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On Christian Economics

Posted on: August 8th, 2009 by Craig Rairdin 26 Comments

From time to time we’re approached by (or we approach) a publisher with a Bible or reference title they’d like to distribute through Laridian at no charge. That’s fine with us, of course, especially if they do all the work to create the title with BookBuilder. But some of these folks have second thoughts when they find out that we charge for our reader software. They feel uncomfortable having their work supporting a for-profit company. (Of course if they knew how little profit was in it, perhaps they’d change their minds.) :-)

I used to use a biblical argument to support the idea that the “laborer is worthy of his wages”. Paul asks “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” (1 Cor 9) However, I found that people couldn’t follow this argument. It wasn’t that they thought it didn’t apply in our situation, but rather they just didn’t understand what the passage was even talking about.

So now I take a different tact: It’s OK for people to go to Best Buy and pay $1000 for a computer or $300 for a mobile phone on which to run Bible software. And it’s OK that $50-$100 of that purchase goes to Microsoft or Apple or some other company to pay for the operating system on that computer or phone. When they get the computer home, it’s OK to pay Qwest for high-speed internet access for the computer on which you’re going to do Bible study. Computers require electricity, so it’s OK to pay the local utility company for power to keep the computer running while you do your Bible study. Assuming we’re talking about a home user, and realizing that most people have a mortgage, it’s OK to pay interest to J.P. Morgan Chase or some other big bank for the privilege of having a roof over your computer.

Everyone agrees there’s nothing unbiblical about paying for your computer, operating system, internet access, electricity, and mortgage interest. However, next you want to install Bible software. But God forbid that we should pay the fellow believers who dedicate their lives to creating software to help people study the Bible! Sure, we’ll pay Best Buy, Microsoft, Apple, Qwest, the power company, and the bank — we all know how selflessly dedicated these companies are to advancing the goals of the Kingdom of God — but we’re certainly not going to pay fellow believers to create our Bible study software! That would violate our deeply held Christian principles!

I know that 99% of you reading this blog agree with my argument. It’s great that there are brothers and sisters who donate their time to advancing the Kingdom. But there are some of us who have no other means of support other than what we do to help others understand and apply the scriptures. If we “donate” our time, our kids go hungry. We all think this is obvious, but not everyone does. I thought you might find it interesting that there really are Christians out there who have no trouble supporting secular programmers but balk at supporting their brothers and sisters.

And if you’re in the “Bible software should be free” camp I hope you’ll take a minute to think about who you willingly give your money to (your grocer, mortgage holder, utility company, doctor, plumber, paper boy, internet service provider, mechanic, movie theater, dentist, garbage man, and others) and who you think should go without (your brothers and sisters in Christ) so that you can have cool stuff.

26 Responses

  1. John Long says:

    I should think the argument would be quite simple:
    If we didn’t charge for our bible software, we would be unable to make it and you would be unable to publish for it in the first place.

    As a coralary: The fact that people pay for our software indicates that we are delivering more value than free alternatives.

    And finally: By all means make free bible software, if you think you can do it as well and that people will use it.

  2. John, you would think the argument would be simple. The counter-argument, though, is: “There are many people making free Bible software, so it can be done. They are just closer to God than you are. How can you justify making money from God’s Holy Word? You just don’t trust God enough.”

  3. Donald E. Stidwell says:

    I have absolutely NO problem paying for Bible software (having invested over $1000 in same on multiple platforms). As it is, I’d have a hard, if not impossible time, finding a company that gives more bang for the buck for Bible software than Laridian. That’s one of the reasons I like doing business with you all. Your software is VERY reasonably priced and you allow it to be used on multiple platforms without charge. That is not something you see from very many other companies.

    I’m sorry this attitude exists among fellow Christians and your point is well taken. Let’s face, with only one exception I can think of, most free Bible software is generally nowhere near as good as the stuff you pay for. And frankly, I get WAY more value out of the material I’ve bought from Laridian than I paid for it.

  4. Mark Coppock says:

    I agree 100% with Mr. Stidwell’s statements. I think of 2 Timothy 2:6, “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”

    I’ve greatly enjoyed MyBible for Palm for several years. And I am willing and waiting patiently to pay whatever you ask for the iPhone software when ready. Thank you so much for your great work, and your great products!

  5. Nathan Youngman says:

    I’m glad we can support what you’re doing, and find Laridian quite reasonable, esp. in terms of transferring content.

    I think the Bible should be available for free as well, and it is. Anyone could walk into a library and use one of several web-based Bibles, or if they have their own computer, download something like MacSword with ESV.

