A Disturbing Trend in Publishing

I recently had a discussion with a publishing marketer, and during the course of the conversation, I noted a very disturbing trend in publishing: because of the Kindle, and other related e-book readers, publishers are finding it much harder to make any money on hard copies of books. Now, in many cases this is not a problem. For many books of literature, for instance, I have zero difficulty in reading it on Kindle, and it wouldn’t even put me out that much if in the near future, some books were not printed in hard copy at all (which I’m sure is coming). However, one place where this does not work so well is in theological works. Now, I don’t read theology on my Kindle, because I have to have a pencil when I read theology. The note-taking system on the Kindle is klugy. You can use it, but it takes so much more time than a simple underline in a book. The trend that is the problem, therefore, is that theological books are being bound in cheaper formats, because it is the only way they can compete with the e-book. This is my plea: please do not let hard copies of theological works go the way of the dodo bird. Please encourage the publishers to make hard-bound copies of commentaries. I, for one, will pay the extra to get a cloth-bound, bound-in-signatures version of commentaries. For commentaries especially, which often wind up being highly used in reference libraries, having a well-bound copy is essential to its longevity. They tend to be the most used books in any seminary’s library. Take the Eerdmans Critical Commentary. The first three volumes (Terrien on Psalms, Quinn/Wacker on 1-2 Timothy, and Barth on Philemon) were hardbacks (yes, glued, but still hardback). Now, this massively huge series is only being published in paperback! Von Wahlde’s humongous commentary on the Johannine material (in three large volumes) surely deserves a better binding than glued paperback. Folks, please fork over the money for well-bound books, and let our publishers know that there is still a good market for well-bound books!


  1. wsparkman said,

    May 8, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I recently received confirmation from Oxford that their intent is to publish the Van Dixhoorn edition of the Westminster Assembly Minutes with some notched variation of the so-called “perfect” or spine glued binding. Big disappointment.

    Meanwhile, your options on paperbacks involve spending a bit more money : 1. Kapco or similar clear plastic laminate covers ; or, 2. hardback rebinding, generally in library buckram. The latter option will usually cost under $25/volume, or lower in quantity.

  2. May 8, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Nooks, Kindles etc are replacements for mass market paperbacks, publishers need to figure this out though. We may ultimately see the end of the mass market paperback, and do not let the publishers fool you, they want it to end as they make several times more money in a digital copy than in a print copy and there is no secondary market to contend with.

    There is one set of options wsparkman missed though which is very important, the print on demand/artisan print option. You have the right to back up your media in another format. That format can always be the ‘dead tree edition’ format. The advantage here is you choose the paper quality, font size, font glyph and most importantly for many of us: margin size and placement. Yes, it means I will have to buy a digital copy and then have it reprinted, but it also means I get the physical product I want.

    Full disclosure: I do re-bind and re-cover books as a hobby.

  3. wsparkman said,

    May 8, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I didn’t miss it — I ignored it!

    No, seriously, I was only speaking to the situation of what to do if you’ve bought a print paperback and want to improve the format.

  4. darrelltoddmaurina said,

    May 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    I understand your point… though speaking as someone who **NEVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES** will write in any book or allow anyone else to write in a book I own, the note taking issue is not a concern for me. I’m old enough to remember when my teachers would have severely disciplined me for writing in a book, and my parents would have made me work long enough to understand how much the book cost.

    However, can we think a little about the advantages of electronic searches? No matter how good an index is, it will have omissions and it may have errors. The reality is that I doubt very much that printed books will survive much longer at anything other than the upper end market, and I’m not sure that’s as much of a problem considering the huge advantages.

  5. Cris Dickason said,

    May 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Friends, I think it’s too late. The handwriting is not on the wall, but the glyph is surely on the e-screen. I’m not applauding this, but am reluctantly expecting, slowly preparing for it.

