We are not yet at the point of demise for the printed book. Not yet. Not imminently. However, we do now have a viable and attractive challenger in the electronic book. While we think little of dropping the occasional $2.99 on a discounted Kindle edition of a Christian living title, more serious libraries merit more serious consideration. You will gain or lose little by reading my most recent book in print or on your Kindle, but what about those serious works—the commentaries, the church histories, the dictionaries and encyclopedias and concordances? Should you buy those in print or in bits and bytes? Many pastors, many scholars, many students, many people who just plain love to read and research are asking the question.
Many of them are asking about Logos in particular. Logos is near the cutting edge when it comes to a Christian reference library. They are at every major conference, they put a lot of time and attention into attracting pastors, scholars, and anyone else who is interested in serious theological works. They offer a great product. Many people I know are considering trying Logos, or are dabbling in it and are thinking about jumping in with both feet. I even know a few people who have sold their entire print libraries in favor of electronic-only. I know many others who are suspicious of the whole idea.
In this article I want to examine some of the benefits and drawbacks of Logos compared to old fashioned print books. My purpose is to help you think through the options.
Apples & Oranges
It is important from the outset that we do not make too rigid a comparison between a printed library and an electronic library—between your father’s library and your son’s library. While a printed book and a Logos book may contain the same words, they are different media and each has strengths and weaknesses. We need to resist making a 1:1 comparison between the two.
The greatest strength of Logos is in its wider system. What a Logos book offers that a printed book does not is integration into that system. When you add a new book to your Logos library, you increase the power and usefulness of the entire system. It is less like adding a printed book to a bookcase and more like adding memory to a computer or a new Christian with his spiritual gifts to your congregation—it improves and strengthens the entire system.
The most important part of the system is in its power to find and relate information across an entire library. With a print library, it may take me hours of searching bookcases, looking for Scripture indexes, and referencing endnotes to find all my library has to tell me about a particular verse or subject. Logos makes it as easy as typing in a keyword or clicking a Scripture verse. Within seconds it will search an entire library, organize the results, and show the best ones; one more click will begin a deeper search. Logos also makes it easy to do word studies and to find information about the Greek and Hebrew. It allows notes and easily formats footnotes. It is feature-rich.
Apples 2.0 & Oranges 2.0
We cannot make too strict a comparison between Logos and a printed book. We should also be careful not to make too strict a comparison between Logos and a Kindle book or another ebook format. Here is the difference: Kindle is primarily for reading; Logos is primarily for researching. You may notice that a Logos book tend to be more expensive than the same book in those other formats. We see lots of $2.99 sales for Kindle books but not many at all for Logos. This is because Logos books are specially prepared so their Scripture references can be clicked to immediately display the appropriate passage, so their prominent headings will appear in searches, and so on. This extra preparation carries an extra cost. Again, you are not simply adding a book to your library; you are strengthening a system.
On Building a Library
Here are several principles to consider when it comes to building a Logos library.