Mark has continued our dialogue about electronic resources over on his blog, making this round 4 in his scheme of posting.
Response to Mark’s Pros
The IVP Essential Reference Collection at $80 is a good deal. In fact, it’s a better deal than is currently available. But, the IVP Essential Reference Collection is also a stronger set than many offered; I’m not sure this is representative.
In my personal experience, I’ve never found an electronic set that comes ahead of what I’ve been able to get in print through used booksellers. Here’s how I compare prices. (1) I remove the books from the set that I’m not interested in. (2) I remove the books from that set that I already own. (3) I’d see what the used prices are for the remaining books. I then compare what I’d need to spend to get the books I want in hardback with the electronic pricing. After doing this, I typically find it cheaper to get physical copies of the books.
Part of the cost problem is that electronic books are almost always bought new. There are discounts available, but I typically find buying books used cheaper than buying electronic books new.
Another advantage to buying hard copies is the ability to piece together sets over time. This means that someone with a small book budget can slowly build a quality library.
This is often a benefit. Yet there are also some convenience trade-offs. It’s far easier to browse a physical book. If I want to get an overview of a chapter before reading it, I find it easier to flip through a paper book than through an electronic book. I also find it easier to keep a physical book with me for spontaneous reading opportunities. I’m less likely to pull out my tablet for such things (though more likely than when I had a laptop). Of course, a Kindle would be as handy as a physical book for such opportunities.
This is certainly a benefit to electronic books. But it doesn’t make buying electronic books a no brainer. The pro of portability needs to be weighed against the cons. For a traveling evangelist the benefit of portability will probably outweigh the cons. For those not continually on the move, the cons are still significant.
I typically do remember where to find things in what I read (an advantage of print media), but I’m not without the benefits of searchability. If I need to search a book I own, I can typically do so via Google Books.
I would dispute this point more strenuously than the others. I’m not convinced that buying the Gold package from Logos is the best way for a student to develop his library.
The Logos package is a huge mixed bag. Do I really want Weirsbe’s “Be Series"? No. Do I want the NAC and NIGTC sets? Some of the volumes from each. I’d advice younger ministerial students to start talking with grad students about what books to buy.
A student who carefully puts together a print library with the advice of professors and more advanced students is likely to have a library of more consistently quality than a student who relies on buying various software packages (though a student who wished to go electronic could also have a consistently good library by being selective on what he installs from each package).
Pros for Print Books / Cons for Electronic Books
I know Mark listed this as a benefit of electronic books, but in my experience, I’ve been able to procure print books at better prices than their electronic counterparts.
The technology of the codex is quite remarkable.
The data held within a codex is easily accessible. Unlike the scroll that preceded it, the codex is easily scanned, and the reader can move easily from one part of the codex to another. It’s much more difficult to flip though the pages in a Kindle. Even in Logos, unless one is using a large screen, it is difficult to do an initial scan of a chapter.
The codex form factor is optimally designed for reading. The form factor of a laptop (let alone a desktop) isn’t optimal for long reading. The form factor of a tablet is better, though tablets are still a good deal heavier than most codices. Many people have found it far easier to read from the printed page rather than from a typical monitor.
The codex is portable. True, a library of codices are not portable. But a codex (presuming it’s not a large reference work) can be carried almost anywhere. A laptop or tablet isn’t as portable. They’re typically bulkier and heavier. I do acknowledge, however, that a Kindle does maintain the same portability as a codex (and more, since multiple books can be carried on a Kindle).
The codex works well with at least some people’s methods of personal data retrieval. Often I can scan over the books on my bookshelves, recall which book has the information I need, and find that information based on the place in the book (something to do with the thickness of pages on each side of the spread) and the location on the page.
I much prefer this method of data recovery, which involves actually reading and remembering to the acquiring to what may amount mining an electronic database that is rarely actually read. If electronic books are often searched but rarely actually read in their entirety, then the shift from print to electronic media will be pernicious. Some forms of electronic books would be more prone to this than others. For instance, the Kindle is designed for people to read rather than to mine books.
Electronic books have made some great advances, and the various electronic platforms each have various benefits over each other and over the printed book. Nonetheless, the codex is an amazing technological achievement that should not be underappreciated.
One of the primary reasons I haven’t invested in an electronic library is the lack of standards. A long time ago it looked as thought the STEP format which was interoperable between programs like WordSearch and QuickVerse would be a safe bet because a number of Bible programs were using the same format. Logos now dominates the market. But who will dominate the market in 50 years? In the broader electronic book market, is the Kindle going to dominate? Will that format remain proprietary to Amazon? Will Epub become the standard e-book format? Or will a something else become standard? What happens to books when the software or device used to read them ceases to be developed? Until the standards issue is sorted out, I’m not convinced that I ought to spend thousands of dollars for electronic books.