Should I use Logos, Google, or Amazon for Digital Christian Books?
For the last 4 years I have told my students at Reformed Theological Seminary and Westminster Seminary to forego the expense of Logos (and, by extension, Accordance and BibleWorks, though each has different advantages and disadvantages) in favor of the relatively inexpensive subscription to BibleArc. I’m changing my tune a bit (though I still think the expense of Logos is formidable). My current recommendation for the cost-conscious Bible scholar is for a combination approach: (1) get a baseline package to logos to provide for an adequate library of daily resources (the bare necessities: a couple of English, Greek, and Hebrew Bibles, a Bible Dictionary or two, some helpful datasets, etc), combined with (2) an annual subscription to BibleArc for those who want to take advantage of Syntax and Discourse Analysis tools, and finally (3) a digital library of individually purchased reference books from the various platforms available, in the following order: Logos first, Google second, Amazon Kindle third.
The Power of Logos Software
The core justification for this recommendation is the power afforded by the Logos substructure (the “backend”). I’ve been buying books and biblical commentaries from Google Play (and Kindle, if the book in question was not available from Google) for awhile now. Google Books has a lot of wonderful features with regard to Biblical Commentaries, not the least of which has been real page scans (so you can see a scan of the actual page of the real-world book, which is useful for citation purposes, and also for any foreign-language problems generated by Greek and Hebrew scripts). This has made Google my go-to resource for e-books over the last two years. That is now changing.
If a Logos commentary or book is available, I’m willing to spend a bit more for it, as opposed to the same book from Google or Amazon.
Why? Because Logos provides the same technological benefits provided by Google or Amazon (availability on multiple devices, syncing of position, real page numbers, images, easy maneuverability, etc.) while also providing a host of tools that are of particular interest to pastors and Biblical scholars.
If I’m reading a commentary provided by Google, I need two screens open. I need one device to read the actual commentary, but if that commentary references a passage of Scripture (and hopefully it will frequently do so), I have to switch to another screen–either a Bible app in a separate device, or a Bible app on my tablet, phone, or computer. Not so with Logos; I simply hover over the references and I have a full presentation of the passage in question at my fingertips, in my Bible translation of choice. That’s the power of Logos; it’s tailored for students of the Bible, and it shows from the ground up.
What’s more, I can use that pop-up to delve more deeply into the Biblical text, or other related texts. Let’s say the commentary I’m reading says something like “David didn’t mean [x], he meant [y], as I have already proved in my analysis of verse [a:b].” Well, in any normal situation, I would have to then scroll back in the commentary to the discussion of [a:b], and probable also look up [a:b] in my Bible, and if I’m really intrigued by the topic, follow the footnotes for position [x] and [y] to see what other scholars are referenced there. Logos makes that all very easy to do with the magic of pop-ups. Simply hover over the hyperlink and you’re good to go for the most part (provided you have the available resources). (As a side note, hyperlinking mania can so often produce a distraction from what you are actually trying to study, but Logos does it right: immersion, rather than distraction).
This is the power of Logos, and it is provided by a dedicated team and advanced technical tools. Put simply: it’s great software tailored to Biblical study. It’s all the resources that the digital age has to offer harnessed for Biblical scholars. Google can offer you all the tools of the digital age, but they really don’t care about the unique needs of the Biblical scholar. Logos understands both. That’s its power and its promise.
The Expense of Logos Resources and the Adequacy of Online Tools
But it will come at a cost. Logos offers a lot of resources at nearly full price, and they offer bundles of resources at deep discounts. The bundles seem to be the way to go, if you can find one that’s cost-effective for you. I’ve compared package after package. Silver. Gold. Platinum. Silver Reformed. The list goes on. As is often the case with bundles, the attraction to these packages is “what am I missing out on.” I could get this set of books for $500 if I buy this package, but it’s $1500 if purchased separately; so how bad do I really want this set of books? Will I want them “someday”? If I don’t buy them now, will the price go up? Even if I don’t really want to spend $500 on that set of books, might it be worth it given all the other books included in the package (that I don’t really need, but would be nice to have)? It’s the king of crossroad decisions that you face when buying a new car, and it’s not pleasant. I want Bluetooth, but I don’t want navigation. Is there an option for that? Nope, there’s not, but you can buy an after-market stereo if you want. That’s how I felt about picking the “right” Logos package for me, and I ended up with the Bronze package, and a couple of after-market stereos. I’d recommend looking through a package that’s attractive to you and adding up the price of the “must have” resources in that package. Does it equal what you are paying? When you find one that’s close, that’s your package, and supplement with whatever after-market products you need.