    This phenomenon parallels my professional world – Healthcare information technology. Despite the push of the fancy medical associations and the federal government, many doctors and most of our population are not really ready for electronic medical records, with a necessary component that you, the patient are also responsible for your health record. While many of us book-buying customers are not desirous of going fully digital, we may not have the financial clout, nor the mind-share with the publishers, to stem the incoming tide.

    I agree with Lane that reference books, and that would include commentaries, need to exist as hard-covered, sewn-binding, acid-free paper products. But the economies of scale are dauntingly against us. I also agree with Lane that it can be cumbersome to do many “typical” forms of reading/studying, close and careful annotated reading of texts, if the text is digital.

    In my work as a programmer/analyst, I’ve grown to rely on dual monitors, if not multiple machines to get some kinds of work done. And crafting large programs, and maintaining/fixing other people’s code is much like exegetical work. You can’t patch what you don’t first understand. I would be pretty self-conscious about expecting to use a big dual-monitor rig for reading/studying theology & exegesis. I’m uncomfortable with the high dollar over-head of high-tech. Not to mention, there’s a high-overhead in ecological impact to all these digital devices. I see “christendom” reinforcing the digital have/have-not divide that our culture is pushing.

    Additional signs of the digital times: The only wide-spread brick & mortar book retailer, Barnes & Noble, is heavily invested in their Nook reader [ a case of trying to have their cake & eat it, they are surely shooting themselves in the hard-copy foot ].

    Apple is pushing to make inroads into the text-book market via iPAD and iBooks. If that attempt repeats the Apple desk-top publishing revolution, then self-publishing educators could give the text book publishers a rude awakening.


  6. May 8, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Cris, you and I have likely similar backgrounds the last major IT project I worked on was a diagnostic database for echocardiographic data.

    I believe we would all be surprised at the total lack of quality of many hardback books today. Most are not printed on acid free paper, nor are they printed with alkaline pigments and the machine binding used frequently lacks the strength for repeated usage. Many libraries today have their own binding facilities or farm out to a common one as the standard commercial prints just can’t bear with repeated use.

    Anyone in an field requiring long term academic texts [sadly CS does not fall into this category… it has only been a few years but my Win NT 3.51 hard cover developer manuals are worth more as kindling and boat anchors than for any academic use] have always had to pay more for higher quality prints or have to have items re-printed. Unfortunately, the gap in price is going to increase as paper based print runs decrease. We need to be certain that we maintain the right to maintain a back up copy of our texts though, as publishers are trying to make such endevours illegal. They claim there is no need for a backup because of ‘the cloud’ or their own backup, but can I pass on my Nook to my grand children and expect it to work? When I die, how does someone come in and take apart my library or digital works and disseminate it to other pastors, theologians and students? The answer is they cannot. Further, if I decide to switch from vendor XYZ to vendor ABC or RST’s device am I assured that it will be able to access my account with vendor XYZ? Not currently.

    I won’t even get into the publisher’s argument that an ebook can only be read 26 times or such silliness before it needs repurchasing [there are plenty of librarians who can go on for hours on that topic.]

  7. May 8, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    I suspect, if you have ever “had” to repurchase a program due to outdated hardware or a crash etc., that ebook libraries will be subject to the same kinds of disasters; maybe someone will come up with an insurance policy for elibraries or some safety feature? In any event, as to quality, I lament as well. There’s a place for ebooks and POD materials, but if I have anything to say about it, Naphtali Press will stay the course with hardbacks that are sewn bound, acid free, nice binds, etc.

  8. Cris Dickason said,

    May 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    R.K. you raise some good points that the market has not addressed to well. The ability to disseminate and/or maintain a library over long-term is certainly a worrisome issue. I guess there’s some job security for the folks that will be coding format conversions.

    It doesn’t bode well for the long-term collective memory of humanity.

    Mr Coldwell: Hip, Hip, Huzzah for Naphtali Press. Funny you should mention insurance – I just noticed a commercial on TV for insurance/instant replacement for you smartphone, because it holds so much of your life. ONly $7.95/month!


