Beth Moore's Esther Featured on iTunes Main Page

I'll be honest... I'm a bit giddy about this.  Notice anything special about the "New Releases" tab in iTunes this week?   Esther on iTunes New Releases Esther on iTunes New Releases       Esther, by Beth Moore, is sitting there with Nickelback, Beyonce, David Cook and, with quite the juxtaposition, Ani DiFranco.  This is the first time anything LifeWay has put onto iTunes has gotten featured, and I'm pretty excited about it. I remember when we first started uploading things to iTunes (back in 2006) how excited I was to even be able to just be able to install the iTunes Producer app.  And, while I knew that 4 Cool Carols 4 Cool Ways (LifeWay's first iTunes album) wasn't about to set the world on fire, I knew that we were heading down a path to be able to have a voice in the world of digital media.  While many Christian publishers have gotten to the front page of iTunes many times before much earlier... I feel a lot of validation in my work the past few years to see us finally there. It's quite the month of milestones for me in regards to the digital downloads here at LifeWay; the simultaneous release of Beth Moore's Esther as a print product and digital download (on both iTunes and LifeWay.com), hitting over 1000 digital products available on LifeWay.com, and the first ever HD content released from LifeWay being a digital download. I'm honored to have been a part of these milestones at LifeWay and having been a part of helping create and distribute truly life-changing resources to the digital sector of today's culture.  It's a great feeling to close out the year and know that a good work has been done.
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LifeWay Downloads: Can We Talk, Men are Like Waffles, and Freedom from Busyness

This week we were able to release three products I've been working on for our digital download products!  I'm excited about the progress we're making with get products out and released.  We're beginning to establish quite a number of products in various age groups for various uses including individual study, group use, and piece to help with sermons or worship.  I continue to be amazed at the support that the leaders here at LifeWay are giving to the downloadable products. Can We Talk Priscilla Shirer leads the "Can We Talk" Bible Study through seven sessions  In this study, you will respond to a variety of biblical passages, prompted by thought-provoking questions, and develop a Christ-focused view on important issues and experience a closer walk with their Creator.  Priscilla uses a unique, four-step teaching method to truly engage the Bible in her own way to pull you in deeper. The downloadables are offered as both an individual use, personal file size and a standard definition file for use within a small group. You can purchase the videos here. Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti I first heard about this study from my wife, who absolutely loved the concept.  The title says it all, as Bill and Pam explore the differences between men and women.  The Farrels want to be able to help spouses understand how men and women think differently and deal with life and emotions differently.  The study is a great series that can help a couple truly better understand one another and I'm honestly excited that we're being able to make it available for download so couples can view it together. The downloadables are offered as both an individual use, personal file size and a standard definition file for use within a small group. You can purchase the videos here. Freedom From Busyness The very first downloadable product I worked on fore LifeWay was Mike Zigarelli's Influencing Like Jesus.  Mike is a genuinely nice guy, and I've loved working with him in the few interactions we've had.  With that, I'm excited to be able to release his older study, Freedom from Busyness as a downloadable as well. The five sessions are offered as both an individual use, personal file size and a standard definition file for use within a small group. You can purchase the videos here.
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LifeWay Downloads: BlueFishTV Videos

I am happy to announce that our first wave of BlueFishTV videos are now available for purchase through LifeWay.com! The student publishing area of LifeWay have partnered with BlueFishTV to make applicable videos available to purchase from LifeWay for use with our upcoming KNOWN materials.  These videos are standard definition and WMV file format.  You can view the current selection here.
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LifeWay Downloads: VBS 2008 Outrigger Island Videos

We've officially launched the VBS 2008 Outrigger Island videos for download!  These are actually quite the deal, as we've chosen to bundle the videos together.  Whereas most of our standard definition videos run at $5.99, these bundles are only $8.99.  If you're doing a children's ministry, the worship songs set is a great way to get some videos to use during your worship services and playback in MediaShout (or your presentation software of choice). The Outrigger Island videos come in three bundles: Worship Songs, Missions Videos and Drama videos. You can check out the bundles here.
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LifeWay Downloads: Tough Sayings of Jesus

