Logos and Bibleworks are the two premier Bible study software programs of the theological world. The users of these programs develop loyalties reminiscent of the age-old Mac/PC feud (both programs will work on either operating system). Logos guys tend to be the trendy “look-what-I-can-do-on-my-ipad” types. Bibleworks guys tend to be nerdy “lets-see-every-way-this-word-is-ever-used” types. While these generalizations aren’t always true, Logos is generally regarded as being cooler and trendier than Bibleworks.
The programs have different specialties. Bibleworks focuses almost exclusively on the Biblical text. If you’re looking for the ability to do amazingly complex work with the Biblical languages on your computer, Bibleworks is the way to go. Not surprisingly, this program is primarily marketed to pastors and seminary professors.
Logos, while having respectable textual resources of its own, focuses primarily on constructing a digital library. If you want to build an extensive and fully searchable digital theological library, Logos is just about your only option. Because of this specialty, Logos is frequently marketed to the general public.
Although I own and enjoy the Theological Journal Library for Logos, I have never bought a complete Logos package and have no desire to do so. Partially, I can’t justify the expense of reduplicating a lot of what I have in Bibleworks. However, there are five reasons that should cause anyone to reconsider buying Logos:
1. Thousands of Books That You’ll Never Use
Logos users often have a hard time not gloating over the fact that they have 1000+ books on their computer. I have to admit that it’s pretty cool. However, book collecting is an expensive hobby, and digital books don’t even have the benefit of making nice wall decorations. Logos includes many titles you will never use. Before buying a bundle of 1000+ books, ask yourself how many of those books you even want to read.
Furthermore, Logos is deceptive about how much it actually includes. Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary sits on my shelf as six volumes. Logos includes only the two NT volumes and counts them as 23 books because they comprise material originally published separately in the “be” series. Of course, Logos is free to include whatever books they want in their software packages. However, since Logos calls this module the Bible Exposition Commentary and markets it using the cover of this series, counting two volumes as twenty-three separate books is deceptive advertising, plain and simple. [5-16-2012 Update: As of today, Logos has changed their description of their Bible Exposition Commentary module to “2 vols.; 23 titles.” Presumably this change will eventually be reflected in the descriptions of the base packages. Thus my statement regarding deceptive advertising is no longer a valid criticism of Logos.]
2. Thousands of Dollars That You’ll Never Save
Every advertizement for Logos includes something about how much this digital library saves over the retail price of the same books in print. However, this assumes that (1) you want all those books and (2) you would actually pay retail price. Well over a hundred titles in many Logos packages are public domain and can be downloaded as free PDFs, which are better for reading on mobile devices anyways. Why pay for books you can get for free?
Contrary to popular opinion, Logos books aren’t cheap. The New International Commentary Series (OT and NT, 40 volumes) costs $1,599.95 in Logos. Sure, that’s a lot less than retail, but who pays retail these days? You can order the same printed set at CBD for $999.99 (well, not exactly the same, the CBD set also includes one recent volume that Logos doesn’t).
I don’t have time to do the math, but if you excluded all the public domain books that you can download for free and then compared the cost of any Logos base package to buying the same books from CBD or Amazon, I’m fairly certain you could get the printed books cheaper. Additionally, you could save even more money by going used, and you also wouldn’t have to buy any book you didn’t want. If you are looking for specific books, you’ll usually be able to find them cheaper in print. On the other hand, if you just want to have a lot of books on your computer, why not just download a couple thousand volumes of whatever from Google books? It would be cheaper and give you the same bragging rights.
3. Thousands of Hours That You Would Never Spend
Logos ads frequently claim that you will save thousands of hours using their product. Such claims overvalue the usefulness of keyword searching. Keyword searches are useful for finding things, but they are limited by (1) the quantity and quality of the indexed data and (2) the time available to read the material. Real-world research is all about finding the best sources in a limited amount of time. In real life, you will either be using a much more extensive library due to the demands of the project or you will be using a much more limited selection of trusted sources due to time constraints. Logos will never give you an adequate substitute for library research, and no matter how fast you can find material, you will only have so much time to read. Furthermore, quickly finding the right sources is more dependent on experience and good reading habits than having a small search engine.
4. You Can Only Read One Book at a Time
For many, one of the most attractive features of Logos is the ability to carry all your books with you on a laptop. As a missionary, I understand the attraction for having a compact, portable library. However, you can only read one book at a time. True, with Logos you can jump from book to book with ease, but in order to profit from any book, you must be willing to spend some quality time reading the material once it’s opened. In normal sermon prep, you only have time to consult a relatively small number of commentaries. It’s much better to focus on buying the few best books on a subject than hundreds of mediocre ones (for good suggestions on books see the DBTS booklist). A good theological library doesn’t need to be huge, and most of us don’t have trouble carrying around all the books we plan to read in a week.
5. Technology Changes
Logos has been around for about 20 years, so it is unlikely that they will go out of business overnight. However, technology has a propensity for becoming obsolete. E-books have not yet found a medium that will be relatively future-proof. I seriously doubt that Logos users will still be able to access their books in 10-20 years without at least buying some form of upgrades. There is also always the possibility that Logos will go out of business, and then the software would eventually become unusable. Of course, physical books can burn up in house fires, but that’s why you pay for homeowners insurance.
In short, Logos is a nice software package but perhaps not as wonderful as it is hyped. You should think carefully before you buy. Andy Naselli has written a good article in favor of Logos if you want a different opinion. From my perspective, it’s more practical to stick with paper books and use Bibleworks for the linguistic heavy lifting.