I suppose moving the anchor is a difficult job for a small boat in a middle of a storm. If waves are too big and currents are too strong there’s no guarantee you’ll reach you desired anchoring place without being swept away, so the moment you lift it up you come at the mercy of the ocean, and slowly dragging the anchor along the bottom is not an option either. What to do?
We are more or less in the same situation but our anchor is Śrīla Prabhupāda. Losing our connection with him leads to immediate doom, you can’t move him – he is “guru”, heavy, but the preaching field might have shifted away from our anchored position. If it hasn’t done so yet it’s only a matter of time.
Our other anchor is books, we can’t deviate from them but if people need something else to reach their hearts we have nothing. Our corporate structure was designed around books, BBT prints them, ISKCON distributes them, and it hasn’t changed in the past half a century.
These days people read e-books, probably more than they read paper books, but out structure is not designed for distributing those. Our saṅkīrtana devotees do not walk around the malls giving out download links for a modest donation, that’s not how e-books work.
Internet has completely upended publishing industry and they adapted but we didn’t. Right in the beginning we caught “internet is free” virus and put all our books online. Not the BBT itself, they couldn’t be bothered, but volunteer devotees. For a while vedabase.net was a go to place for reading all Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books but that site had no formal affiliation with ISKCON, afaik, and then its owner got busted for keeping sexual slaves and eventually name lease expired, it’s inaccessible now.
Vedabase.com took over and it’s a site run by an official repository of Prabhupāda’s archives but it’s not BBT and if they printed their content on paper BBT would sue them, or GBC would order them to stop, whichever comes first. It’s also good for references but they don’t offer e-books for download, so it’s unreadable offline without some hacking. I doubt many people use it for actual reading rather than for quick look up and giving references.
The other big problem is that these archives were historically meant for devotees, they were not meant to attract general people, so their presentation is nothing like our printed books, it’s just a plain text on a background color from the 90s, plus a little texturing. It’s functional and absolutely perfect for devotees but if we had a print equivalent of this and tried to sell it to people on the streets Śrīla Prabhupāda would be outraged. He put so much effort in making our books look nice, he never compromised on quality. There are no pictures, no colorful jackets, nothing.
If someone asks us on the street if our books are available online we can certainly direct them to Vedabase or any other similar site hosting Bhagavad Gītā, but if it comes at the expense of not selling a book then it’s not saṅkīrtana the way Prabhupāda wanted it to be done. This is where it becomes complicated.
If we tell people to visit BBT site then there are two of those, one run by ex-ISKCON devotees who wrestled rights to works published during Prabhupāda’s lifetime but the correct one is BBTi, and it doesn’t offer any books for sale there.
If people want to purchase e-books they’d have to go to bbtmedia.com, or krishna.com, or krishna.org and follow the link to krishnastore.com. Oh, wait, that last one is run by another ex-ISKCON devotee and sells “original” books, not the current version published by BBTi. So, krishna.org is dodgy, but krishna.com is okay, you just go there, click on “store”, and can buy all the books there. Except for e-books, darn it, so you have to start again and go to Books menu and select e-books from there.
Our institutions are simply not designed for the internet age, and even proper e-books from bbtmedia.com come without illustrations, which is a shame. Well, maybe if you buy one it would be illustrated but I got mine when bbtmedia provided free downloads on request while there were still in the trial stage.
This turned into a long rant but the point was that we, as an organization, are firmly anchored to physical books. If people go swim around the internet we are not there, and we can’t move our anchor. What to do?
It’s the same question I left off with yesterday and I can probably think up some other ways to restate it.
How do we move forward? Wrong question – we should be moving to Kṛṣṇa, “forward” in the present context means going to hell. Should we follow people and try to catch them before they fall off the Earth? Yes, of course, that’s our given mission, but it’s in conflict with our commitment to staying with Prabhupāda.
We aren’t ācāryas in our own right yet and our inventions tend to backfire, there’s no one in our society who we can trust and use as a new anchor and we aren’t ready to tether ourselves to a new ācārya anyway, nor should we ever be, considering the way ISKCON defines itself.
The world, meanwhile is moving into a post-internet age of sorts where people have only apps and can’t be bothered to open browsers, type addresses, and use web interfaces. There are plenty of apps that bring websites to your phone to avoid this hassle but there are many big app names that first create apps and then add websites later, if anyone wants to use them at all. Mobile increasingly comes first, internet later.
Bbtmedia doesn’t offer any apps, to get their e-books one still has to go old fashioned way – go to website, download, read with an appropriate app for your device. Or buy them from official store for your platform. If you want apps there are plenty of them but they are all by other developers, often using BBT’s artwork. I don’t know if they infringe on BBT copyright there but it’s the same unholy mess as we have with books on the internet, only worse.
How can we catch attention of the people who not only never read paper books but hardly use their computers. Their lives are tethered to their phones and so are out of our reach. Should we move our anchor to be closer to them? I think it’s unavoidable, but, sadly, I only managed to state the case, not offer any solutions. Maybe tomorrow.