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Spokane digital Bible publisher aims to stay in lead

Tue., Aug. 11, 2009, 5:02 p.m.

Having just moved into its first Spokane office, startup Olive Tree Software is betting the house on keeping its leadership role in a tough and competitive online publishing arena.

That arena is the hotly contested realm of digital Bible literature. Olive Tree Software, which started in Portland in 2000 and moved to Spokane in 2005, is considered the leader in delivering Bible texts for mobile and handheld devices.

The demand for electronic versions of biblical texts has changed as dramatically as the general field of e-books has. More and more publishers are producing religious titles for iPhones, smartphones and small e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle.

No other U.S. company has worked as hard as Olive Tree to produce Bible texts for the growing population of smartphone or iPhone users, said Keith Reeves, professor of religion at Azusa Pacific University.

“Olive Tree is the dominant animal in the mobile device platform for Bible texts,” said Reeves.

For the past eight years the company has operated out of the home of Drew Haninger, founder and president of Olive Tree Software. In July, now that the company has grown to 10 Spokane workers, he moved into an office near Whitworth University.

“We’d like to find three more people for jobs in this office,” Haninger said.

The company’s engineers format and digitally enhance Bible texts and e-books into five mobile software versions: for iPhone, Symbian (for Nokia devices), Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Palm.

“We don’t write any of the books on our own,” Haninger said. “We license everything we use directly from publishers.” One of its best selling products is the English Standard Version Study Bible. The $29.95 application, at iTunes, includes 2,700 pages of Bible text and commentaries.

It includes maps, dictionaries, illustrations and study notes as well.

Olive Tree Software also provides free works. The company site,, features more than 50 Bibles or assorted theological books for free download.

To date the company has seen more than 400,000 downloads of its products from Apple’s iTunes, most of them free books, said Haninger. That tells him the company’s future is bound closely to producing quality digital books for lay readers and scholars.

In the 1990s Haninger was a network engineer in Phoenix when friends asked him to transfer an electronic copy of the Bible to the Palm handheld. After he did that, friends asked him to add more features or expand the number of Bible translations available.

After moving to Portland in 2000, he incorporated the company; in 2005, on the invitation of friends, he moved to Spokane.

Haninger said he knows larger competitors are looking at entering the handheld market. To keep ahead, Haninger said he hopes to meet investors who would help Olive Tree Software continue to develop better products.

Digital publishing is a fast-moving, uncertain industry, added Haninger. “Two years ago we had two competitors. Today one is totally gone and the other looks like it might not survive.”

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