And.... we're back!  After a brief hiatus in order to get out processes sorted out, we've begun to push out digital download content to LifeWay.com again.  I'm happy to say that the first out of the gate this go around is the Threads study, Tough Sayings of Jesus by Michael Kelley. For the downloadable resources, literally the entire study is available either as a complete bundle, as individual sessions, or as just the videos (in my humble opinion, the Captive video from this series is one of the short video segments to come out of LifeWay).  Each session contains a lot: 1) The Leader Guide PDF 2) The Member Book PDF 3) The Corresponding Conversation-Stater Video 4) Audio Teaching Help from Michael Kelley 5) Tough Saying Poster PDF & email banner JPG 6) Sample of Tough Sayings 2 The Threads team have reallyl gone all out to make this a complete digital offering.  Also available today is the "More Than Stats" video from Get Uncomfortable and the previously unreleased "Hear" video.
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Data Mining to Justify and Solve Mysteries (and... Clip Art?)

Last week I gobbled up some more responsibility here at LifeWay, and became the curator of our (forthcoming) downloads portal, LifeWay.com/downloads.  As of today, this is what it looks like: Magical, eh? So, of course, I have much different plans for the page than its currently set up.  However, in making such a big change, it's only right for the page to have the rights of due diligence and make sure that the current users of the page will still have the same functions on the name page, if it is so warranted. The current page is set up as links going to our free resources.  Is it effective?  Meh. Because we use an awesome web stats service, Fireclick, and my job used to be gathering and reporting on the web analysis and metrics for the entire LifeWay network of sites, I'm able to get at the pertinent data pretty readily. Turns out the number one links is to the Adult free resources (the Women's resources is a broken link, so I can't track that).  More surprising, however, I discovered that the number two link was the clipart page, and that the clipart page was surprisingly popular on our site in general!  Clipart?  Seriously?  So this, of course, leads to exploration about the clipart page. One of the neat things about Fireclick is you can easily pull up all kinds of stats on a webpage.  My curiosity was this: if the LifeWay.com/downloads page was responsible for only 1.6% of the clipart page... how were people getting there? It turns out that 94% of the hits on the clipart page are actually the FIRST page people hit on the LifeWay.com website.  In other words, they're coming to the page from OUTSIDE of other LifeWay.com pages.  This is where data-mining and webstats gets to be fun; I was trying to find out what to do with one page and stumble upon a silly mystery of how on Earth are people getting to a page that we haven't updated in years. Again, Fireclick comes to the rescue as I can put the webpage into a report that tells me what the referring domains (and/or actual URLs) are to bring people directly to the clipart page. Here's where it gets crazy; 65% of the visits to the page are from people doing directly to the page... as in, typing it in or they have it book marked.  The next biggest bracket are Google searches from Canada, and then Google searches from the UK. So, of course, I get even more curious and mine a bit further... We've got people hitting up our clipart page from EVERYWHERE.  The US, Canada, the UK, the Philipines, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates... everywhere.  This is just bizzare to me. The key to data mining, however, is making some sense of the data.  If you've got nothing applicable from the exercise, then it's just a waste of time.  So, some resolution points from my little stroll down the Fireclick stats lane:  
  1. The page can be modified however we see fit.  There is too little traffic to the lifeway.com/downloads page to impact our business in a negative capacity.  Any improvements should/could result in an improvement in page views, usage of free downloads, and traffic/awareness of our purchasable downloads.
  2. The free download pages need to be reworked as well.  They aren't heavily trafficked either and need some attention.  There's good content out there, but no one knows we give so much away free!
  3. Clip Art for MayClipart could be a micromarket for us.  The question is: do we position clipart as a free loss-leader for traffic/something we can just give away to help church add some flair to their bulletins, or do we find a way to commission new, high-quality clip art and sell sets of it to recoup the expenditure?  Unfortunately, I'm not really in a position to make any kind of decision (or really a suggestion) on such a topic, but I find it an interesting dilemma none-the-less.
  4. Clipart.  Still popular.  I never, ever would have guessed.  This is a very humbling reminder about how expansive our customer base is, with some people desiring HD downloads and others checking our clipart page, anxiously awaiting a new line  drawing to drop into their bulletin.
 
