The Future of Physical Bibles

2010 Future Trends Series: Bible SoftwareBible Publishing | Physical Bibles

Whenever the subject of reading the Bible comes up, there’s this beautiful mixture of terms. Some would refer to the content, while others about the literal bound pages. Since we’ve already talked about the future of publishing and bible software, let’s take a look at the literal book and some possibilities that the two already spoken for areas will have towards this definition.

Digital Isn’t to Be Assumed
Much like we are seeing on the side of publishing, the future of the book is that of the book being a digital container before it reclaimed as a print one. This doesn’t mean that everyone will always default to a digital bible, but that the ease of getting, annotating and keeping content will fall first to a digital construct than that of an analog one.

Don’t agree? Let’s take a similar position as Fraser Speirs who has embarked on a project where grade school-aged kids have been given iPads and as an educational community, are learning the good and bad about the book being first digital. Here’s something that stuck out from a recent post that you should probably also consider here:

#4: Won’t the children lack “proper” computer skills?

Define ‘proper’, ‘computer’ and ‘skills’. Now define them as commonly understood in the year 2023, which is when a pupil starting today will leave school.

I’ve never taught to specific software packages and never will. Of course, we have to use actual real software, but there’s a big difference between “teaching Excel” and “teaching spreadsheets”. Don’t forget we still have MacBooks and iMacs too.

This is a constant tension in educational technology: do you teach for the current “business environment” or do you teach for learning? I prefer the latter. I’m not doing this just to produce the next generation of cubicle fodder.

A child graduating our school this year started school when the Apple Pippin was still current. How can I possibly know what specific technologies will be used in their career? It’s beyond absurd to even pose the question.

In some respects, going digital will look like this. In the meantime, we can see going digital meaning that our Bibles in content take on this form of being digital, but then we use devices such as the iPad or BlackBerry Playbook to augment the print text with a set of digital reference materials.

Flipping Screens or Waving Lights
Once we get past the initial hardware of the device, we have to start thinking about interactions and input. In this post-iPhone era of mobile computing, everything starts with the touch and swipe methodology. And we’ve seen that when it is executed well – and content follows – that the experience isn’t just pleasing, but it also offer a heightened engaged experience (re: Flipboard for the iPad)).

There are a few examples towards what this can look like, but here are a few that I think are closer to the current decade than many others. The first is a conceptual mobile interface from Mozilla Labs called Seabird. The second a user experience video from TAT displaying how someone manages several screens in the year 2014 in an environment that’s meshed and connected with contextual information – to this video, concentrate on the interactions of the person at the workstation as that follows our discussion more closely.

As we can see here, the idea of a physical device is more or less falling away, and the point is the best ways to interact with the content. I will agree that some of the possibilities describe usage scenarios that are at best very optimistic, but then again, what were you doing with mobile devices six years ago versus now (that would be when MMM started compared to today)?

Paper’s Re-purposing
I have to admit, I only know a few people that really like the feel of paper. Most people only know how to get information from a paper, and so that’s where their mental models are stabilized. And as such, there’s a good chance that paper just won’t go away, but it will find a more valuable purpose (replacement and transformation; an example of this in progress here).

Take a look at the periodicals section of any bookstore. Now run your hands over various magazine, ignoring the content, but paying attention to textures, colors, and the feel of the paper. Notice something? The magazines that you take hold of denote this feeling of permanence and quality that’s just not matched by other magazines. Take a feel of those pieces that are published quarterly versus monthly or weekly; notice how these feel. There’s a weighter feel, they are thicker and the paper stock is notably better. This is the future of paper, and specifically when it comes to Bibles, we can expect to see some similar transformations.

Not that we really need more versions of the Bible to choose from, but we will see better quality versions. I’d argue that we might see a trimming of some of the fluffy versions, and see more attention to type and detail since paper will have to fight for that more ingrained role – a return to the family Bible perhaps?

Still Carried, Less Stigmatized
I don’t think that every context will be fine without carrying a Bible, even in today’s rising tide of those who preach from their iPad, there are questions about whether a traditional print Bible is more comfortable for the viewing audience or not.

What is clear though is that the traditional definitions of a book are being challenged, and this is good. We should now begin asking questions around whether its fine or not to just have the text in traditional places for show, or spoken for in digital devices where the proof of it is displayed in our lives and communities.

A physical Bible still makes a pronouncement towards where you stand and whom you stand with. And even between those ground which disagree about how to interpret, there is an understanding that if a Bible is present, that a conversation can begin.

Recalling a recent movie, The Book of Eli, and the scene at the end where the Bible was placed on a bookshelf with several other books of faith – this was the only book that was held in such esteem to not only have the power to cause the issues which backgrounded the movie, but also have the power to restore life to those left behind. The physical book was a sign of the power that we who believe on it carry; but without living what was on those pages, or being able to read it, people were domed to die in their ignorance. Will people believe that not having the traditional, paper-bound Bible that they don’t have the same power to live the text? Or, will engaging the text first from a digital context cause life to happen differently, and with a slightly different hue than it had previously? We’re still early, and that script is yet to be written.

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  • John

    Interesting. I’m undergoing a project that looks to the quality of printed bibles however, the rights of the ‘translation’ is a difficulty. My hope is that a more fluid process for attaining rights for printing is made available.

    Currently it is very difficult to get permission for printing a copy written translation, which I understand is driven by actual cost in the work of translation, however, I hope to see a middle ground in which one can ‘print’ the works while providing royalties to the owner of the text.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts here..

  • Antoine

    Greetings John, and thanks for the comment. Check out the other two pieces in this series, which dive into this a bit more. In short, the task of translation and the monetary behaviors traditionally attached to that model need to change. It is going to be a while before we get to a totally free mechanism of disseminating biblical content, but we will find more companies taking chances on malleable formats and distribution methods, for example Logos.

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