Are hard-copy books redundant in our increasingly online Christian world?
Bibles and Christian literature have been critically important in evangelism and discipleship since the invention of the printing press in the 15thC. Now, despite so much information available online, and people worldwide being glued to their smartphones, paper-based learning is still a priority for most serious learners.
There are many places where it is not possible to go online - in prisons, care homes and ships. Significantly, many people in the majority world will greatly treasure a little book that they can read in their own language. In some majority world countries, the Bible is the only book many Christians possess.
More sinisterly, there are now many places where online activity is tracked, and Christians do not feel safe to look at biblical material for fear of persecution. That is why the more secure WhatsApp has been such a blessing to evangelical believers. In some countries, Word@Work has been translated day by day and released to huge WhatsApp groups who would not feel safe to access it online or through email.
Unlike e-books, hard copies can be read by many people in turn as a community sharing activity.
But, why is printing getting much more expensive? Is this a 'ministry issue'?
During covid, many paper mills throughout the world shut down as the demand and distribution of printed material plummeted, and the cost of wood/wood pulp quadrupled.
Although those market forces are now settling down, and the volume of raw-lumber has increased, the end-product prices of paper are still much inflated above pre-covid levels (also due to increased energy prices). Also, many old style paper mills require too much investment to be economically restarted.
Along with an increased demand for wood pellets as fuel, it seems that the ’normal' price of timber sourced products may be reset to at least 3x the pre-covid level. Although supply is now growing, some major paper manufacturers have already increased their prices by 25% this year on top of the 250% increase last year.
The effect of these price rises is seen most severely in the majority world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia where our mission partners work.
For example: The combination of covid shutting down many paper mills in Asia and the much higher cost of printing ink, along with transport problems has meant that very little printing has been done in Nepal for the past two years.
Another example: We have been asked to supply 10,000 books to Ethiopia. The volume is large - 80 boxes each weighing 20Kg and containing 110 books ... in total, with pallets, that is almost 2 tonnes.
- Printing in Addis Abbaba is 5x that of printing in the UK. But printing here and importing into Ethiopia is fraught with difficulty.
- Shipping via Djibouti is routinely subject to delays, unpredictable customs charges and other 'handling fees', or the whole shipment is lost!
- Shipping to Mogadishu and land transit from Somalia means going through pirate seas and terrorist lands.
- The route from Kenya through Moyale goes through the area being fought over by local war-lords.
- Air freight is an option but very expensive and again the customs charges are unpredictable.
Please do pray that we will have wisdom to know how to wisely spend the money we have been given so that our partners in Ethiopia can receive the doctrine workbooks which are already translated into Amharic and Oromiffa.
In this morally confused world, where Bible truth has been replaced by cultural convenience, the need for accessible, trustable truth is greater than ever.