USCCB Announces 'Browser-Based eBook' Catechism

This morning, the USCCB announced the release of a new Catechism of the Catholic Church as an eBook. My hopes that this was finally true were dashed when I found two problems:

  1. The "Browser-Based eBook" is not an eBook—it's the same thing that's been available on the Vatican website for years, just with a search bar at the top and without a parchment background.
  2. The actual ePub Catechism is still $10.

The ePub file costs very little (in terms of infrastructure) to download—probably a penny or less per download. The hard-copy book costs $16... but some of that cost (if not all) is justified by the fact that a printing press, paper and distribution/warehousing are involved. So I'm wondering what the USCCB does with money from ePub sales. Would it not be better to get the text into the hands of anyone who wants it—Catholic or not—for free, or for a much more reasonable cost? After all, people can find a thousand protestant Bibles, atheist texts, etc., all free on the Kindle store or in iBooks. And it's easier for people to get the content from the major ebook stores as well.

Additionally, the USCCB claims the browser-based ebook is helpful for smartphone users. from the press release:

"Our ability to use the new technologies means that many more millions will be able to find the Catholic Church’s teachings on their tablets, their smartphones, and their laptops."

Sadly, this is only partially true: the online text is difficult, if not impossible, to read on any smartphone (I've tried on iPhone and Android). See:

Catechism on the iPhone

I don't think the USCCB is being dishonest. Rather, I think companies like Fig Leaf Software take advantage of the fact that many nonprofits (especially Catholic nonprofits, in my experience) don't really know what's happening in the digital space, and end up selling solutions that are outmoded and even sometimes irrelevant.

In this case, something is better than nothing, and browsing on the iPad or a desktop is definitely not a bad experience. But it's not great either. The book is relatively fast to load, but the search is not topical (only keywords in the text), making the online Catechism not really useful as a research tool, only as a quick reference.

My takeaway? It's good to see the USCCB trying to make more forays into the digital space... but please widen your research circle and look into solutions outside your current approved vendor list!

See also:

Comments

Brandon Vogt's picture

As always, great analysis, Jeff!

Rouxfus's picture

Can you copy text from the ePub version, or is it locked down?

Jeff Geerling's picture

I'm not sure, as I don't have the actual ePub; I've only been looking at their online version.

Web developer from St. Louis, MO. Personal website: Life is a Prayer.

Anonymous's picture

I thought the same about the price. I bought the soft cover for cheaper than that. Fix the problems, put it up for 99cents. That is the way to get it into everyone's hand - devices. Now that I know it is the same as what is on Vatican website, well...

Jerry's picture

The Catechism has also been available online for years on the Intratext web site (http://www.intratext.com/x/eng0015.htm) -- without the parchment background, and with a much better index

This is the same USCCB that doesn't even make their yearly liturgical calendar available free on their web site: one must pay $10 for a PDF file.

Anonymous's picture

It drives me crazy that religious texts such as the Breviary, Catechism, and the like are not easily and freely accessible in open-source formats without DRM or the like. Honestly, there should be a .txt version of the current translation of all of these things available for all.

Seriously, why am I paying $10 for the liturgical calendar? (Well, I'm not, but you know what I mean. Why would ANYONE?)

Jeff Geerling's picture

Johnathan Sullivan posted a good review of the online CCC (as used on a desktop or tablet) on his site: http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/2012/06/review-new-online-catechism-of-...

Web developer from St. Louis, MO. Personal website: Life is a Prayer.

Jeffrey Pinyan's picture

I have released a Beta API for searching the Catechism; more details here: http://www.opensourcecatholic.com/blog/jeffrey-pinyan-praying-ma/beta-test

Perl/PHP programmer. Author of a three-volume series on the Mass.

Jeff Geerling's picture

Thanks! This is a great step, for sure, and I'm going to try it out.

Web developer from St. Louis, MO. Personal website: Life is a Prayer.

Julie's picture

You're right when you write: "I don't think the USCCB is being dishonest. Rather, I think companies like Fig Leaf Software take advantage of the fact that many nonprofits (especially Catholic nonprofits, in my experience) don't really know what's happening in the digital space, and end up selling solutions that are outmoded and even sometimes irrelevant."
This has happened in our diocese when a slick, engaging business type schmoozes someone in authority re. tech stuff not easily understood. It's such a disservice to church folk who can't/don't understand the tech world. Then we're stuck with a contract with a mediocre company for a couple years. Unconscionable.

Jean-Rémy Duboc's picture

Wouldn't it be easier if the catechism was released under an open licence such as Creative Commons ? This way we could design our own catechism ebook...for free !
Then, the USCCB would just have to validate the best version and put them online for all to read.
Seriously, designing a real ebook using CSS3/HTML5 is not that hard.