This report is for the organization called “eBible.org”, which operates many web sites (including, of course, eBible.org) and engages in other ministry associated with distributing God’s Word, the Holy Bible, to the world. Staffing consists of Michael Johnson and a team of volunteers. Although we refer to what we do as “electronic Scripture publishing” or “digital Bible distribution”. By “publishing”, we don’t mean taking on the role of a traditional for-profit publisher, but just distributing Bible translations for those who translated them and making them available to those who can read and listen to them, as permitted by either copyright owners or Public Domain status.
EBible.org does not charge either the Bible copyright owners or those who read the Bibles we distribute for this service. Asking for someone to pay to hear the Gospel for the first time is not the most effective evangelism technique. Even people who already believe in Jesus Christ and know the great value of the Scriptures sometimes live in places where there is no reasonable way for them to pay for something over the Internet, and we don’t wish to exclude them. More discussion about the economics of digital Bible distribution is given, below.
How can we know we are doing any good?
There are really five main ways that I know that we are doing good in spreading God’s Word throughout the world:
- Scriptural promises, like Isaiah 55:11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
- Prompting of the Holy Spirit.
- The nature of what we do.
- Reports from the field.
- Counting things that can reasonably be counted.
How can we lose? If God is for us, who can be against us? Search the Scriptures for yourself and see. Read the whole Book, if you like. Get your free digital copy of the Holy Bible at eBible.org/web or just read it online.
Prompting of the Holy Spirit
I can think of nothing that is both more sure and more subjective than the inward prompting of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God still speaks to His children in many ways. When He does so, He never contradicts what He inspired in the Holy Bible. Therefore, I am greatly assured that what we are doing will be both pleasing to God and effective, to the extent that we are obedient to Him. Romans 8:14, John 10:4
What We Do
We do the following to encourage the Holy Bible to “go viral” in the good, social media sense:
- Distribute Scriptures that don’t have legal restrictions on copying, i.e. Public Domain or licensed to allow unrestricted copying and also allow conversion to other formats (i.e. for specific Bible study apps).
- Distribute Bibles in presentation formats that are not difficult to read or copy, with or without Internet access.
- Share Bibles in source formats with others who are like-minded and wish to share Bibles from their own web sites and apps.
- Distribute Bibles from multiple web sites, including both large multilanguage sites and sites targeted more at specific cultures and languages.
- Keep adding more Bibles to the distribution as translations are made available to us or found in the Public Domain.
- Keep adding more digital Bible formats to the distribution, each for its particular advantages.
- Automate Bible format conversion as much as practical to speed access to new translations and facilitate rapid updates.
- Check quality on the initial publication as well as responding to reports of opportunities for improvement from the field.
- Strive to make the presentation of the Scriptures pleasant and worthy of the Word of God.
- Make the Scriptures available in digital formats to end users at no cost other than whatever their Internet connection and/or media and hardware costs them.
The above activities create conditions that encourage sharing. Unlike a printed Bible, I can give away as many copies as I like, and still have mine to read and cherish. Indeed, it seems that information wants to be free. Traditional publishers go to great lengths to try to limit copying with various “copy protection” and “Digital Rights Management” schemes. Simply not spending our time on such barriers to copying gets us closer to our goal of giving everyone access to the Holy Bible in their own language.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that we understand that there are some Bible translation copyright owners that do not permit their Bible translations to be freely published as above, usually for economic reasons. In those cases, have future plans to support more limited (non-viral) distribution, more like a traditional publisher. Limited support for their distribution models exists today via InScript and on various partner web sites. This will get more of our attention after we have gone farther in distributing Public Domain Bible translations and copyrighted Bible translations with appropriate open access licenses.
This begs the question: Why would anyone grant free, unrestricted access and no-royalty copying of their copyrighted Bible translation, at least for noncommercial ministry use? The main reasons usually include one or more of the following:
- Seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)
- The cost of the translation was already covered by donations and missionary support.
- The target audience is small enough and/or poor enough that it is unlikely that Bibles could be sold for economic profit to that group.
- The target audience is in a creative access access area where persecution precludes economic profit in providing Bibles.
- Free distribution of basic text-only digital editions acts as effective advertising to create greater demand for print editions and premium digital editions with extended features of some sort.
The World English Bible is a special case, in that it was intentionally dedicated to the Public Domain as it was translated, at God’s direction. This is specifically for the purpose of maximizing the ministry impact of God’s Word among English-speaking people around the world. It has literally “gone viral”. I just did a Google search for “World English Bible” (with the quotes), and got over a million hits, with the first three entries being being its primary distribution point at WorldEnglishBible.org and eBible.org/web. There are a few other translations where the translators have done the same thing, for the same reasons.
