The Future of Discerning Reader

About one year ago I became the owner of the domain discerningreader.com. The purpose of Discerning Reader has been to serve Christians by providing discerning reviews of books that are intended for Christians or that are of particular interest to Christians. The former category primarily includes titles published by Christian publishing houses; the latter includes books that may impact the church even though they are not targeted at Christians (titles such as The Da Vinci Code or The God Delusion). Discerning Reader has also served both authors and publishers in promoting books that are consistent with the truths of the Bible. The site now has reviews of hundreds of Christian books, information about authors, and other relevant information. Reaction to the site has been very positive and it has become a regular stop for many Christian readers.

Become a Patron

The site has been a labor of love and has not generated any revenue. Nor have I intended it to do so. But now, in my eagerness to find ideas that can serve the church, it has occurred to me that I could leverage what I have begun at Discerning Reader to provide a useful resource that would stand between publishers and readers. It would carry on the vision of Discerning Reader – putting good books in the hands of believers while equipping them to deal in a discerning fashion with books that are unbiblical. But it would also further this goal. I have a burning desire to encourage people to read and to read good books. I am a firm believer in an educated laity (not to mention an educated clergy) and believe that having Christians read good books will be a significant means to that noble end!

But I can only really bring this to fruition if it does not interfere with my need to make a living. And the best way of having this happen would be to generate revenue through Discerning Reader. And so I am in the initial stages of investigating adding a paid component to Discerning Reader. Rather than staying only with the current model, where visitors come to Discerning Reader as they feel the need to investigate books, it will push regular content to readers.

If this plan goes forward, the site will soon feature both free content and content available only to subscribers. It will also be completed redesigned and rebranded. There will be two subscription levels: individual and church.

  • Free content will be available online at discerningreader.com. It will include book reviews, book suggestions, author information and site updates. In other words, it will include just about all of the current content.
  • Content available to individual subscribers will include a bi-weekly newsletter containing at least one thorough book summary of a particularly important book, shorter summaries of notable but less-important books, and updates about notable new releases from publishers. The newsletter will be suitable for printing. All content in the newsletter will also be available online at discerningreader.com to those who subscribe. The book summaries should not be confused with reviews. They will attempt to objectively summarize a book without interacting with it (whereas a review is, by its very nature, subjective).
  • Content available to church subscribers will include all the features available to individual subscribers but the newsletter will contain additional content geared specifically for churches. This will include short summaries suitable for printing in church bulletins, suggestions for church libraries, and so on. All content in the newsletter will also be available online at discerningreader.com to those who subscribe.

The individual subscriptions will be considered personal use, meaning that the subscriber will not be permitted to distribute the content. Church subscriptions will allow the newsletters to be printed and distributed to those attending the church (they can be printed and handed out, posted to bulletin boards, etc).

Books chosen for a thorough summary for those who choose to subscribe to access the paid content will likely fall into one of three categories. The first is books that are intended for Christians, are published by Christian publishers, are consistent with the Bible and are recommended by Discerning Reader. Ideal candidates might be titles such as Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs, John Piper’s Desiring God, and so on. These are books that are “thinking books” and are groundbreaking in some way. The second category is books that are intended for Christians, are published by Christian publishers, and are exceedingly popular, but are not necessarily recommended by Discerning Reader. Titles in this category might include Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church, Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, or Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven. The third category is books that are not written by or for Christians, but are somehow relevant to them. In this category we may find Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation and the like. These are books that have targeted Christianity and are, thus, of interest to Christians. With books in these latter two categories we would attempt, after providing a subjective summary, to help Christians think rightly about the topics raised.

It is my hope that, if this new idea proves feasible, it can serve authors, publishers, churches and individual readers. It will provide a bi-weekly newsletter encouraging Christians to read good books and to read them with discernment. At the same time it will help readers understand other popular books, how to think rightly about them, and how to respond to them.

The reason I post all this is to ask for your input and your feedback. Primarily I need to know if this is something you would consider subscribing to. It is my opinion that, with the huge increase in the number of books being printed, Christians are eager to seek feedback before they make a purchase and before they invest their time in reading. Therefore, I think this would prove a valuable service. But I could be wrong. So here are three questions.

  1. Would you, as an individual, consider subscribing to a service of this nature? And as a second part to this question, would you, as a pastor or elder, consider subscribing your church to a service of this nature?
  2. If you would consider subscribing, what would you be willing to pay? My thought is that something like $40/year would be fair for personal use and perhaps $150 or so for a church subscription.
  3. Are there other features you would suggest, expect or demand if you were to subscribe to this service?

Your answers to these questions, and any other feedback you care to give, is most appreciated.

In lieu of a comments section, I accept and encourage letters to the editor. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.