  9. Diana said,

    May 9, 2012 at 1:56 am

    Sadly, every time I read a kindle ebook it is garbled. Even if it is a paid for version and not free, I still find sections that a paragraph is all mixed up or missing words or even missing a whole section. If a book is important to me I’d rather buy a used on on amazon or buy it new. I’d only use the ebook for fluff or extra stuff. But there is nothing like a real book IMO. No radiation coming out of it (lol), no looking like I’m shut off to the world on an electronic device when near the family, no strange cramping in my hands from the strange hold of a device…just the nice feel of paper and something I an pass down that might even be able to be retrieved from the garbage can…unlike a ‘file’ that one day wont even work. Plus it appears to me that when you buy a kindle book you dont really ‘own’ it . You are just reborrowing it over and over after you pay the fee. As far as I know, you cant even have the file offline if you get a new device (have to have the internet to retrieve it.. no saving it onto your own card or manipulating the file etc). No writing a nice note to someone to give as a gift.

    There are some good used for ebooks but I doubt that real books will ever actually go out of existence.

  10. paigebritton said,

    May 9, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Fascinating related book is The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts (Faber & Faber, 1994 but prescient!). Subtitle is “The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age.”

  11. Dave Moser said,

    May 9, 2012 at 8:56 am

    “Kindle vs physical” is a false dichotomy. There are significantly more capable digital solutions than the Kindle. I buy every book I can in the Logos format b/c it allows me much more latitude on marking it up with notes (unlimited space vs limited margins), highlighting (tons of different highlighters vs the single highlighter in my hand), etc. Not to mention search functionality, having multiple books open at once, linking between resources and a whole host of additional benefits.

  12. John said,

    May 9, 2012 at 9:07 am

    IMHO, the solution is Logos Bible Software. Notes are a breeze and don’t take up any space in the margins, rather they are saved behind the text. All you see is a little yellow square indicating you made a note. Underlining/highlighting is very customizable, and you’ll never need to buy a highlighter again! Most importantly, all your works are searchable, so you’ll use them more than you would use hard copies because every time you do a search it looks through all your commentaries. So inevitably you’ll sometimes use them when you weren’t even planning to. Significant $$ investment though.

  13. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 9, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Diana: Plus it appears to me that when you buy a kindle book you dont really ‘own’ it . You are just reborrowing it over and over after you pay the fee.

    This is an important point for textbooks. I often get the most value out of my class texts when I read them for the second or third time, long after the class is done.

    My e-texts, however, come with an expiration date of 12 mo. or so, and then *poof*, into the ether they disappear.

    It’s a great business model, but a not-so-great learning model.

  14. Matthew Smith said,

    May 9, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Sounds like you need an iPad and the Kindle app for theology books. Underlining and note taking is easier than with a pencil (especially with the new iPad, where you can use voice dictation). My basic $79 Kindle is great for novels, etc, but any book where I’d like to take notes is read on my iPad.

  15. Mark Kim said,

    May 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Nothing beats a nicely bound and packaged book. It will be dark times if they decide to electronicize or cheaply bind all theological works.

  16. JaiGieEse said,

    May 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Many, if not all of the problems you are experiencing w/the Kindle, re: note-taking, garbling, etc. can easily be solved. Buy an iPad. No expiration dates, etc. You download the book in epub format and it is yours. Maintain regular back-ups and no file is ever lost.

  17. May 9, 2012 at 11:50 am

    […] Green Baggins. Aaargh! Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  18. May 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    When it comes to e-books and theology works, logos bible study software is making that transition work well. The note-taking and highlighting features works well on both the pc and iPad versions, less clunky then kindle.

