Publishing: More on Deseret Book’s purchase of Excel Entertainment

As I thought about Deseret Book’s acquisition of Excel Entertainment last night, I began to write a post for today that would express my concerns about what this would mean for the world of LDS film. Some of the films distributed by Excel (most notably Richard Dutcher’s “God’s Army” and “Brigham City”) came under fire from some LDS upset about their content — especially that Dutcher depicted LDS rituals (a baptism, and the blessing and passing of the sacrament [please note: as I understand it he never depicted the full ritual]) .

Considering Deseret Book’s retrenchment over the past 18 months, I was worried that they’d hamstring Excel’s film division.

Apparently, DB anticipated such concerns (I have to give pr props to whomever made this one of the talking points for DB’s spokespersons) because both the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune stories bring this up.

From the Deseret News story:

“Neither Simpson nor Dew expect the transaction to affect content of future films. Deseret Book has sold every Excel product so far.”

From the Salt Lake Tribune story:

“Dew said the purchase does not portend an end to pop-culture LDS films distributed by Excel. Some depictions of LDS life in past films drew negative comments from some viewers.

‘We’ll do as many good films as we can find,’ she said. However, how that translates into depicting Mormon-based films could show a new direction for the movie company. Simpson said Deseret Book won’t exert any ‘more control than we exercise on ourselves.'”

We’ll see. But at least they are aware of it as a pr issue. Hopefully it goes beyond that.

I don’t know enough about Excel’s other product lines to comment much on the acquisition. However, I do know that there are two novels based on characters from “God’s Army” that are in the works. I wonder if Deseret Book will go ahead with the plans to publish the novels.

I also know (this is just hearsay, but it’s good hearsay) that when Deseret Book acquired Bookcraft, several Bookcraft authors and projects were cut loose.

I will make one general comment: The DB/Excel people are talking about how the two companies complement each other and how we’re living in a world of media consolidation, etc. etc.

Sure. But the issue that comes up with DB, in my opinion, is that it is a publisher, distributor and bookseller. I’m not seeing major signs of problems — considering how small a field it is Mormon publishing is decently competitive — but such vertical integration does worry me.

ALSO: Mark Hansen has reaction at Mo’ Boy blog related to the music publishing side of things.

11 thoughts on “Publishing: More on Deseret Book’s purchase of Excel Entertainment”

  1. While it is a small market, DB is the 9th largest publisher in the United States. Of course when they inevitably cut some authors/projects that is just an opportunity for newer publishers like Kofford Press. (Sp?)
     

    Posted by Clark

  2. Deseret Book’s track record with its acquisition of Bookcraft is very instructive in this case. Notice that the overall title output of the combined company decreased significantly. I believe that the total number of employees at Deseret Book’s publishing operation are also down from the combined company’s staff before the merger.

    The real problem with this acquisition isn’t in control over what kind of materials get produced. Its control over the QUANTITY of material that gets produced. Simply put, we will see less from the combined companies than we saw from the two companies separately.

    While I’m sure this acquisition was good for Excel’s owners, and I suspect that Deseret Book thinks it will be good for them, I don’t think that this acquisition is good for us as consumers, nor for lds retailers.

    At the LDS Bookseller’s Association convention in August, many retailers complained about how sales were down this year. Excel’s booth was very quiet compared to other years. For about the third year in a row there wasn’t an obvious ‘BIG’ product that everyone had to have and was selling strongly. I got the feeling that the market was actually contracting, not expanding.

    To me, this all adds up to bad news. This acquisiton doesn’t help. By decreasing the number of new items, we will be less likely to see new products with significant sales. And without the competition between two of the largest companies in the market, there’s less pressure for innovation.

    I suspect that the real reason for this acquisition is that Excel was having trouble, and the company was sold before its owners lost everything.

    IMO, it would have been much better if Amnor Books, the startup company that reportedly raised $5 million to invest in the LDS products industry, had purchased Excel.