    Christians that want more reference material and Bible versions have many pay options. It’s good to have both.

  6. Colin says:

    It takes money from people who donates to missions to print a bible to send to people far away who have not read it before. There will be people who donates and there will be people who prints the bibles. If you want a quality print, you pay for one. If you want a free print, you look for someone who may donate one. I will rather pay for a quality print if I can.

  7. RW says:

    “How can you justify making money from God’s Holy Word? You just don’t trust God enough.”

    Surely, then, printed Bibles should be free too? And the work that my minister does? I dislike this opinion that, because some things have no physical form (software, music downloads, films and so on) they have no value. These are creative works that people put their time and effort into creating. My work as an IT Operations Engineer has no form, but does that mean I should do it for nothing?

    I think it is entirely up to you if you charge or not. If you felt that the LORD wanted you to run Laradian as a freely given service to the Kingdom then great. But in the meantime I wholeheartedly agree with others here that your products represent great value for money, are a cut above the rest, and are backed up by excellent customer service. They are well worth paying for.

    Again, keep up the good work!

  8. Tim Wisner says:

    This argument comes less from the Christian world than from our modern culture. We feel entitled to whatever we can get for free. The tech news is full of stories about copyright theft issues as the music industry tries to enforce their copyrights that (seemingly) college youth flaunt all the time. On the other hand, we as Christians place so little value on the Word of God. While we desperately want everyone in the world to have access to the Good News, we forget that there is price for all good things. Salvation is not free, it is paid for (at great cost to the Son of God.) The Word of God is not free either, but paid for by the blood of the saints and the sweat of those who have worked to make it available, through translations, publishing or taking it to those who don’t have it yet. We do ourselves a great disservice when we forget this.
    I for one have spent hundreds of dollars at Laridian because you do provide a great product that makes my ministry much easier and the usage license is much more than fair. I will continue spending my money at Laridian as new books, dictionaries and helps come available.

  9. Marc Geeting says:

    Just a note of encouragement to keep up the great work. I appreciate the updates you provide through the blog to keep us users informed. I was a big user of Laridian products on the Palm and freely promote Laridian to my friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow believers at church. My Palm died and I am now anxiously awaiting release of the iPhone app.

    Regarding the “charge / no charge” discussion, not everyone is going to understand and that is OK… I once heard a statement “if all possible objections must first be overcome, nothing would ever be accomplished.”

    One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:23 – 24. Continue to keep your eyes on Him and do your work for Him (and not those critics who say (your) software should be free).

  10. Jay Mooney says:

    Pay the Levites something! Of course one can revert to the Biblical alternative…scribe it oneself.

  11. Eric S. Mueller says:

    I’m not sure where the paradigm came from that says all Christian efforts must be in the form of a 501(c)3 non-profit. To be honest, I’d rather see more ministries operate as for-profit businesses. At least that way, I’d get less email that says “Our ministry is facing dire financial trouble. Can you please help with a gift of $1000?” How much money do they think their email subscribers have anyway? We have to put food on our tables too.

    There is a very well-known minister with a radio/podcast ministry that I don’t listen to anymore because I got tired of hearing him asking for money every single day.

    The thing that really gets me is the line “We’ll send you this book in exchange for your gift of $25.” Technically, that’s called a sale, isn’t it?

    I’ve always wondered why Christians are so afraid to create something of value and then try to sell it. Dan Miller says that believers will conceive an idea, then not come up with a way to make money at it, so they figure “I’ll just form a non-profit, then people have to give me money!”

    I’m not trying to disparage my brothers and sisters who run non-profit ministries in any way. I am merely asking why so many believe that is the best model to follow.

    Craig, I appreciate the value you create with your products at Laridian. I plan to continue to support your efforts by purchasing your products, especially after you get PocketBible for iPhone into the app store.

  12. Karla says:

    It is possible that they feel if they provide their material for free, you should offer it for free, too. That would make sense, as you say, if they did the painstaking work on Bookbuilder (I am assuming it is painstaking). But if you do the painstaking work on Bookbuilder, then you should be paid for it per all the excellent arguments listed in previous posts.

    Also, it sounds like Laridian is your full time job which doubles the argument that you need to be paid in order to survive and feed your kids.

    I personally struggle with copyrighted sermons (specifically in my case, not being able to copy a sermon CD from church). I have heard arguments for it but I still struggle with it. I suppose the same could be said for copying choruses, which I don’t have as much a problem with. That goes back to the publisher publishing it argument similar to Laridian. So, fire away if I need to “unstruggle”.