  19. jedpaschall said,

    May 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    A lot of this simply has to do with business modelling, and theological presses can probably do better in this area to begin with. As a reader of theological books, I would certainly be in favor of the major theological publishing houses to outsource the printing of their books to quality houses such as Cambridge or Oxford. For reference material, there is most certainly a market of readers who don’t mind ponying up for a book they plan on having for the rest of their lives – and it saves us from having to get oft read books rebound. My cloth bound and stitched copy of Brown, Driver, & Briggs is over 15 years old, and it is in excellent shape – in fact I may not live through WW3 if it ever comes, but my BDB (and other Oxford prints) probably will, barring a fire burning my bookshelves down.

  20. May 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Logos, IMNSHO, is exactly how it should not be done. DRM laden ‘books’ including many things long out of copyright, expensive bundles and generally poor support added to single vendor lock-in is a debacle waiting to happen. Not that I have a strong opinion mind you.

    I would rather [and do] buy from P&R or Naphtali any day.

    Before anyone says I just need to try a new version, I have used every version of Logos since 2.1.

  21. Reed Here said,

    May 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Recently being blessed with an iPad, I’ve checked out Logos as well. Frankly, it feels like a trap. I have too many old programs no longer supported whose material I’ve just had to replace. Logos is too proprietary, plain and simple.

  22. May 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    […] A Disturbing Trend in Publishing « Green Baggins […]

  23. May 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Yes, for any serious student of the Bible and theology [or any subject of worth], the liberty to underline, make notes, and keep a list of notes and referenced pages in the back of the book, are great advantages. I would never consider ebooks for such.
    But it certainly is a woeful experience to try and market hard copy these days.

  24. Van Loomis said,

    May 10, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Not to mention the absolutely horrible job that the Kindle does with footnotes! So frustrating. I gave up long ago trying to read substantive volumes on my Kindle. Now, I just keep some fluffy, free fiction it or light-reading non-fiction. The substantial stuff lines my real (not virtual) bookshelves.

  25. Brandon said,

    May 11, 2012 at 4:03 am

    This is a timely post. Another classic has been relegated to paperback by its publisher: The Battles/McNeill edition of Calvin’s Institutes.

  26. May 12, 2012 at 8:06 am

    […] A Disturbing Trend in Publishing. […]

  27. Cris Dickason said,

    May 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Brandon – #25

    Are you sure? These 2 sites, the publisher (Westminster/John Knox division of Presbyterian Publishing) and the WTS bookstore list PB and Hardcover editions. Interestingly both sites show that the paperback is the same price as the hardcover!

    While on the subject of the McNeill-Battles version of Institutes, It is also available (at same price) as a 2-file PDF, distributed on CD-Rom. My Calvin Nerdness is shown that I sprang for the CD-Rom edition. I was surprised it turned out to be PDF. But, it is a fully searchable text, and easily copied to a hard drive or an iPad or an iPhone.

    I am blessed to have occasional surplus income, and I worked the Borders system with a 40% coupon before the went under. (Wonder why they went under?)

  28. May 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Woe Cris, you paid the same price for a digital version as a dead tree? I would never do that, but publishers must love you.

  29. Brandon said,

    May 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Chris
    @ #27

    You may be right that some sources still have the hardcover set in stock. I’m going off the fact that if you look it up on Amazon the hardcover isn’t available brand new. Also please see point 3 at the following: http://blogs.christianbook.com/blogs/academic/2012/01/27/friday-update-01272012/

  30. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Dr. Albert Mohler’s long-form interview podcast “Thinking in Public” for April 2nd was “The Fate of the Book in the Digital Age: A Conversation with Robert Darnton.” Darnton is the head librarian at Harvard University. This is a fascinating conversation, and encouraging for those of us who love a “real” book (a codex). Darnton clearly embraces new technology while seeking to preservce the legacy of the printed book.

    I’m sure Darnton is a hard man to impress. I loved it when he said that he’d like to see Dr. Mohler’s library! (For example, Dr. Mohler owns three complete print edition of Encyclopida Britannica.)