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LifeWay Downloads: Do You Think I'm Beautiful?

  Do You Think I'm Beautiful by Angela Thomas is now available for download from LifeWay.com.  This is an Individual Use version and DRM-free.
From the LifeWay.com Online Catalog: Based on the popular trade book with the same title. Seeks to bridge the gap between the life a woman longs for, and the life she actually has. The video-based study combines practical Bible teaching and real-world advice. Through her warm and intimate style of teaching, Thomas touches readers with personal stories that will resonate in their own lives and draw them closer to their loving Father.
To learn more  you can visit Angela’s site here, or check out her LifeWay studies here.
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One of the Great Things LifeWay is Doing: Free "Share Jesus Without Fear" Downloadable

Recently made available on the LifeWay Catalog is a series of free downloadable PDFs for the "Share Jesus Without Fear" material.  This is the first release of products under our multi-ethnic initiative led by Phil Adams, and it has been awesome to get to touch on it, just a little bit. It's not often that we're able to give things of this nature away for free, let alone things that are entirely new products.  These pieces were translated specifically for this purpose: to make them available for free.  I've gotten to talk with Phil several times about the initiative, and there really isn't an ulterior motive here; Phil believes that there is a need for these languages that often don't get much attention to have materials available to them in their native tongue. The fact of the matter is, LifeWay is incurring a cost to make these available.  We pay the cost of hosting the files and of delivering them (just because we're a non-profit doesn't mean that we get free internet bandwidth).  LifeWay pays the cost for meetings when we discuss plans for the products.  LifeWay pays for the time to create the PDF, to organize the process, etc etc. It's a pleasure being able to see us take on a financial burden to ourselves in order to better equip fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and doing so in a way  that is comfortable to them, in their own language.  While we would never be able to do this for all of our products (we do need revenue in order to pay for product, authors fees, employee salaries, electricity and the like), it's great to see us be able to utilize digital delivery to do something like this. Physical books in the various languages are also available at the discounted rate of $4.90.
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LifeWay Downloads: When Wallflowers Dance

Angela Thomas's new study, When Wallflowers Dance, is now available for download on LifeWay.com.  The study is about moving away from the walls and insecurity and towards a more fulfilling, unashamed life with God.  These files are for individual use and are DRM-free. To learn more  you can visit Angela's site here, or check our her LifeWay studies here.
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LifeWay Downloads: Jennifer Rothschild

New to the LifeWay online catalog are the downloadable versions of Jennifer Rothschild's "Fingerprints of God" and "Walking by Faith."  These are individual use versions, available for download to view on your own computer.  They also continue our trend of releasing the downloadable DRM-free. You can learn more about Jennifer from her own website, here, or her bio from LifeWay.com.
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LifeWay Downloads: Fuel Fire Starters

Now available on LifeWay.com are digital downloads of the Fuel Fire Starter videos.  These videos are fun digital shorts to be played during youth group meetings and such.  The Fuel product line has been around for several years now and the production just gets better and better each time.  The videos available for download now are some of the best single-episode shorts from the (nearly) 100 sessions we have available on the DVDs. Plus, this gives me an excuse to post what is now my favorite image on the LifeWay Online Catalog: *shocked* Little Red Riding Hood.
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LifeWay Downloads: A Heart Like His

As hinted at last week, Beth Moore's A Heart Like His Study is now downloadable from the LifeWay catalog.  These are individual use videos, running at the resolution of 360x240. A Heart Like His is a Beth Moore study from 1996.  It's amazing to see how visually she's changed with the times, but how sound and compelling her teaching has always been.  This study follows along the path of exploring the life and times of David, but Beth brings so much more to the table. I really admire Beth for the depth and inclusiveness of her studies.  She is able to flow from Bible passages to personal stories to studying Greek and Hebrew words.  The fact that the depth of her studies have led to so much life change and freedom from sin and self-doubt in so many women (and men!) is a testiment not simply to her teaching prowress, but the life-changing capabilities of the Word when examined closely. You can purchase the individual use versions of this study here.
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LifeWay Downloads: Max Lucado's 3:16