  13. Karla: No, we’re talking about copyright owners who won’t do business with us regardless of who does the work. And there’s a variation on this theme where other companies get a royalty-free license for a Bible but we have to pay a royalty — not because we charge for the Bible, but because we charge for our program.

    Your preacher’s sermons are copyrighted as soon as they are spoken. It’s unlikely (maybe less so these days) that there is an agreement between the preacher and the church as to who controls the copyright of those sermons, but one or the other of them does. It’s within their rights to put limits on the distribution of sermon CDs. Same goes for the lyrics and music of the songs you sing. You can’t make copies of the words and pass them out, nor put them up on a projector unless you have some form of permission (which may be included when you purchase a copy of the song; you have to figure that out).

    Eric: Remember too that “non-profit” doesn’t mean that you don’t make money. It just means that the profits stay in the company instead of going to the owners. There are some very, very profitable non-profits whose executives make a lot of money. And 501(c)(3) only describes the type of work they do, not whether or not they’re money-motivated.

    There was a Bible software company a while back that organized itself as a 501(c)(3) and the owner just collected all the profits in the form of a “salary”. We had a very difficult time working with publishers who would give content to his company for free while charging us. The guy was making more money than I was, but presenting himself as a not-for-profit ministry. Very frustrating.

    I should point out that I’m not opposed to companies organizing themselves as 501(c)(3)’s or not-for-profit companies. And I’m not opposed to those companies paying people whatever they want to pay them, even if it’s an outrageous amount. What I’m opposed to is them using their choice of accounting rules as a tool to leverage sweetheart deals from content owners by tricking them into thinking they’re something they’re not. There are well-known Bible software companies that use this all the time. I ran into a situation just last week where a company did not want to give us a license for their content because we sell our reader software, but they had already licensed another company that is just as “for profit” as we are. In this case it’s not even a non-profit. It’s just that the owner presents the company as a charity of some kind and is able to fool unwitting publishers who don’t expect that someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

    While there are some shining stars in the Christian publishing universe, there is also some nasty business that goes on that most people are unaware of. It’s best if you just buy a Bible, read it faithfully, and don’t ask where it came from. :-)

  14. Bruce Gilliland says:

    Craig, try this argument. “Would any folks (or more than just a handfull) obtain (free or purchased) a Bible software program just for the free book?” Not likely. People use Bible software first to read Bibles, second to read commentaries and third to use Bible dictionaries. They also use the programs for devotionals. So, the publisher’s book likely will lead to few “sales” of the Bible software. However, the existing ownship of the Bible software might lead to sales of the book by people already using Bible software.

    What the publisher needs to ask is how many potential customers can be reached by a given software company.

    The firm I consider your main compeition in the PDA/mobile phone market does “give away” its reader program, but it charges for most Bibles and books. The only free ones are books in the public domain that are no longer copyrighted. It recovers the cost of developing and supporting the program through sales of Bibles and other books.

    Another software developer promotes his free program, but all the free Bibles and books are public domain. If you want all the books, you can purchase a CD. Copyrighted books must be purchased.

    In both cases, there is a cost to obtain and use the software program. I have PB4 and both the programs I just mentioned. Even though I paid for PB4’s program, I use it instead of the others because of its ease of use and features. “Free” does not always make a program better.

  15. Tim Grant says:

    I too, having used mybible for palm for many years, am waiting patiently for itouch version of a bible reader. I’m not sure that I am willing to pay “whatever you ask” as a previous poster, but am certainly more than willing to open my wallet. I have never seen a price on one of your products that I thought was unreasonable.

  16. William Arnold Taylor says:

    I think it is very short sighted to think people can do what you do for nothing. I am very glad you provide the Bibles and study material at very affordable prices and I am happy to continue to support you in your efforts to make the best materials available for the most people by it being available for so many platforms. I purchased an iPhone in order to have a larger screen in my Disciple class and on the road without having to take my laptop and for that I am most thankful. You are so right in that your software costs are insignificant in comparison to the hardware required to use it. Surely you have God’s blessings in providing so much to so many and I thank you.

  17. Karla says:

    Thanks, Craig, for your explanations. It sheds light. I can also say that there are “troubles” with missionaries on the field as well.

    I remember a gal saying she was excited to start work for a Christian employer, then proceeded to say how horrible that experience was (too long ago to remember why).

