B&H Technology Targets Enhanced Customer Experiences

by Jon D. Wilke on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

B&H is clearly a technology leader in the religious publishing industry.

B&H is clearly a technology leader in the religious publishing industry.

At a glance it would be easy to confuse B&H Publishing Group for a technology firm. With more than 50 mobile applications, 750 e-books and an online Bible study website, B&H is clearly a technology leader in the religious publishing industry.

"B&H's top concerns are spreading the Good News of Christ and discipling the church," said Aaron Linne, executive producer of digital marketing for B&H. "Leaders here at B&H and LifeWay understand the value in developing new technology that furthers the reach of the gospel."

Paul Mikos, B&H's executive editor of digital publishing, agreed, saying,  "The investments we're making in technology are good for LifeWay, but they are really great for the Kingdom of God."

B&H has three main distribution channels for technology: apps, e-readers and websites.

Popular B&H apps

One of B&H's first investments in mobile technology was an app called Love Dare: 40 Dares. This simple checklist gave 40 dares to fans of The Love Dare book and Fireproof movie, designed to strengthen marriages through devotional readings, prayers and conversation starters.

To date, the most popular app has been Beth Moore's Praying God's Word app, which offers digital prayer cards and content corresponding with her book of the same name.

B&H currently has apps for Apple, Android, Xbox and Windows 7 with more in various stages of development.

Growth in e-reading

Growing e-book reading trends also mean B&H must continue to meet shifting customer expectations.

According to the Reading Habits Survey released by Pew Internet and American Life Project in early April, 21 percent of Americans have read an e-book in the past year. The Pew Research Center findings reveal the growth in e-reading, the public's consumption of books, as well as people's attitudes about the changing ways books are made available to the public.

For example, the average e-book user reads 24 titles a year compared to 15 for paper bound readers. The study also found people prefer e-books while traveling, commuting and reading in bed.

"This research and the steady stream of new devices means people potentially have books in their pockets at all times," said Linne. "People can choose to carry a few physical books or their entire digital library. The very nature of media is changing and becoming more interactive.

"A book is becoming about more than the content – it's also the experience," he said. "As iPads and browsers and e-readers enable publishers to do more than put content on the screen, the entire idea of reading a book disappears and it becomes experiencing a book."

Social reading

"Before the printing press, reading was experienced by the masses in large, social settings and gatherings," Linne noted. "But now, our current print culture calls for us to put our noses down and have an individual or personal experience. With today's technology and interconnectedness, books are poised to become social again."

It is thoughts like these that keep B&H's technology team buzzing with ideas.

"We've been exploring more with ‘enhanced books,'" said Mikos. "E-books are still being defined."

For example, he said, social sharing is what B&H developers had in mind with the release of the Pure Enjoyment: Discussion Presenter app.

Small groups leaders will be able to share a pre-written book presentation from their device with group members through this free app. Presentations are built upon a book's content to draw readers into a deeper spiritual discovery. Content can come in many forms such as author videos, discussion questions and Bible passages.

So far, B&H has created free downloadable presentations for several titles, including Rooms by Jim Rubart and Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins.

Outside the cover

"Right now, a book's content is contained inside the covers. Even a reference Bible's footnotes don't take the reader outside that book," said Linne.

That's why B&H launched MyStudyBible.com, allowing users to study the Bible in-depth using reference materials such as commentaries, maps, dictionaries and more than 500 other Bible-related titles all on one website.

Recent updates included linking 1,500 video commentaries to Scripture and introducing a radical new model that lets users buy access to content on an as-needed basis with three time frames – 24 hours, 30 days or unlimited.

Mikos said MyStudyBible.com is popular among pastors and church leaders.

"People don't have to spend $400 for commentary sets or Bible software. They can dive as deep as they need when they need for as long as they need," said Mikos.

Problem-solving technology

"Every new piece of technology we release needs to solve a reader's problem," said Linne. "We try to deliver the right thing to the reader. That starts by listening."

"You have to put yourself in the mind of the customer," Mikos said. "Being customer-centric is essential to being successful, which is much easier to say than do."

According to Mikos, developing new ideas from a customer perspective is imperative because "technology is getting to the point where nearly anything is possible. It's more a question of if it's worth it."

"We have to be careful to not overdevelop an idea," Linne said. "Apps can have the coolest features, but if readers don't want them, it's a waste of time and effort.

"B&H has great authors and great content and we are convicted about the message," said Linne. "If we decide to withhold technology from the world, we may be stealing someone's opportunity to hear a life-changing message."

Jon D. Wilke serves as LifeWay's media relations manager and organizational spokesperson. Through his service in the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army as well as his missionary and business travels, Jon has visited more than 30 countries. He works closely with Christian and general market news media to help tell what God is doing through LifeWay's staff and biblical solutions.

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