Not exactly a big surprise coming out of Zondervan today, as they have announced plans to drop their Pradis Bible Study software. Not a big loss to the industry either, I dare say, as Pradis was pretty narrowly focused on Zondervan resources (most of which were exclusively available in Pradis format), and always struck me as more geared toward promoting the interests of Zondervan than that of the Christian community. That’s OK – no law against that – but don’t look for any tears to be shed in this poor corner of the world. Frankly, Pradis wasn’t a very good program, either, though it did have its virtues.
Zondervan has some decent titles that might now be made available to people on different platforms, though it will be interesting to see whether they choose instead to market through another exclusive channel. Based on this press release, that company will apparently be Logos if they do indeed go that way – and a corresponding release from Logos makes clear that Zondervan will be the party pulling the strings in terms of packaging, pricing, etc.
Of more interest to me is some of the language used in the press release, and how it highlights some of the inherent problems in the eBook industry, and the Bible Study Software market in particular. Zondervan is clearly playing down the fact that its customers are losing the investment they’ve made in Pradis, and in the books they’ve purchased to use with the program.
In the title of the release, Zondervan says it is “Retiring Pradis Software Search Engine.” Search engine? This was a software platform, built around a proprietary book format, that certainly included a search engine as a core component, but can hardly be reduced to it.
The release goes on to say Zondervan is “moving away from the Pradis software it created and will license other search engines.” You could be excused for thinking they are going to let other companies write software that will work with their proprietary book format – potentially giving customers who have purchased licenses for those books a new and improved means to work with them – but it seems certain that what they are actually doing is obsoleting those licensed books, and working out a licensing deal with Logos (and perhaps others) to get them re-published in a new proprietary format.
The next paragraph really gets to the heart of the matter:
“We are going to make sure we, first and foremost, work with the many thousands of Pradis customers for a smooth transition to the new search engines,” said Zondervan’s Paul Engle, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Church, Academic and Reference Resources. ”Many of these people have been customers for a dozen years and we will make sure they are eligible for a discount to these new titles upon release.”
Of course, these are not “new titles” at all that we are primarily talking about (Zondervan will apparently be licensing some new titles to Logos, which clouds the issue). For the most part, these are titles that customers have paid for in good faith, and are now going to have to pay for again in order the use with the “new search engines.” Eligible for a discount, indeed! Especially since the Logos engine is free! Zondervan is apparently planning on re-selling (at a discount!) these books to customers who have already bought them, so that the customers can use them with a free reader!
Other than BibleWorks – who actually warn customers about this exact potentiality and discourage them from buying large electronic libraries, all the Bible Software publishers encourage customers to purchase large libraries of resources, claiming they are more cost-effective to buy that way. That’s a true claim – unless your Bible Software publisher goes out of business, and you’re stuck with an expensive library of books that are doomed to obsoletion as the overall computer industry marches forward in its incessant cycle of progress. When you buy a hardback book, you can put it on your shelf, and it can serve a couple generations, regardless of what happens to the publisher.
There are other benefits to buying works electronically – as I’ve attested to here on this site in the past – and I remain an advocate for Bible Study Software, but the industry needs a standard for book formatting that will allow customers to retain their investment in books as they move among software providers. A standard rich enough to provide publishers plenty of elbow room to differentiate their own eBook products from competitors publishing the same work is certainly possible, and there is more than ample space for software publishers to differentiate their offerings.
And perhaps even more important to the publishers than the legitimate rights of library investors to viable licenses is the 800 pound gorilla standing in the doorway. If this matter can’t be resolved satisfactorily between the Christian software industry and the intellectuals with a stake in the outcome, then it will be settled de facto between Google and Amazon, and the Bible Study Software industry will be worse off for that.