Thrilla in Greenvilla, Round 3

I challenged my good friend Brian Collins to a public discussion: electronic books vs. paper books. I started off by listing all the stuff I’d bought from Logos and other electronic sources. (I got one moderately nasty comment that I did not post, someone marveling at how much I’d spent. Remember that 1) I was single during most of those purchases, 2) I was in the foundational stages of building my ministerial library, and 3) a third of the money I spent came from one gift at the end of my M.A.)

Brian Collins responded to my first post by listing (from Zotero, I imagine) all the books and articles he’s gotten for free.

Of course, I could do the same. I have countless electronic articles that I’ve saved in topic folders and about 150 electronic books (see images below) that I’ve gotten for free online, too. And they’re not all public domain. Some are quite valuable. Piper, for example, makes most of his works available for free online (don’t miss this little helpful book).

Screen shot 2009-09-23 at 10.08.50 AM.png Screen shot 2009-09-23 at 10.09.01 AM.png Screen shot 2009-09-23 at 10.09.07 AM.png

Brian’s point is well made, and I agree with it completely: a not-insignificant amount of books you could buy on Logos are available for free from Google Books—so do some research and thinking before you plunk down the cash.

The value of Logos over Google Books is having completely clean, copyable, and searchable tagged texts. Bible references and even topics are coded into those tags, and it’s nice to have all your best resources in one place. But how much is that worth to you for public domain books?

And that brings us to the real issue, books that aren’t public domain and that will cost you real money whether you buy them from Logos or Amazon.

I’ll list the pros for electronic books. I’m aware of the cons, and I’m eager for both of you readers to be aware of them, too, but I’ll let Brian tackle those.

Pros for Electronic Books

  1. Cost: buying commentaries and reference works in sets can be a lot more cost-effective than buying them in print. Case in point: the IVP Essential Reference Collection. I got it for $80. That would buy me about three of the nicer books in the collection.
  2. Convenience: I bought the paper version of BDAG at my Greek teacher’s recommendation, but I found I never pulled the thing down to look up words. BibleWorks’ auto-info window was just too tempting, so I sold the book and bought the electronic version. I now use BDAG much more frequently. Same goes for just about any reference work in my library.
  3. Portability: For missionaries, which Brian is likely to be, it’s a no-brainer. Evangelists who read books (like Keven Brownfield, who told me ten years ago that he adores Logos)—same thing.
  4. Searchability: I don’t remember where to find things anymore (of course, you could also call that a con). I just remember wording, and I can search for it.
  5. Quality: The big Logos packages contain some fluff—and even some liberal claptrap. But overall, students who buy the Gold package, for example, are guaranteed some excellent commentaries, theologies, and reference works. If undergraduate ministerial students are left to their own devices buying analog books, they won’t choose as wisely as Logos has already done for them.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

1 Comment

  1. Duncan on September 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    I’ve watched this debate with mild interest, mostly because I’ve never thought it worth arguing (much) about. If I had to identify with one side, I would probably side with print, but my loyalties are pragmatic and light.

    That said, here are some interesting thoughts from a completely different angle on the topic:

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