Bible: A mobile holy book
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9 business, not religion.
One of his early efforts was a Google ad campaign to lure pornography consumers to the church instead. But then he had an insight: if the church wanted to attract younger people, it needed to be technically advanced and to offer its resources free.
“We have a generation of people that can’t fathom paying 99 cents for a song that they love,” Mr. Gruenewald said, “and we were asking them to pay $20 for a book that they don’t understand.”
He made YouVersion available in 2008, as the first Bible in Apple’s App Store. That early release contained only a few translations, like the King James Version, mostly in the public domain. He said that when he began trying to persuade traditional Bible publishers to enter licensing arrangements with him, he encountered suspicion.
“People would say: ‘If people read it on YouVersion and they’re not paying anything for it, what’s going to happen to my pew Bibles?’ ” said Mr. Dennis.
Adam Graber of Tyndale House, another publisher that provides translations for the app, expressed some reservations about YouVersion’s strong position in the market for Bible apps.
“One major player emerges, whether it’s Apple or Google or YouVersion,” he said. “It has its drawbacks in the sense that it gives people fewer options and it definitely consolidates power and kind of clumps that power into a few people’s hands.”
But Mr. Graber also said he saw benefits in being part of the app. He compared the relationship between YouVersion and traditional publishers to the strategy common in mobile games where the core content is free, but extra features cost money. In this case, those extras are things like devotional Bibles, study Bibles or gold-embossed heirloom Bibles.
Although there are no ads on the app and no plans to create any, Mr. Gruenewald said YouVersion collects vast amounts of data on readership patterns, which it shares with its partners.
Today, the app has become a platform for evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, an American pastor, to reach millions of people with custom reading plans. On Sundays, as pastors preach from iPads while congregations click on Bible chapters, YouVersion’s servers track more than 600,000 requests every minute.
“This is a remarkable tech start-up by any measure,” said Chi-Hua Chien, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
“It is certainly going to be the most important distribution channel for anyone who is creating Christian faith content,” he said. “Where else can you go and reach 100 million people?”