Reports from the Field
Almost all of the reports I get from the field are in the form of personal communication or feedback via our web contact forms. Sometimes I find out what is going on by going on a personal visit. Sometimes indications of usage come indirectly, via a typo report or someone asking about an outage. Sometimes people ask about using Scriptures for various purposes. Sometimes they don’t, but just take the licenses at face value and comply with them. That suits me fine. I don’t need to know about someone reading the Bible or quoting the Bible in their book for God’s Word to be effective. (It would be serious information overload for me, anyway, if I did know all of that.)
I’m not going to quote from the reports, complements, or complaints, but just summarize what I learned, here:
- Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship (CRMF) in Papua New Guinea (a part of Mission Aviation Fellowship) sells Android smart phones. For no extra charge, they preload the phones with Scriptures appropriate to the areas they sell them in, which I provide to them.
- CRMF also works with MAF in placing portable WiFi hot spots around the country that don’t provide Internet access, but do provide access to Scriptures. They load them up with Scriptures I provide to them that are appropriate to the areas they send them.
- SIL PNG Branch is also placing “Save Long God” (know about God) WiFi Bible boxes like CRMF’s, loaded up with Scriptures that I process for them.
- Our Bible web sites are locally promoted by SIL, PNGBTA, and Vanuatu Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. PNGScriptures.org is promoted on bumper stickers on SIL vehicles in PNG. The opening of the VanuatuBibles.org web site was reported in the local newspaper, courtesy of Ross Webb, who wrote the article.
- In the last Pacific Orientation Course in Papua New Guinea, students went out for their village living with Tok Pisin Bibles in Kindle format.
- On Manus Island, Scripture Portions in the Nali language are being read on people’s phones.
- Solar powered Bible players are being distributed with audio Bibles in many language groups throughout the Pacific.
- In Micronesia, a group of local believers has taken responsibility for maintaining their own Bible web site, FSMBibles.org.
- I lost count of the number of cases of relieved gratitude resulting from people finding a simple “Yes, with no royalties” answer to using the World English Bible in their book, devotional, web site, or app, usually after encountering some sort of brick wall of denial using other English translations. Usually, the only people to ask are those who have trouble believing the Public Domain notice. No, it is not too good to be true.
- There are many believers in creative access countries benefiting from Bibles in formats that require no Internet access and that can be easily copied.
- Some school computers in Papua New Guinea were loaded up with local language Scriptures.
- Sometimes the line between digital and print publishing is really thin. The government of Papua New Guinea paid for a print run of a container load of World English Bible New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs for use in school curriculum in that country, and gave them as a gift to the students. I typeset it for them in exchange for 10 copies of the New Testament. The endorsement in the introduction is enough to make a Gideon cry tears of joy.
- Another print run of the World English Bible was done for distribution in Papua New Guinea by a ministry in Lae, funded by a believer in the gold mining business.
- Shortly after the text of the 66-book protocanon of the World English Bible was stable enough, someone published a print-on-demand version of the whole Bible in a large paperback edition. The typesetting is embarrassing, but the words are there. (My only appropriate defense against the embarrassing typesetting is to release a much better edition, which I hope happens this year.)
- Sometimes when I meet new people, I ask if they have ever heard of the World English Bible. Increasingly often, the answer is “Yes.” This gives me hope that the same sort of familiarity will follow for the many minority language Scriptures that we publish.
- I recently deleted an old yearly Bible reading plan on eBible.org that I didn’t think was in use. I got a complaint about it being absent by a man who had been using it for his daily Bible reading for years. I’m sure he isn’t alone. Not everyone is bold enough to contact me about such things. I’ll put it back.
- I got the silly idea that it would be good to stop posting an edition of the World English Bible in the traditional Roman Catholic book order. Not much later, someone wrote asking if they could do one themselves. So… I put it back, since the way I do it, it keeps automatically updated with the latest language updates, which there are many of left to do in the Deuterocanon/Apocrypha.
- I have gotten help from a native Chinese speaker in correcting some character encoding issues.
- I get regular proofreading comments, mostly for the World English Bible, but sometimes someone still finds a rare typo in the ASV or KJV, and even rarer still, someone will send a valid comment on one of the minority language translations. Nobody reports typos in books they don’t read—especially such hard-to-find typos as generally get reported.
- There are frequent complements and the occasional complaint, usually from Christians and cult members, respectively. Sometimes an accurate translation of the Holy Bible offends someone because it disagrees with a pet doctrine of theirs. I don’t worry about either category, but do investigate if they appear to bring up a valid translation or clarity issue in the World English Bible. If it is a comment for one of the other translations, I pass it on as appropriate.