    What a shame so many unchristian things go on in the name of Christ! As you say, “read your Bible faithfully…”

  18. Karla: Christians are fallen people just like everyone else. In fact, what makes us “Christian” is our willingness to admit that we are, in fact, unable to be anything but fallen people on our own. We all have our moments of Christlikeness but most of the time it’s a battle to subdue the flesh. So it’s actually no surprise that Christian businesspeople are in many ways like their unsaved counterparts.

    If we could be perfect in this body and on this earth we wouldn’t need new ones. :-)

  19. Jonathan Morgan says:

    A difficult problem. Not only do I prefer free Bible software and use it, I also develop it. However, I agree with you that the worker is entitled to their hire (though the form this may take can vary). On the other hand, if a publisher is giving something away for free then it is quite reasonable for them to say “it is not accessible to enough people if you charge for it”. It is their content to do with as they like, frustrating as that may be for you (if it gives you any consolation, a lot of publishers don’t like giving content to free software and especially open source software, apparently at least in part because they think people who want free software will also want and take and share “free” books).

  20. Hi Jonathan,

    It’s not that we want to charge for products that the publisher wants to give away, it’s that the publisher doesn’t want to give his product to our customers because they paid for their Bible software. The argument is not that we would limit their distribution, but rather that they don’t want to be associated with a company that deigns to sell Bible software.

    The argument that it would not be accessible to enough people is specious. Consider if there were three Bible programs: A, B, and C. Each has an equal number of users. There is a small number of users who use all three, and a small number who use two of the three. But most are happy with their choice and use just the one product. If A and B are “free” programs and “C” is a commercial program, then by not distributing your content to the users of C you aren’t increasing its distribution, you’re decreasing it. Your maximum number of readers of your content will be only 2/3 of what it could be.

    I would further argue based on experience that while free software claims large counts of users based on the number of downloads, the actual number of people using the software is much lower. I download lots of free software that I use once and delete. There are other free products, of course, that I use every day.

    I agree that it is their content to do with as they like. But refusing to do something that accomplishes their goals (maximizing free distribution) for reasons that are faulty is frustrating. This is just one of my pet peeves — I have a low tolerance for incompetence. Ironically I’m not very good at overcoming this. :-)

  21. Jonathan Morgan says:

    I understand your point, but it also depends on who is doing the work. If the publisher decided to support any and every piece of software they came across, then your argument is fine. However, if they have to decide with their limited resources to choose between A & B, and favour A because it is free and that is important to them, then that’s probably a reasonable decision. I cannot tell which of these two cases it might be from your description (or possibly you are offering to produce the content, in which case that argument does not apply).

    I quite agree with what you say about download counts (the argument has been used against me when I complained about certain Bible software: it must be good because X thousand keep downloading it every month). If I’m any representative of their customer base (which, as a software developer, I’m probably not…) then all that means is that new people download it, try it, and then don’t use it again and advise anyone who talks to them about it not to waste their time trying it.

  22. In this case I’m talking about publishers who approach us then change their minds when they find out we charge for our reader, or publisher whom we approach and they’re fine with the idea until they find out we charge for our reader. Obviously there are some who we approach who either don’t want to distribute electronically or they feel they have enough electronic publishers. Those are rare, though — generally if they’re distributing free content they’re looking for all the channels they can find.

    So yes, it’s a pretty narrow group. And it’s not so much any one publisher I’m talking about, but rather the mistaken idea that “free” and “commercial” are incompatible, and that free = godly while commercial = worldly.

  23. Andy says:

    Do these same publishers give away this content for free when they distribute it? Or do they charge something to offset their production costs.

    Unless they are giving it away for free, aren’t they asking you to do something that they aren’t willing to do themselves.

    In my mind it means that they don’t understand the value of electronic materials or how the publishing economy is changing away from traditional books.

  24. Jonathan Morgan says:

    I agree with you in principle, but I still have a feeling that if I were in a similar position I might do exactly what those publishers do.

  25. Jonathan, I think you’ve nailed the problem. Instead of acting on principles and wisdom, they’re acting on emotions. That’s why they often can’t be convinced — you can’t make someone “feel” differently through logic and application of principles.

    Of course, this makes them out to be even crazier than I thought they were. :-)

  26. G. Smith says:

    In my experience people appreciate your services more when they know they need to pay for them, and are less inclined to demand irrational requests as they will feel free to do if the services are for free.

    Keep up the good work! Let us know where we can all send you the money to help support your efforts on the android OS before its done/started/finished/or just to say thanks!

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