Having said all that, most of the after-market products here are relatively reasonably priced. Most individual books are competitively priced in comparison with Kindle or Google Books. To be sure, they are, to a book, more expensive. In my experience, if a book is on all three services, it will be cheapest on Kindle, with Google Books a close second (and I’m willing to pay the up-charge if, and only if, it has real scanned pages), and Logos a 10% hike (at least) up from that. The big change in my thinking has been that I’m willing to pay that 10% (or more) up charge to Logos in order to get the integration with their other services. I love the pop-ups.
That’s for “regular” books and resources. What about those “high-end” tools like BDAG, HALOT, BHS, NA28, etc. They’re still ridiculously expensive. That’s not necessarily the fault of Logos. I suspected licensing issues. But whatever the cause, I feel reticent purchasing something that is so expensive and only works on one platform. I own hard copies of each (and the digital prices are, inexplicably, identical to the hard-copy prices), so I’m unwilling to invest in their digital counterparts. Tempted, but unwilling. I’ll stick to pin and paper for now.
One other thing I should mention–and this fact made my decision to purchase a base package a no-brainer–is that Logos offers “dynamic pricing.” If, at some time in the near or distant future, you find that the package your purchased is no longer adequate and you want to upgrade to a higher-end model, no problem. Logos will take what you have already purchased into account and offer you a fair discount. And from what I can tell it is, in fact, fair. I looked at the additional cost for a Gold package as an upgrade to my Bronze, and the price was commensurate. That provides a bit of peace of mind in regard to my purchasing decisions.
My Current Plan of Attack
All of these factors then brings me back to my original statement, and my personal plan of attack: I’m willing to purchase from Logos and even to prioritize it by paying a premium price in certain situations. I’m convinced in Logos as a platform. It is robust, sustainable, and for the most part competitive (though still on the expensive side of competitive). It is ahead of Google and Amazon in many of the features that matter to Biblical scholars and is well-respected and utilized by the scholarly community, so I don’t think it’s in danger of obsolescence. Given that, here’s my recommendation
- Buy the least expensive base package that fits your needs. The options here range from a Logos Now subscription to the full Collector’s edition (which requires a second mortgage). I went with the Bronze package because it included all the English Bibles I needed (minus the NLT, which I purchased separately) and some additional things that were attractive to me, and was on sale at the time.
- I am still really impressed with the resources available at BibleArc. I’d love a “one-stop-shop” for all my Biblical needs, but BibleArc provides a set of tools that Logos either doesn’t have yet or are more expensive through them. I will continue to get my discourse analysis and syntax diagramming tools through BibleArc, rather than Logos.
- I’ll buy commentaries and other long-term reference-style resources from Logos, rather than Google or Amazon. They integrate so well with the Logos backend, and provide all the other benefits that Google and Amazon offer.
- I’ll buy “one read” resources and other Christian books on whatever platform is cheapest. If it’s not a perpetual reference resource–that is, if I’m not going to consult it more than once or twice or thrice–then I’ll buy it as cheaply as possible.
Appendix: The SBLGNT Has Changed Everything
Having been in “the field” for awhile now, I’m conscious of the fact that my current recommendation is largely the result of the addition of Mike Holmes’ SBL Greek New Testament (SBLGNT) to the field of Biblical Studies, as well as the hard work of folks like Lexham Press, an imprint of Logos, to provide robust digital and inexpensive (sometimes free) resources and datasets to the scholarly community. I remember the dark ages when a truly modern Greek text could only be accessed behind a particularly impenetrable paywall, and basic English glosses of Greek and Hebrew words required BDAG and HALOT add-ins, which were quite costly (and non-transferable between software packages). Of course, NA28, BDAG, and HALOT are still sheltered behind a barb-wire paywall, but these resources are not necessary for daily preaching and teaching. Scholars need them, to be sure, to produce publishable quality work, but for the most part the pastor-scholar only needs three things: (1) a reliable and modern original-language text (provided by WLC, sort of, and the SBLGNT), (2) a thorough knowledge of Hebrew and Greek grammar (provided by oneself), and the availability of the general semantic domain for any individual word (provided by Lexham Press and others).
All that by way of thanks to those who have donated their time and brilliance to these digital tools.