     

    Posted by Kent Larsen

  3. I don’t know where Clark got his information, but it is simply not true. Deseret Book is NOT the 9th largest publisher in the U.S. Not even close.

    I’ve worked in book publishing here in New York City for most of the past 16 years. If Deseret Book was even in the top 20, I would know.

    Kent 

    Posted by Kent Larsen

  4. Thanks for the analysis, Kent. I suspected as much, but don’t know enough about the market to provide any well-grounded analysis.

    Perhaps Clark’s number is reflective of regional publishers. And although you make a good point, Clark, as I understand it Kofford Press is mainly history and philosophy. Excel’s strengths were in film and music; however, I must admit that I had hoped that they would become viable publishers of fiction.

    As I mention above — it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the God’s Army-related novels that are in the works.
     

    Posted by William Morris

  5. The statistic came from yesterday’s Doug Wright (sp?) show on KSL when he was interviewing the head of DB about Doubleday’s new edition of the Book of Mormon. I’ve no idea how the figure was calculated. But he stated it several times and she never corrected him.

    It was just coincidence that I was listening. I checked and they didn’t have that particular show archived.

    It seemed kind of shocking to me when I heard it, but I figured that was the kind of thing not to be falsely presented.  

    Posted by Clark Goble

  6. Thanks for posting the info on the source, Clark.

    That’s very interesting. I’ll try and do a little poking around and see if that stat can be verified. 

    Posted by William Morris

  7. Somehow, I don’t see Deseret Book as an acquisition-minded company that needs to buy up smaller firms to keep earnings growth on track, etc. It is only natural to suspect that the real decisionmakers who would have to approve such an acquisition are happier having Excel Communications under the DB umbrella than having it continue as an independent firm.

    Kent Larsen . . . is this the same Kent Larsen that was involved with the old online Mormon News site? I discovered it just about the time it stopped publishing. 

    Posted by Dave

  8. I’m going assume that Kent doesn’t mind if I speak for him: Yes. It is the same Kent Larsen.

    —–
    Dave:

    Again — I’m no insider. But my understanding is that DB’s earnings growth is not as good as one might think. And there’s no doubt that the acquistions of Excel and Bookcraft filled major gaps in DB’s product lines. DB’s vertical integration means that it has a great way to market and sell the products it publishes. But it also keeps it from being a lean and mean as it perhaps should be when it comes to what it decides to publish.And because its business involves distribution and sales — that means it has a lot of capital tied up in salaries and property/leases.

    Also — as Kent — mentions Excel might also have had major incentives to sell.

    It’ll certainly be interesting to see how much DB is able to gamble on films as well as what types of films it chooses to distribute and/or produce. 

    Posted by William Morris

  9. Thanks, WM. Next question for Kent: Did keeping up the Mormon News just get to be too much work, or were you specifically asked (as part of what I call the “One True Website” policy that came out a couple of years ago) to drop the site? I’m not trying to stir anything up, I’m just curious because IMHO the Internet still hasn’t produced an independent LDS news site as good as that one. 

    Posted by Dave

  10. Just visiting from Times and Seasons and found the news interesting.

    If you count Deseret Books as the publisher of the Church’s interior publications (manuals, Book of Mormons, missionary pamphlets, etc.) it becomes a much larger publisher than it would appear from its otherwise regional imprint.

     

    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

  11. I was never asked to stop Mormon News. Actually, I would like to start it up again. I think the service is still badly needed.

    But I simply don’t have time. I was running Mormon News when I worked for other people and could compartmentalize my work for them into reasonable hours (i.e., 9 to 5). Now I own and run several companies (Luso-Brazilian Books, an importer and publisher of Portuguese-language materials, Mormon Arts and Letters, a Mormon publisher and Mormon Pavillion, New York City’s LDS bookstore.

    The next year or so will determine whether or not I will ever be able to re-start Mormon News. If things work well, then I should be able to bring it back.

    Kent

     

    Posted by Kent Larsen

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