be more engaging than a single narrator. I’ve always, growing up, listened to single-reader Bibles and there are some really good ones. When you put the elements of actors—really professional actors—and original scores and sound effects, I think it engages them. It takes them back to the time ... it creates a sort of a first-time feeling for them.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Are people choosing print or digital or embracing both?

Gelski: Personally, for doing Bible study I read my (print) Bible, but for in-depth Bible study, I use my WORDsearch software program. I can learn so much more quickly than I could in using a print Bible. The key thing that we need to remember is we are all so busy, and you can study faster digitally than you can by flipping through your Bible or commentary and spending hours looking for the same thing that you can search digitally.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What does the digital trend mean for retail?

Williams: Christian retail is definitely embracing the NowBible, and I think they are starting to embrace a lot of the technology products. … But what I think is important for every retailer out there to realize is that they need to not only invest in the nontraditional Bibles and books and technology products, but they need to also learn and become as proficient as possible on these features. 

The danger is people are putting these products on the shelf and they are trying to let the packaging do the work. Good packaging and good marketing can only go so far. It really comes down to managers and frontliners needing to at least have a basic grasp and understanding of how these products work and at least some of the very short sales points and highlights of the product and what makes them user friendly, what makes it appealing to a customer. These technology products are going to produce more questions than the average traditional book; if you don’t think so, go talk to a sales representative at Best Buy or Radio Shack. You don’t have to be technology experts, but at least get a little more of a grasp of some of these newer products.

Carroll: Spot on. Our experience with the launch of Glo at Christian retail was there is a huge difference between having the spine out and the category called Software in a store versus the notion of this is something that needs to be seen. We are trying to think of new and better ways to give customers the ability to see the product somehow—whether it’s visuals, a kiosk or a store PC loaded with the product. 

Gelski: I totally agree. What we have done recently is create a frontliner training program with each of our brand products where they can go to our Web site and review our training videos, and then each frontliner will be rewarded with a free copy of one of five titles. Hopefully that blesses them, but also helps the retailers increase their electronic Bible category. Frontline training is essential.

Linne: B&H just released a study Bible for which we built a site called and we gave it away to anyone. There was also a nice big sticker on the print study Bible, on the outer packaging, that said, go visit The reason we did that was because we believe that content markets content. And we believe if someone is questioning, should I be interested in this study Bible, is it relevant, that they should be able to have a taste of that and explore.  Not everyone is like me and lives only in the digital world. Many, many people like carrying a physical Bible with them, so they will go back to the store and say, “I do want that. I do like the content.” So there are ways that we can partner as digital Bible providers with the traditional print media. 


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Is it realistic to think there is going to continue to be a strong market share for brick-and-mortar retailers as non-print develops?

Williams: Absolutely. I just wish we could see more investment in technology, demo units, point-of-sale displays, kiosks, things along those lines. Right now it feels like we are not showing a customer what the product is, we are just telling them about it. Many of these products have trailers of “the making of.” It’s a game changer when people can actually see, here’s Jim Caviezel in the studio (for The Word of Promise). Just like my old, freshman English’s teacher creative-writing class: Show, don’t tell. The majority of stores don’t have a way to implement that, and that’s kind of the biggest hurdle I’m seeing—not just from the smaller independent stores, but even from the big ones.

Linne: Right, and that kind of surprises me. There are a million and one videos that are relevant to the products that are in retail stores. All it would take is downloading those videos, putting them into an iTunes playlist, making it stream and hitting play on a computer monitor while you are around the store. There are so many opportunities to share the message and so many publishers are creating great marketing content that I’m surprised I don’t see more of it in the actual physical stores.

Carroll: One of the things we have done is position Glo as a digital bible. We don’t talk about it being software because we want to break out of that category. Brick-and-mortar stores could certainly attract additional customers and skew younger and stay much more relevant were they to just take a 10-by-10 spot and make it the digital corner. Make it an exploration place. It’s all about that ability to explore and to see something.

Linne: An online consumer is scanning. If they walk into a store, there is a difference there, because they are expecting the people there to be experts. So as they can do their own research online, when they walk into a store, they are hoping for human connection, saying, this is my need, point me to the right place.


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: Digital is challenging for suppliers as well as retailers?

Linne: The hardest for both us and retailers is figuring out the new roles, the new opportunities and which one is going to be the right one. For us, we’ve discovered that the digital consumer is much more interested in growing a collection and purchasing bite-sized content. We have a Beth Moore app for the iPhone that’s a daily devotional, and we have found that consumers are much more interested in purchasing 30 days of devotionals for $1 rather than spending $10 for the 365 days. They would rather almost spend more, but get the content when they want it and how they want it, in that smaller segment. So we have to repurpose our materials and figure out what that means for when we are developing internal projects. 

Williams: We probably face more struggles in just increases in technology and hardware since we are dealing with actual hardware that has software on it as well. That’s been a challenge for us. We have also tried coming out with some newer lines that have a lower introductory price points than our full-size (versions), but still some of the same capabilities. We also face challenges with a product that has both text and audio, trying to have software that combines those two very delicate mediums. There’s a lot of work involved there. 

Carroll: We are chasing on multiple fronts. Regarding the digital consumer buying chunks of content and adding it to a library, one of the things we are very interested in about that model is, what does that do for a lifetime value of a customer? Because, rather than just buying it once, you have an opportunity to have (an ongoing) relationship with that customer and continue to have multiple content suppliers offer top-up content. 


CHRISTIAN RETAILING: What are some of your plans for 2011?

Carroll: One is our Glo 3.0 premium edition, our multi-device edition so it syncs seamlessly between PC Slate devices, the Mac iPad and iPhone to start with. Coming along with that in mid- to late 2011, we are going to be launching our app store, which is that seamless integration of people being able to buy chunks. Not only do you have a portable personal Bible and Bible study and sharing experience, but you’ve also got the ability to add content based on things that you’re interested in. 

Gelski: We are working on an update for our Mac products, on a lot of our electronically published books in the PC and Mac format for iPad, Kindle, iPhone and other e-readers.

Linne: At B&H we have deep value with our retailer partners. We love them and we don’t want any of our digital steps to be a misstep with them, so we are going to continue to look and find some ways to partner with our retail partners digitally, in the store.

Williams: We are developing and working on a potential Spanish edition of the NowBible, hope to release that by Christmas 2011. And in addition to our NowBible products, we are working on making other accessories and items available as well, such as protective cases, car chargers (and) FM transmitters to help people listen to their NowBible in the car.  


Read excerpts of the discussion here and listen to the entire roundtable discussion at