Rabbi Shmuley Goes Direct to Digital

By Stephen Lowman

About six months ago Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was on an airplane when a woman sitting next to him shot him a curious look.

"Son," she said, "You're covered in gadgets."

"I was reading a book on my [Sony] Reader. I was dictating messages to my office on an electronic voice recorder. I was listening to my iPod through a Bluetooth stereo headset. I probably had one or two other things on me," Boteach, who is 42, explained. "I love technology."

Boteach's faith in technology is so strong that for his 21st book he has decided to flout centuries of tradition. "The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger" will not be printed on leaves of paper bound between covers. If readers want the rabbi's words, they will have to download them.

Rabbi Shumley Boteach (Susan Biddle/TWP)

Sony and Boteach partnered to offer the book exclusively to users of the Sony Reader, an e-book that competes with devices such as Amazon's Kindle.

Boteach is a marriage and family counselor perhaps best known for his advice book "Kosher Sex" and his TLC television show "Shalom in the Home" -- where he would pull up to a warring family's house in an Airstream trailer and help them hammer out a peace deal.

He said that "The Blessing of Enough" was particularly suited for the e-book format.

"I wanted to be part of the dialogue about greed and the national economy," he said, noting that a quick publication turnaround was necessary to reach readers during the economic crisis. "I was amazed that everyone agreed that the causes of the economic collapse were American voraciousness, insatiability and greed, but no one was talking about where greed stems from and what is the cure."

Had he gone the traditional route, Boteach guessed that the book would have arrived on shelves nine months to a year after submitting it to the publisher. By publishing digitally he was able to submit the book in July and see it released online last week. It can be downloaded at ebookstore.sony.com for $8.99.

"I really wanted to publish the book in a digital version so I don't miss that national conversation," he said.

While Boteach said there are thousands of books lining his walls, 80 percent of his book reading is done on the Reader. As an Orthodox Jew, he refrains from use of electrical appliances on the Sabbath, so the drag of a scrollbar or the tap of key will never wholly replace the lifting of a page in his house.

But the device has taken hold. Most nights Boteach's Reader winds up at his bedside. He recently purchased another Reader for his children, with his 16-year-old son devouring such tomes as War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The two recently read Heart of Darkness. (One of the blessings of reading the classics is that many are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free onto open format e-readers.)

Whether the general reading public will embrace e-readers is still an open question. In-Stat, a mobile Internet and digital entertainment consultant, predicts steady growth, with e-reader sales hitting 30 million in 2013. For Boteach, however, the book is already closed.

"Do I miss feeling the book, holding it in my hand?" he asked. "Not really."

By Steven E. Levingston |  September 17, 2009; 5:30 AM ET Steven Levingston
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