Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs and the future of books

The passing of Steve Jobs is a time of inevitable reflection. Someone who has got under the skin of so many is sadly missed. And that is one aspect that I reflect on.
He was an inspirational character. Some men get excited about sport - I mean, seriously excited. Others (generally others) get excited about technology. And Steve Jobs created iconic items that men have got excited about over the past 25 years. I highlight men particularly because of the sense in the church that it is men who are largely untouched by it and the claims of the Christian gospel. Is there something here that is relevant to Christian evangelism?
Steve Jobs's wisdom about the brevity of life and the meaning of death has been widely quoted. It was not his primary role to be that sort of sage, but we listen to the man whose presence we miss. There is a carry over from the lives of the famous in one field to their testimony about something entirely other. It does not mean that their views are valid, but the famous will be listened to, whatever it is they have to say.
Thirdly, his professional career saw a technological revolution (come on, let's trot out the clich├ęs) that accelerated and today shows no sign of slowing down. We have moved so far from the original Apple Mac to the iPhone and the iPad that we can scarcely remember what those earlier days were like. And that has serious implications for us in the world of books. Books? What are they? Seriously, are we talking about books printed on paper, or e-books, or some new hybrid that will include video clips, interactive material, and an unprecedented opportunity to interact with the author?
There is serious turmoil in the realm of Christian publishing and bookselling. Many bookshops have closed. E-readers are becoming more popular. Amazon has made a bid to take over the world of books, and is now the default place that most people will look for a book, and it is also fiercely promoting its Kindle e-reader and e-books. In the USA Amazon is selling more e-books than hardbacks (I am not sure about paperbacks), and the trend is sure to cross the Atlantic just a little way behind.
Will print books share the fate of the typewriter? I think the print book has some advantages that the typewriter never had. The book is both content and product. A book can be a thing of beauty as a product, just as Apple's products have not just worked well (so they tell me) but also been desirable items of design. But I wonder if only dinosaurs like me will continue to consult an atlas when online maps are so much more easily searchable. I still occasionally use my grandfather's concordance, but an online Bible or Bible Gateway are so easy to use and free. How soon before the e-reader is more common in the home than a PC, and we clear the space we have used for books to give ourselves more space, because all we need to read and refer to is on our e-reader? (I know one home which is smaller than the family used to enjoy, and so the books have been replaced by a Kindle.)
This month sees the publication in the USA of The Future of the Global Church by Patrick Johnstone (available in the UK in November). It is a full colour hardback book, but there will be non-print resources associated with it. It will be available from worldmissionbooks.com.
The Briefings series by Glenn Myers is still available. Each booklet is now £2.00, and the set of 11 is £17.50. Glenn has condensed much of the material into a new e-book, The Church in the Muslim World. That will soon be available from worldmissionbooks.com at £3.00, but will be available free until the end of November.

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