Bible Study Software: Where Do We Go From Here?

John Fidel

November 11, 2005

An article written by John Fidel, CPA. Copyright � 2005-2011 by the author. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce any part of this document without obtaining permission from the author.

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Introduction

The purpose of this article is to discuss the business and marketing side of Bible Study Software. I have been using and reviewing Bible Software for many years. It has been interesting to see program features and content develop from an electronic concordance to a true digital library. While there are many articles dealing with the specifics of each of the available Bible programs and available content, this article deals with what I see as four distinct business plans or visions. Lastly, this article is limited to windows based products. I do not own a Mac, and as such am not in a position to comment on those software companies at this time, but may do so in the future as more companies enter that market.

Being a Certified Public Accountant by occupation, I find the business and marketing side of any industry interesting. I have watched with interest the significant changes that have been happening in the Bible Software industry in the last few years. What I see now is probably the most diverse perception of the market and the future of Bible software since its inception. Several of the software companies are staking their future on visions and business plans that are contrary to each other. This often indicates a situation where industries go through significant changes.

What follows is a summary of the diverse visions followed by quotes taken directly from interviews with individual representing these companies as posted on the Bible Software Review Website. While this does not provide me with an in-depth amount of information, I think you will find it does provide definite ideas as to where each of these individuals feels this industry is going.

While this article may imply that in my opinion some business plans U-Boat Replica Watches are not as viable as than others, it is not intend to reflect on the quality of these products. I have used each of the products discussed, and while I have those that meet my personal needs better than others, this is not intended to be a review or commentary on the products or support provided by these companies.

The visions for the future are based upon the following ideas:
1. Customers make purchasing decisions that are primarily resource-based. They want or at least are willing to have several different Bible study programs to access those resources. In addition, the market, authors and users will benefit from this plan.
2. Customers want to be able to use software primarily for Bible textual analysis and translation. They do not feel comfortable investing in an extensive library because there is not a standard publishing format.
3. Customers want most of their resources available in one program. They are also interested in how these resources can be integrated together to assist them in their studies. They will purchase the program that offers them the most resources and integration.
4. Customers really want one program that is easy to use with a good set of resources available. If the program is too complex, customers will not like it. The key factor in their purchasing decision is ease of use.
 
The market segments for Bible Study Software are as follows, and they are not mutually exclusive:
 
1. Scholars, seminary students and teachers in an academic environment, primarily interested in Bible study software for the study and translation of the Bible from the original languages.
2. Pastors and teachers using Bible study software for sermon and lesson preparation. These persons have an interest and possibly an expertise in the original languages, but also want to be able to access other resources for illustrations and clarification of the text.
3. Lay persons interested in in-depth Bible study. This market may desire the same tools as the above markets, but is probably not as interested in reading and translating the Bible from the original languages.
 
While the general markets are outlined above, a recent survey indicates that the Windows-based market of commercial bible software users can be summarized as follows:
 
     � In Academics 37%
     � Pastors 30%
     � Others 33%
 
87% of users are men; 80% are over 35 years old; 52% have attended some level of Seminary or Bible College; 42% have some formal training in the original languages; 53% use bible software at least 5 days a week for their studies and use electronic tools for 76% of the time as opposed to hard copy books; and about 55% expect to spend more than $100 on Bible Software tools in the next year.
 
There may be a larger market for digital libraries that are not Biblically oriented, but that is outside the scope of this article.
 
Here is how the various companies line up with the above four ideas:
 
1. Britt Dennison of Zondervan in his interview with BSR: "As a publisher we have no plans to do Zondervan material or Zondervan author's works to be published in any other software (okay there are currently a couple of exceptions but few), it simply does not serve our authors or their hard work. Other publisher's will soon see that giving the control of how the content is used to a software company (over which they have no control), is not in their author's best interest. So if anything happens, I think more publishers will begin to publish in their own electronic form. The user wins. The more formats there are, the more innovation and growth in the medium. If there is only one format and the vendor controls the format, growth stagnates."
 
Target Markets: 2 and 3 above having an interest in the NIV and related resources.
 
