How a Digital Bible Became a Breakout Business

This post is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark as a new part of the Spark of Genius series that focuses on a new and innovative startup each day. Every Thursday, the program focuses on startups within the BizSpark program and what they’re doing to grow.

No matter what your religious persuasions are, it’s hard to name a book that has had more influence than the Bible. Literature, wars, customs and geography have all been inspired by its content, and there’s good reason for scholars of just about every liberal arts topic to have a copy on their bookshelves.

But what most people don’t see when they look at the Bible is an opportunity for high tech entrepreneurship. Nelson Saba, the CEO of Immersion Digital, is an exception. In 2002, he led the development of a digital interactive Bible that was purchased by about 600,000 people. In 2008, the company raised $7 million in angel funding to launch a new version, which aims to not only supplement — but replace — the paper version of the Bible.

Saba recently spoke with Mashable about creating a platform that not only enhances an ancient text, but also has the potential to revolutionize educational texts across every topic.

Beyond Scholars


Immersion Digital was not the first company to create a Bible software, but most Bible software that came before it targeted scholars rather than families. The first product, Illumina, was designed for families to use as a Bible. And Glo, the version the company released in 2009, is even more so.

“We started to realize that there were now several generations that were digital, and now it’s not just a matter of creating a powerful way of communicating the Bible,” Saba says. “We thought it was necessary to have something that could be literally a digital alternative to the paper. Something that you, as someone who belongs to that digital generation, would favor over paper.”

The current version has a beautiful zoomable user interface that allows users to “dive into the content,” and it’s easy to browse the Bible from a variety of angles. You could, for instance, search for everything about marriage. You just as easily search for everything that happened in Jerusalem or everything that happened in a specific time period. Every topic also has interactive components like an atlas, videos, time lines and photos.

Beyond Software

In 2010, Glo won the Superbowl trophy of Bible publishing: The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association‘s Bible of the Year award. It was the first digital product to win.

“It was kind of a validation for us, that digital is not seen anymore as a software,” Saba says. “Digital is really seen as a media that can be used to deliver books, in this case the Bible…we don’t even use the word software that much, because… we really don’t want to be perceived as anything other than a Bible in a digital form.”

Beyond Desktops


Much of Glo’s strategy for becoming more of a book replacement rather than a desktop program relies on breaking out of the browser.

“This new product was released for both desktops and laptops at first, which we knew was not our target, but that’s what we had so we launched with what we had aiming at where we are getting at…which is really the mobile platforms,” Saba says.

Microsoft highlighted Glo’s app for a Windows 7 tablet at CES, and the freemium model app will be released along with a similar iPad app later this month.

Beyond Bibles


What Immersion Digital has created in Glo is not only a Bible, but a platform that highlights the potential of digital books to be more than electronic copies of their paper counterparts. The ability to have context and visualization of concepts at your fingertips is something that nearly any textbook could benefit from.

“This product is an educational product focused on teaching people about the Bible, that’s what our vocation is as a product,” Saba says. “The combination of the experience and exploration that you can have with interactive media, with the text itself, it lends it naturally to this very engaging and active learning experience — you are navigating, you’re leading it, and as you do so you’re learning.”

Immersion Digital’s plan is to apply the platform to other topics. It is planning a prototype for subjects like history or geography that it will market to publishers of textbooks.

Sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark

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