Gadget lovers have doubtless already heard that Amazon recently released Kindle, their new e-book technology. Reviews on their site (like reviews in general) tend to be somewhat skewed between those who love it and those who really don’t. I’m interested in a different question, though: what might Kindle mean for the future of digital Bible study?

In general, people tend to like:

  • convenience (you can download new books wirelessly, no cables, long battery life)
  • ease of use (good design, more readable than traditional monitors and PDAs)

Things they don’t like so much:

  • #1 seems to be the cost: $400 is pretty expensive if your main objective is to read best-sellers. Many of the enthusiastic reviews on Amazon’s site are from beta-testers who were given devices to try: even among those who loved it, however, it’s telling that some said they wouldn’t buy one once they had to return theirs, and cost was the main reason. On the other hand, the incremental cost for books ($10 for best sellers, less for others) doesn’t seem high to me compared to the paper versions. Some people find it galling to have to pay again for books they already own in print, though i don’t see any easy way across that particular digital divide (i still have lots of music that i love only on cassettes because i was too cheap to buy it again on CD).
  • Digital rights management: you’re really buying access to books. So you can’t copy them to other formats, or give them to anybody else.
  • It’s not a completely open platform: some fussing about is required for PDF and other file formats, apparently you have to pay to have content emailed to your Kindle.
  • The wireless coverage is still quite limited, which means the US heartland and other rural areas are mostly out of luck.

But what about Kindle as a Bible study device: would it work, and how might it compare to Logos Bible Software? These seem like the relevant features:

  • There’s no way to beat the convenience of having a library in your pocket (also one of the main selling points for Logos), even more so when you can bookmark pages, write notes on passages, etc.
  • Kindle provides word-based search of your whole Kindle library, another unbeatable feature of digital resources over print. I don’t have a Kindle to try out (but i’d be glad to review it, Amazon, hint hint): but what we’ve learned from a decade of web search is that word-based approaches only get you so far. I’d be interested to know what additional search capabilities it provides. For example, as your library grows, can you search only a subset? How flexible is the search syntax: wildcards? data-type specific searches?
  • Kindle currently provides hypertext links to other resources like a dictionary and Wikipedia. So it’s not hard to imagine providing links to other resources as well.
  • Will third-party vendors be able to provide books in Kindle’s format? In particular, will they be able to enrich them with their own hypertext markup? That’s where these digital formats really shine. As a personal user of Logos software, the ability to hover over a Scripture reference and get the text in a popup has become second nature: now i find myself putting my finger on footnotes and cross-references in print books, waiting for the popup (just kidding, but wouldn’t it be great?).
  • While there are quite a few books by well-known Christian authors (Max Lucado, Rick Warren, etc.), the collection of Bibles is quite small: KJV, NIV, TNIV. Likewise, there are relatively few Bible study resources. Maybe this will change over time, and it may say something about how little reading most Christians do.

Bottom line: i don’t see Kindle today as any kind of competitor for Bible study software, when so many more specialized resources are available. But it will be interesting to see if it succeeds, and to see how this market changes over time. Certainly the future of reading has to include e-books: while paper will never go away, the advantages of digital resources are simply overwhelming.