When Johannes Gutenberg invented a machine for using movable type to copy manuscripts, he also invented the publishing industry. His innovation changed the course of religious history as well, loosening the grip of the clergy on the Bible and making it possible, for the first time, for individuals to own and read Christianity’s sacred text themselves. Six hundred years after Gutenberg equipped publishers to print Bibles and other books in a format that people could carry in their pockets, a new publishing revolution enables readers to carry hundreds of books on a single lightweight electronic device.

Religious studies professors and students have long had access to the full texts of out-of-copyright books in a mammoth digital library named in honor of the publishing revolutionary, Project Gutenberg. While this open access collection proved a boon for researchers, it functioned more as a reference tool than as a nimble repository of newly published books in religious studies and theology. Even so, Project Gutenberg blazed a trail of demand for digital books that vendors such as Google, ebrary, NetLibrary, Project Muse, and others later followed. “Even though I do not use electronic books for research,” says Elon University professor of religion Jeffrey Pugh, “I do use digital reference tools such as ProQuest and Project Muse to retrieve articles from journals. However, I usually print them out to read rather than reading them on my iPad.”

The main customer of many of these vendors continues to be academic libraries, where individuals can discover new religious studies titles and read them onscreen, but might have limited ability to download the full texts to an electronic reading device like a Kindle, iPad, or Nook. Recognizing consumers’ cravings for digital editions of new books they can purchase for their own e-readers, religion publishers have moved swiftly, so that this season almost every new religious studies book is available in both print and e-book format. These publishers have forged agreements with Amazon, Google, Barnes & Noble, and Apple in addition to the library consortia with whom they work.

Paul Engle, senior v-p and publisher for church, academic, and reference resources at Zondervan, points out that “all of Zondervan’s academic titles, with minor exceptions, are available digitally through either e-book formats, software downloads, and/or mobile downloads. They are carried by Logos, Olive Tree, Accordance, WordSearch, and Laridian.” Jeremy Wells, digital manager at Baker Academic and Brazos Press, says their books are available for “Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, and other e-reading platforms, and Baker Academic and Brazos will have select academic titles available electronically for library platforms, textbook platforms, and Bible software users.”

All of the religion publishers PW spoke to now publish simultaneous print and digital editions of new books and have begun converting backlist to digital. Oxford University Press senior editor Theo Calderara says, “The days of publishing books only in print are over for us. Everything we publish is available digitally, usually in several formats: Kindle and Nook for individuals, Oxford Scholarship Online for institutions.” Fred Appel, Princeton University Press’s executive editor for religion and anthropology, says that Princeton produces two formats for its e-books, “a Web-ready PDF suitable for online access on library and reference database platforms and EPub for retail platforms.”

Multiple Options

So professors, students, and interested general readers can choose to read this fall’s important religious studies books on their device of choice, or curled up in a corner with a print book. David Dobson, executive director of publishing and editorial director at Westminster John Knox, says its big titles, Don’t Stop Believin’: Religion and Pop Culture from Ben-Hur to Zombies (Oct.), edited by Robert Johnston, Craig Detweiler, and Barry Taylor, as well as ethicist Glen Stassen’s A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age (Oct.), will be released in e-book form, available through multiple channels of sale from Amazon to Google, as well as in print. Georgetown’s two biggest books this fall are also available in both formats. Just out is Emily Gill’s In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage: Religious Freedom, Sexual Freedom, and Public Expression of Civil Equality (Aug.); moral theologian Cathleen Kaveny examines Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society (Oct.).

“Among the books we’re publishing in print and digital formats this fall,” says Oxford’s Calderara, “are an exciting new book by Tariq Ramadan on the Arab Spring, Islam and the Arab Awakening (Oct.), and The Bible and the Believer (Sept.), an interfaith study of the way that Catholics, Protestants, and Jews read the Bible, by Marc Brettler, Daniel Harrington, S.J., and Peter Enns.” This fall, the University of North Carolina Press releases in print and e-book format two books that focus on the tremendous diversity within American religious history: The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey and “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America by J. Spencer Fluhman.

To Enhance or Not?

While religion publishers strive to reach a large and diverse audience by providing their books in various formats and on various digital platforms, only a few currently publish enhanced e-books, though most academic religion publishers are considering it. Although Baylor has yet to publish any enhanced e-books, Newman wants to experiment with such formats in the future, especially for Baylor’s trade titles. “For example, many of our titles discuss contemporary film or music as a religious experience. It would be interesting to embed audio clips in an e-book version, perhaps with a narration by the author,” Newman says. Baker Academic has plans for an enhanced e-book version of the popular, graphics-rich Introduction to the New Testament, but no timetable yet.

Zondervan’s Engle says the house has made enhanced features available to professors for more than 25 of its primary textbooks on www.TExtbook-Plus.Zondervan.com. UNC’s Elaine Maisner says, “We have published two enhanced e-books in our African-American studies list, but we have not yet published an enhanced e-book in our religious studies list. We are considering, in future, making all of the digital versions of almost all suitable titles enhanced e-books to some degree.”

Kathy Armistead, Abingdon’s lead editor for Bible, theology, and leadership, tells PW that Abingdon is excited about Ralph Hawkins’s forthcoming How Israel Became a People (Feb.). According to Abingdon’s director of Bible, reference, and e-publishing, Paul Franklyn, Hawkins’s book will be “Abingdon’s first enhanced EPub with the iPad authoring tool from Apple, iBooks Author.” In addition to the printed book, says Armistead, the enhanced e-book will include an introductory video and four-color maps and images.

But Where Are the Adoptions?

In spite of the apparent popularity of e-books, few publishers are seeing many adoptions by professors for classroom use. Baker’s Wells notes, “Generally adoptions happen at the title level and are not based on format.” Princeton’s Appel says, “We’re not seeing many e-textbook adoptions, but we also have no way to track this data since various e-reader companies do not report it to us.” Baylor’s Newman says that one of the publisher’s bestselling Kindle titles, Scott Poole’s Monsters in America, “continues to find homes in a variety of college courses.” Maisner, at UNC, reports, “It seems professors continue to prefer to assign printed books for course use, for the most part, though a number of professors, depending on the field, are experimenting. We are considering ways to incentivize the assigning of e-books in course use.”

While religious studies publishers are committed to making their books available electronically, many religious studies professors with whom PW spoke have not yet begun adopting electronic textbooks for their classes. Jeffrey D. Long, professor of religion at Elizabethtown College, says that he does not “see any strong advantages or disadvantages to this format, and so I don’t currently assign electronic books in my courses.”

Charles Zimmerman, professor of religion at Otterbein University, does not assign digital format texts in class, but “I increasingly find that students are using Kindle or other electronic forms of the assigned texts in some of the courses I teach.” Elon’s Pugh and Elizabethtown’s Long echo Zimmerman’s comments about students’ comfort with electronic reading devices, and Pugh estimates that about 25% of students in his classes ask him if they can purchase their books on a Kindle or other device to use in the class.

While religious studies professors might be slow to adopt e-books in their courses, all of the ones with whom PW spoke acknowledge that they will certainly consider adopting such digital format books as students use them more and more. Elizabethtown’s Long indicates that he is “comfortable with students using them in class” and is open to assigning them in the future. Meanwhile. to also reach audiences beyond the academy, academic religion publishers continue to move creatively into digital.