- A visit to Vanuatu early in 2015 confirmed the need for digital Bibles that were easy to install and copy in an area where Internet access was intermittent and expensive, but smart phones were cheap and ways to charge them were available in remote villages. I really wish I had ePub generation finished when I visited there, but I’m glad that I do have it done, now.
- Missionaries are increasingly able to search for and find digital Bibles in the languages of the people they are going to minister to.
Here are is a collection of things that can be counted without disrupting or hindering our Bible distribution ministry. There is more analysis that could be done with the web server logs, but that will have to wait, because of programming resource limits. (In other words, given a choice between spending the same time putting more Bibles in more formats into distribution or just counting what is going into distribution, I keep coming up with the same answer. Maybe I can get some volunteer help on this for next year.) In the mean time if you enjoy the book of Numbers, you will like this section of the report.
Numbers of translations by format on eBible.org:
|Bible format||# 31 Dec 2014||# 31 Jan 2015|
Web site hits per month (just the sites with the highest use rates):
|Site||Dec. 2014||Dec. 2016|
|Bible.af (operated for DBS)||7,069||2,396|
|Bibles.pw (operated for DBS)||1,544||7,042|
Note that July through September 2015 all had totals of over 5 million hits per month. At the end of November, code was implemented on the eBible.org server to deflect hits due to a malware attack, so the reduction by about a million hits per month in December mostly means that the defense was successful, leaving the server able to perform faster for legitimate site visitors. Even with that correction, web site traffic nearly doubled over the last year. Note that a web site “hit” can be a page view or a file download, either by a real person or a search engine bot. Since search engine bots are normally followed by real people doing searches and finding our Bible sites, we consider search engine hits to be friendly hits. They are usually a small percentage of the hits, except for some of the very small language groups, where a very small number of speakers of the language have access to the Internet.
Search engine ranking is another measure of success. Tests with sample queries that should find one or more of the sites listed above usually came up with the web site on the first page of results, often at the very top of the list. Thus the search engine optimization efforts have been effective.
Haiola project statistics as of Tue, 19 Jan 2016 23:51:43 GMT UTC provide many more numbers for both eBible.org and part of the Scriptures distributed by the Digital Bible Society:
616 languages with freely redistributable translations
656 dialects with freely redistributable translations
683 freely redistributable translations
426 certified translations (extra quality checks completed)
52 limited-sharing translations (not open access licensed)
637 total languages
682 total dialects
735 total public translations
5 subset projects
737 primary distribution URLs
8 master sites
252 open access translations converted from Paratext projects
96 open access translations converted from USFM
6 open access translations converted from USFX
361 open access translations converted from USX (DBL bundles)
48 restricted translations converted from Paratext projects
4 restricted translations converted from USFM
1 restricted translations converted from USFX
2 restricted translations converted from USX (DBL bundles)
Translations by site:
235 translations at pngscriptures.org
7 translations at baebol.org
1 translations at bible.cx
423 translations at ebible.org
2 translations at no public site
6 translations at alkitab.pw
11 translations at pacificbibles.org
52 translations at inscript.org
Money and Bible Distribution
Digital Bible distribution costs money, just as print Bible distribution does, but the costs are different. The cost of translating the Bible is the same either way, but when it comes to distribution, things look drastically different. There are costs associated with software development, converting the Bible translations to file formats that are suitable for end users, plus costs of setting up and maintaining web sites and other distribution channels. The cost per copy distributed, however, is negligible once those are covered. Costs are actually much lower when there is no need to try to sell the Bibles to recover royalty money, because there is no need to implement and maintain digital rights management/copy protection schemes or payment systems. There are costs, however.
Funding for eBible.org operations comes mostly from third parties and volunteers: not usually the Bible translators or Bible readers. Tax deductible donations to cover Bible distribution costs can be made to support Michael and Lori Johnson through World Outreach Ministries. (We also have some other revenue sources, but cannot continue this ministry without donations, at least not at this pace.) This support model greatly simplifies the Bible distribution and removes concerns that someone might not receive the Good News of Jesus Christ because they are unwilling or unable to pay for them. Honestly, I don’t expect that an evangelist who charged admission to his meetings would do well, but free will offerings let him cover his costs without hindering anyone from coming to the Lord. In the same way, we enjoy being able to freely give the Holy Bible to anyone for free, especially when we have a translation available in their heart language. When those who are like-minded partner with us both with prayer and finances, it becomes possible.