Today we released Max Lucado's 3:16 study for download in the LifeWay catalog. The videos are for Individual Use, which means they weigh in at a resolution of 418x240 (they are 16x9). The videos are based off of his new study about having hope in today's world, using the simple analogy of 3:16 hope in a 9/11 world. One of the best things about the study is the bonus materials of people's testimonies on how Christ has effected their lives. We're still working on how to best deliver those materials via digital downloads, because they really would be best served for presentation in a large group setting. Hopefully we'll be able to work something out soon. Also, the audio files from Beth Moore's A Heart Like His study were able to get out this wee. These are from a study she released in 1996 about David. Old materials, but still great Bible teaching. If the audios are released, I would imagine the videos might be following soon...
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LifeWay Downloads: Decisions about Encoding

As I mentioned in a previous post, LifeWay is beginning to offer some of our downloadable videos in standard definition.  There are a number of things that go into the decision on how to encode these things, but the biggest question is always what we should offer in terms of resolution, bit rate, and file size.  With standard definition, the resolution should be pretty well set: 640x480.  Of course, we shoot with DV cam, so that resolution actually gets bumped up above standard def, to 720x480.  And there's  one project I'm working on  that was shot in 16:9, so the resolution will be even higher (but not hi-def).So today I'm working with some hour-long sessions of a study we've previously released in low-res from Beth Moore. Since we're making it standard def (720x480), I have to really tweak the bit rate to make sure that the quality is worth the extra money that we will be charging for the video.  However, I have to make the file size small enough that a normal computer and internet connection can handle the download.  LifeWay does not yet have a download manager... so I can't go over the top with file size. The balance I'm at, for these files, is working at a 2000kbps variable bit rate.  While this is less than I'd like it to be... it's just about the highest quality I can go and still make a feasible product.  Why?  At 2000kbps, the file sizes are hitting 1000MB.  That's a big file to download.  Real big.  When I worked in the technology division, I had customers complain about 100MB files. The source files I'm working with are averaging 75GB.  So, being able to compress down to 1GB is actually an amazing feat (and one that is averaging 6 HOURS per encode... 12 files x 6 hours = 3 days.  Thank you, Mr. Weekend). So here's to an experiment in file sizes; is the quality of going from 360x240 at around 800kbps and 100MB worth 1000MB at 720x480 at 2000kbps? 
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LifeWay Downloads: Influencing Like Jesus

The video teaching series for Mike Zigarelli's Influencing Like Jesus is now available for download on LifeWay.com.  This is pretty exciting for me because it's the first video project that I've seen all the way through.  This has been the pilot project for my job and everything that's to come for me, video wise.  With this project I was able to gather the information needed to make my workflow, get authorization for the correct software needs, and fully understand the process of getting the files up to our file server and connected with our online catalog. The more exciting part about this series is it's a first for LifeWay in two ways: (1) This is our first DRM-free video download product.  This is an experiment for us to see how our customers will react to the files not being DRM'd.  There's quite a bit of risk for us here, as there isn't a DVD companion piece to this.  In the long run, I think this will serve as a great customer convience.  From my customer service background I know the troubles that a lot of our customers have had with the current DRM set-up.  Plus, this will allow our Mac users to download the files.  I truly think this is a win-win situation, and I hope to get approval on more DRM-free content in the future. (2) This is our first multi-tiered quality product.  What I mean by that is the videos are available in three flavors:  This is the first time we're offering a standard definition downloadable product.  All of our past downloads, such as the Beth Moore Daniel files, were low-res, 360x240 files.  We still have that size available for Influencing Like Jesus, but now we also have the full res, 720x480 files available.  For 'Influencing' the files were encoded at an average bit rate of 3000kbps.  Amazon Unbox - a leader in digital downloads - offers their files at an average bit rate of 2500kbps.  I'm proud to say we're able to beat them at that. Of course, with that bump in resolution and bit rate we see a much high file size... so these files are definately only for customers that have a broadband connection. A few links if you're interested in the product:
  • I previously talked with Chris Johnson (the editor of the entire product line) here.
  • You can view the free introductory session here.
  • You can read about the entire study here.
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