  31. May 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Frank, most of us have never touched a codex. A codex is a hand stitched, non-machine printed volume and so effectively ended production around Gutenberg’s time.

  32. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I’m fully aware of the historical use of the term “codex.”

    There’s also a broader use of the word, to describe the modern printed book as we know it. Dr. Mohler regularly uses the term this way.

    From the Wikipedia entry for “codex”:

    “A codex (Latin caudex for ‘trunk of a tree’ or block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings (sheets of paper or vellum in multiples of two which are folded and stitched through) typically bound together and given a cover. . . . Although technically any modern paperback is a codex, the term is now reserved for manuscript (hand-written) books which were produced from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages.”

    The more broad connotation of “codex” is perfectly legitimate. It’s used this way to bind together (pun intended) the non-printed manuscripts with the printed book into a single category. That’s especially appropriate when we want to contrast the bound book, whether printed or not, with a book in electronic format.

  33. May 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    No Frank, technically virtually no modern paperback is a codex. They are all machine printed and are are glued instead of bound. Also wikipedia is a source for what is verifiable, not what is factual or true.

  34. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Write Dr. Mohler and correct him as well. He is always willing to learn from a superior mind.

    From another source: “Although codex can be used to refer to any book, It is typically only used today to refer to ancient, handwritten books.”

  35. May 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Pv 9:8 Frank?

  36. May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Darnton, who probably has handled the real thing, introduced the term in a broader sense, and Mohler simply followed on that usage.

  37. Cris Dickason said,

    May 14, 2012 at 6:15 am

    R.K @ 28 – I might have been a little unclear, WJK offers Calvin on CD-Rom at same LIST price as the Hard (and/or paper) bound edition. I picked up the CD-Rom at 40% discount. I was curious as to how it was digitized. While sort of disappointed that it was “only” a PDF, I’ve made good use of that format and it is a format that crossed multiple device boundaries.

    So, no, I didn’t pay the “dead tree” price for the digital version. However, that is precisely the Zondervan/Logos pricing scheme. The digital version of any titles I’ve been interested in have the same price from Logos as generally available at WTS for example. I can understand that to some degree since there is “editiorial” or textual work involved in putting a text into the Logos format (to index/hyper-link Scripture references, etc.). But because of that I think Logos is a system that requires a leap of “all in” commitment.

    Stayed tuned for more on Logos…

  38. Cris Dickason said,

    May 14, 2012 at 6:21 am

    5 Reasons You Need a DMin from Knox and Logos

    Get the DMin that gives your ministry momentum.

    The Knox Doctor of Ministry in Preaching and Teaching equips you with the finest biblical scholarship and the best Bible software.

    Today’s ministry leaders need biblical answers—now.

    You need to dig into the Scriptures, research current issues, and disciple people in God’s truth.

    You need a foundation of sound theology and immediate access to Christian information.

    So we made a DMin that uses Logos!

    Knox Theological Seminary and Logos Bible Software have crafted a DMin in Preaching and Teaching that prepares you for today’s fast-paced, high-tech ministry environment. It’ll enrich and deepen your preaching and teaching with theological training from some of the world’s foremost Bible scholars…

    + + +

    Friends this was in my inbox this morning… I did not make this up, as I wouldn’t name a real institution in a prank notice.

    While you do need to attend in-person 4 on-site classes per year, I would tend to label this a “digital D.Min.”

    So disturbing publishing leads to . . . disturbing educational practices?

  39. May 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I feel strongly both ways. I have used every Logos version since 2.0, and highly value the resource. I can do in seconds or minutes what would take hours or days in hard copy research. One great value of electrons centers on the ability to search a volume or an entire library in seconds in any language. Having worked with computers since I was 14 (a VERY long time ago) and logged into mainframes using teletypes, this comes pretty naturally to me. Time marches on and in this case brings great progress, enhancing our capabilities.