Key to Success: The resources have to be very desirable and unavailable anywhere else.
 
Weakness: Limited to one publisher that also has the cost of developing and maintaining cutting edge software. This plan would be similar to having consumers purchase different DVD players because a company like Disney created a format that only works on their own players. The movies and player better be good.
 
Strength: The NIV is a popular Bible translation.
 
2. Michael Bushell of BibleWorks in his BSR interview: "There are at present no industry publishing standards for electronic media. There are many wannabe standards, but users still routinely buy multiple copies of the same texts to use with different programs, not to mention print copies. This is grossly unfair to the consumer. Electronic publishing will never be a viable industry, one in which users can invest money with confidence, until there are standards. No one wants to buy a library of books that will be unreadable in 10 years. At the very least, prices should reflect the fact that, compared to print media, electronic modules may have a limited useful lifetime."
 
Target Markets: 1 and 2 above having an interest in the original languages.
 
Key to Success: Having the most up-to-date resources and texts along with the most advanced tools for analysis, research and translation.
 
Weakness: BW does publish some resources that are not Biblical texts, but do so in format of a help file. Also, the idea that digital publishing is not viable appears to be in conflict with the success of Logos Bible Software signing on many different print publishers. Lastly, those companies providing a digital library are also providing very good integration with the Bible texts. If a digital publisher can offer comparable resources and analysis tools, BW may lose market to customers that also want commentaries, dictionaries etc. in one software package.
 
Strength: A specialized product will almost always out perform a multi-use product because it can tailor the features to their user base. They have an excellent product that specifically meets the needs of their market. In addition, they have great customer support and a loyal customer base.
 
3. Bob Pritchett of Logos Bible Software in his BSR interview: "Our technology has been used by 54 different publishers to deliver their own reference products, making the Libronix format a de facto standard. With 75 employees and more than 115 publisher partners you can expect that we'll be here to support you ― and your investment in a digital Bible reference library ― long into the future." And "The next step is helping users go deeper when they don't know what to look for. Logos is working on ways to do this not just for the beginning student ("How do I study the Bible?") but for the scholar as well ("What journal articles / books / databases are relevant to my research?")."
 
Target Markets: 1, 2 and 3
 
Key to Success: Balancing the market perception that one product can be the best for scholars, teachers, pastors and laypersons. Providing the features for complex analysis tools that continue to integrate with the entire library. Balancing ease of use and high-end customization. Continue to expand publisher base and providing the highest quality resources.
 
Weakness: Competing with companies that can tailor their product more specifically to either ease of use or advanced original language studies. The program may be perceived or in fact be less desirable than comparative products at either end of the market.
 
Strength: They currently have significant support of publishing partners, which provides incredible momentum in becoming the standard for digital publishing of Biblical related text. They continue the development of tools that integrate these resources in a meaningful way along with the development of products that expand their market for scholarly and academic use.
 
4. The final group consists of companies that focus on ease of use with, a good selection of resources, which would include WORDsearch and PC Study Bible. There are not available interviews with these companies, but if you check out the programs and the websites, you will find that they focus on ease of use.
 
Target Markets: 2 and 3
 
Key to Success: Having enough resources to compete and tailoring those resources closely to their markets. Maintaining customer confidence that their proprietary format will carry them into the future along with great customer and technical support. Staying ahead of the free and online programs available that offer much of the same public domain content.
 
Weakness: These companies have to compete more directly with free and online programs. They need to continue providing resources and integration to compete with programs that currently offer more resources. In short, they need to compete on a price and content.

Strength: An easy to use program is often the one that gets used and recommended.

Conclusion:

There are some incredible individuals developing these products for our use and it is my sincere hope that they would all find their markets for success. I offer this analysis for two reasons: It is interesting to see how this industry and it's future is developing; and as consumers when we purchase any Bible software we are investing in the hope that the company will succeed so we can use the software for many years to come. Hopefully this brief look at some at how some of these companies see the future of Bible software will assist you the consumer and perhaps even those whose visions are mentioned in this article.


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