Christian publishers are finding new routes to international readers via apps, as the Christian high street bookselling channel contracts in the UK.
Oxford-based The Bible Reading Fellowship has produced three subscription-based Bible reading apps, with the first, published 18 months ago, clocking up more than 50,000 downloads.
BRF's deputy c.e.o. Karen Laister said it was about reaching readers in the format in which they wanted to access the material. "Some people will probably buy both print and app, but I know some people won't look at the printed version. They like picking it up on an iPhone or iPad, and it's how they engage with the content." The subscription model enabled the publisher to take the "long-term" view, she added.
The BRF's latest app, Day by Day with God, has had particularly strong take-up in the US. It offers a one- month subscription for £1.49, three months for £3.99 and 12 months for £11.99. "It's opened it up for us," Laister said. "Some of our books would get to the US, but we don't actively market there because we don't have a US partner. In print, the pricing would be higher and we have lots of competition."
The Church of England's publisher Church House recently launched its first app, Reflections from Daily Prayer—offering pithy meditations on the prayers prescribed for each church day—because of demand from readers to make the printed annual available digitally. "We're committed to print but the app complements what we do," said publisher Thomas Allain-Chapman. "Although we are the Church of England, we have contributors from countries like New Zealand who have their own followers, but actually getting the physical book out there is not ideal. But with the app anyone can access it."
Adrian Driscoll of Aimer Media, which produced the BRF and Church House apps, said: "Churches have always been at the forefront of digital activity, because there's an emphasis on getting the word out, and there's influence from the US where there is a lot of app activity."
However, Ian Metcalfe of Hodder Faith, which published a new edition of the New International Version of the Bible this year, said digitising the good book presented a challenge. "Few people read the Bible from page one to page 1,000, and while an app allows really intuitive navigation, people are not especially willing to pay for them," he said. "We realised that the app may be a better product but people are not looking for it, and at the moment we have decided we have to prioritise the e-book."