Buddhism ebooks: the next big thing

Following up on my friend Danny’s recent post announcing Charles Prebish and Damien Keown’s new ebook offerings, I’d like to expand a bit and discuss ebooks more broadly. A few years ago, I bought my first ebook, Revisioning Karma, which compiled papers from the 2005 Journal of Buddhist Ethics online conference on karma. Interestingly, I had most, if not all, of the articles contained in the book, but the notion of having them all together in one source and the ability to cite a book rather than a URL ending in .pdf made good sense.

More recently, Chuck kindly gifted me a copy of his book on American Buddhism (see below) which has jumped to the (almost) top of my reading list. With that work and Damien’s introduction of “Buddhism and Bioethics” – a classic and must read for everyone interested in this tiny yet growing field of Buddhist ethics – the two are hoping to make a splash in the world of ebooks, perhaps drawing more well deserved attention to the large line of titles that they have put together at JBEOnlinebooks.org.

And having just been hired to teach an online course in World Religions, I took a look at the JBEOnlinebooks selection. Well, to be honest, I first looked at the textbook that has regularly accompanied the course.

Sticker-shock would be an understatement.

It was around $100. And it was in its 12th edition – a new one for every year, making it nearly impossible to resell the book to next year’s students to recuperate a fair amount of the cost. If this was a one-off oddity, it might be excusable, but it’s not.  In fact, for some subjects, this can be on the low end of the price spectrum. At this rate, students taking 5 courses, two semesters a year would be dumping about $4000 on textbooks for the average BA. Chuck and Damien wrote about this injustice here and as someone who worked – often two part-time jobs – to scrape by during my undergraduate career, I know how stressful that start-of-semester book shopping can be.

So getting back to the ebooks. Introducing World Religions: $35. Much better.

Plus it carries some other obvious benefits of ebooks, such as embedded links to web content and, of course, portability. Another great benefit is the ability to highlight, doodle, bookmark, and more without actually ‘damaging’ the book. I can mark up a page to my heart’s delight and later just ‘undo’ it all with a couple mouse clicks (for doing all of that, I highly recommend PDF XChange Viewer, which has a very useful free version).

Of course there will always be ‘hard copy holdouts’ – including myself in many cases. The smell, feel, and physical geography of non-digital books will ensure that my bookshelves are always full and growing. But as a fan of the hopefully increasing democratization of knowledge and information and the greater opportunities that brings to poorer people around the world, the cheaper and more portable ebooks make very good sense.

Damien Keown and Charles Prebish would like to announce the publication of their latest ebooks. Both ebooks are available for Kindle ebook readers at Amazon.com and for all other ebook readers (as well as Kindle) at Smashwords.com.

Damien’s ebook, “Buddhism and Bioethics” is the first book to discuss contemporary issues in bioethics from a Buddhist perspective. Written in a clear and accessible style by a leading expert in field, and drawing on both ancient and modern sources, it shows how Buddhist ethical teachings can be applied to a range of controversial issues like abortion and euthanasia. It’s price is $9.99.

Chuck’s ebook, “Looking West: A Primer for American Buddhism” is a short, basic introduction to one of the fastest growing new religions in America. It provides all the historical, doctrinal, and community information a curious person would want to know about Buddhism in its American home. It highlights all the key figures and religious practices employed by the various Buddhist communities in America. It’s price is $9.99.


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