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The BBT Moves Into the World of E-Books

By: for ISKCON News on Jan. 13, 2012
Apple Founder Steve Jobs with the Ipad, just one of the many e-readers that BBT books will be available on.
While printed books still account for the lion’s share of the market, the publishing business is changing in today’s digital world.

E-books have jumped from 8.5 per cent of all book sales in mid 2010 to twenty per cent this January, while forty-two of the top fifty titles on the USA Today bestseller list sold more e-book editions than print. Meanwhile, Amazon sold nearly five million of its new Kindle Fire e-reader and Barnes and Noble sold two million of its Nook over the holidays.

The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, ISKCON’s publishing wing established by its founder Srila Prabhupada in 1972, is also looking to keep up with the changing times.

The publisher’s North European branch, based in Sweden, has been hard at work for several years creating top quality e-books to be released across a variety of platforms.

While the conversion is a continuing effort, since Christmas the BBT has been allowing ISKCON members to test the e-books they have completed so far at BBTmedia.com for free for a limited time only. The digital books will then be sold to the general public on websites such as Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com for half the price of their printed counterparts.

“It’s been a painstaking process to create unabridged, complete e-versions of the books,” says BBT communications officer Lila-Shakti Dasi. “As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s quite a feat to convert every word in every volume of every book over to not just one, but several different e-book formats for all the different e-readers on the market.”

So far, the BBT has created e-books for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Sony Reader, Nook, and Amazon Kindle. And all of these are complete and unabridged, with full Devanagari text, verses, Sanskrit to English transliteration, translations, and purports.

Thirty-one e-books have been completed so far and are currently downloadable on BBTmedia.com including Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Isopanishad, Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, The Science of Self-Realization, Teachings of Queen Kunti, both the 1972 and 1983 editions of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and a variety of smaller books. Most noteably, however, all twelve cantos of the Srimad-Bhagavatam have just recently been completed and posted to the website.

ISKCON devotees are advised to regularly check BBTmedia.com as more titles continue to be added. In the next two months, for instance, the entire Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita is expected to arrive.

E-books are also being translated into different languages, with a few titles in German, Hungarian, Slovene, Lithuanian, and Finnish available so far.

At present, the e-books do not include the BBT's famous artwork; releasing and translating as many titles as possible in a wide range of languages is a priority. Once that has been done, however, art will be added to the e-publications too.

“For readers’ viewing pleasure, some e-books will contain extra artwork, with all the different paintings from their different print additions being included in one e-book,” Lila-Shakti says.

For readers, e-books are a handy, environmentally friendly, space-saving way to carry around all of Srila Prabhupada’s books. And with e-readers, it’ll even be possible to search for specific phrases, creating an invaluable research tool.

The e-books are a major step for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, offering a different method of book distribution from the traditional street approach.

“Traditional book distribution, except in a handful of countries, isn’t as strong as it used to be,” says Lila-Shakti. “But we still have to get books into people’s hands, regardless of what the method may be. This will definitely change the BBT’s paradigm of distribution.”

Some see the possibility of combining the new and the old, with book distributors heading out on the streets armed with only an e-reader, upon which they can show people Srila Prabhupada’s entire catalog, and give them a web address from which to purchase books.

Passive distribution is also a major outlet: in today’s plugged-in world, people may be more likely to come across books online than through other channels.

“My husband and I actually came in contact with Krishna consciousness online seven years ago, even before the advent of e-books, when we bought Chant and

Be Happy on Ebay,” says Lila-Shakti. “We didn’t have a lot of contact with devotees at the beginning, but thanks to the books we found online, our Krishna consciousness developed and we became devotees.”

She concludes: “Now, with instantly downloadable e-books, I hope more and more people will get the wonderful gift I received.”

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