    One down side is indeed the proprietary nature of software like Logos, and the obsolescence of the proprietary operating systems on which they run. I haven’t used Windows in many years, but continue to run Logos in a Windows virtual machine under Linux. I’m not sure how long that will be sustainable. I will probably rent my robes, put on sackcloth, and sit in ashes if I ever must surrender my several thousand dollars of electronic references accumulated over several decades in Logos. Given the beauty and power of virtual machines, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    I still enjoy hard copies of worthwhile works and have an entire home office full of them and then some. All my bookshelves are double-deep and more with books. I have no more room for additional bookshelves. I still occasionally buy quality works, but more selectively. Chris Coldwell’s [i]The Confessional Presbyterian[/i] sit at the top of that list. I NEVER write in books, so that’s not an advantage or disadvantage for hard copy.

    Electronic works and the Internet have brought the democratization of knowledge, whether for better or worse. Britannica Encyclopaedia held every bit as much bias as Wikipedia. Unfortunately, many people weren’t educated enough to realize it. We must carefully consider the truth claims from all sources regardless of format. I find that *how* we record knowledge and opinion less important than *what* we record. Every platform has its strengths and limitations. None except Apple iStuff are inherently bad or evil, just different.

  40. May 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I am not even to comment on the bulk of what you said Bob, but if you honestly feel that “Britannica Encyclopaedia held every bit as much bias as Wikipedia.” then I encourage you to actually look at wikipedia again. While Britanica has biases, at least its articles were written by SME’s.

    A quote from wikipedia’s article on reliability: In 2007, Michael Gorman, former president of the American Library Association (ALA) stated in an Encyclopædia Britannica blog that “A professor who encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equivalent of a dietician who recommends a steady diet of Big Macs with everything.”[44]

    Wikipedia is dynamic and crowd-sourced:Verifiability, and not truth, is one of the fundamental requirements for inclusion in Wikipedia;

    -typed on an actual Unix system AKA MacOS X 10.7.4

  41. May 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm


    I had my leather-bound Britannicas since 1980 and used them quite a bit. I have more than enough technical background to evaluate and identify sometimes subtle biases in the articles. I finally ended up selling the whole set at a yard sale a few years ago. I prefer actual source material to other’s opinions passed off as truth. If I want to know about Relativity, for instance, I read Einstein rather than someone’s interpretation of Relativity who may or may not get it right. For QED, I go directly to Feymann rather than someone in an encyclopaedia who may or may not understand the subtleties of the theory.

    I’m not extolling the virtues of Wikipedia or anything else. I’m just not worshipping at the alter of Britannica. I don’t really care what Gorman or anyone else in the ALA thinks. Who appointed them the official arbiters of truth and wisdom? If they can’t find the biases in Britannica or any other reference, then they should fold up their tents and go home. What I see in Gorman’s comment is snobbery rather than reason. Of course he doesn’t like Wikipedia or probably any other online reference – it competes with his livelihood.

    Try this exercise. Go to the Wikipedia article on evolution, then click on the Talk tab. There you will find an interesting set of Q&As which in this case includes a very one-sided point of view. It makes the article’s point of view/bias pretty clear, causing the skeptical reader to move on. Britannica presents only one point of view with no place in situ to find out what those biases might be. Britannica in this case presents evolution as an established fact with a bunch of lettered individuals signed on. Looks pretty authoritative, eh? Not for me.

    I take Ben Franklin’s advice to believe nothing that I hear and only half of what I see. Caveat emptor.

  42. May 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Bob, I am an editor for Wikipedia. You see what you want, but even wikipedia does not see itself in the light you see it in. Try your hand, work on some projects, you will soon see the difference.

  43. May 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    R.K., Been there, done that. I will say it again – I am not worshipping at the alter of Wikipedia any more than Britannica or Americana or Columbia or pick any encyclopaedia. I only worship at the alter of our Triune Creator God. In God we trust, all others pay cash.

    I see what I want, really? Wow. Thanks for the professional diagnosis. And thanks for all the fish.

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