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TECHNOLOGY: A new digital reading experience — unlike anything we’ve seen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — At B&H Publishing Group, when doing the actual programming of our apps we call it “iterative development.” All that really means, however, is that we’re just putting one foot in front of the other. It means that there is some goal, some next step that we decide to work on, and that’s what we tackle. Once we have taken enough steps, we package it all up and release an app.

In the past year we have taken several key book titles and built app experiences with them. Our “book” apps weren’t really even intended to be a great reading experience — they were meant just to sample the content of the book. The idea was to discover how the concept of flipping through the pages of a book at your local LifeWay Christian Store would translate to a digital experience. And so, we pulled quotes from each chapter of the book that you could quickly read, scan and, of course, share on Twitter or Facebook. You could easily decide if the book was right for you.

Over the next few months we added feature after feature, getting our apps to what is a pretty solid experience. Plus, there’s some backend work that’s been done that allows you to tie your purchase back to MyStudyBible.com on some of them, so you can even read the content outside the confines of your phone. And we’ve got some really great features that will be coming later this summer… .

But we take it step by step. And, to be honest, most of us are still just playing with words on a screen when there is so much more than can be done.

A book is becoming about more than just the content, but also the experience. As iPads and browsers and eReaders enable publishers to do more than just put content on the screen, the entire idea of reading a book disappears and it becomes experiencing a book.

The two books currently available for iPads that take this interactive approach are years ahead of what traditional print publishers are doing — “Our Choice” by Al Gore and “Wonders of the Universe” by Brian Cox. The content does not necessarily promote a biblical worldview, but it’s the experience that has grabbed the book industry’s attention.

In “Our Choice,” interactive examples of the text’s topic are shown alongside the words. This way, the user (I wouldn’t even call the person “reading” this “book” a reader) can have a visual and interactive memory or demonstration of the concept. In “Wonders of the Universe,” there is a fully rendered universe on display as you navigate through the experience. Both apps use experience to strengthen the text with which you are interacting.

In just a few short years “reading,” as we know it, may be dead. Instead we will be playing with content as our mind takes in the words that have been written. As much time will be spent on the visual and interactive elements as was spent proof-reading the text for grammar.

So what does this mean for the church? Do we champion these new methods of engaging content, or do we shy away from the loss of concentrated meditation on text?

There is a time and a place for everything, and we should never seek to lose the discipline of sitting down, spending time alone with the Word of God. That is key to our faith, and key to our spiritual growth.

But what if as we are reading about the battle of David and Goliath we can actually see the field? What if, as we’re reading about the measurements of the Temple, we can see each piece get built as we go verse by verse? What if, as Jesus walked from Jericho to Jerusalem, the common person actually had some context for where that was on a map?

Here’s the thing: we don’t know what you, the reader, wants. Sure, we can keep on pushing out digital versions of our print books — but will that suffice in a world of apps like “Wonders of the Universe?”

Be vocal with what your church needs B&H to do. Be unafraid to say we’re not moving fast enough. Tweet about the things you need technology to be doing for you so that you have a better understanding of the Bible. Complain on Facebook about why we don’t get it — but then tell us what you need.

Everyone, all of us, are trying to put one step in front of the other. If you could decide, where would you have the publishing industry go?
Aaron Linne is executive producer of digital marketing for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes a monthly technology column for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Aaron Linne