Where is Mass Market Mormonism?

We have a big potential audience, don’t we? Just looking at the US and Canada (basically all English-speaking), the number of active LDS Church members must be over 2 million in 750,000 to 1 million households. Sounds like a mass market to me!

So how do I reach this market? Where do I go to let this audience know my work exists?

Anyone who lives outside of Utah and the Mormon domain sees this problem clearly. I even spoke to a long-time member here in New York City the other day (born and raised in Utah), who had never heard of God’s Army. I’m regularly shocked that well-connected membersn here haven’t heard of major works of LDS literature (The Backslider, Added Upon, even The Work and the Glory). To be frank, if they don’t actively look for Mormon-related news or don’t have active ties to Utah, they remain ignorant of cultural elements that those on the Wasatch Front take for granted.

Why? There simply isn’t any way for them to find out.

The audience finds out about books and other products in a variety of ways, including through word-of-mouth from friends and recommendations from booksellers. But those methods are hard for publishers and authors (or anyone for that matter) to control, influence or even jumpstart. It seems pretty clear that, except in exceptional cases, this doesn’t happen to any significant degree.

In addition to word-of-mouth, readers find out about products through the media — reviews, articles about products and advertisements. Its here that we have a problem. The media we have — the television, radio, magazines and newspapers — generally don’t reach beyond the Wasatch Front and the Mormon domain (i.e., Intermountain West).

The Mormon media landscape isn’t totally barren, of course. I’ve seen intermittent local LDS publications in California and the midwestern US. The various magazines meant for LDS readers do have a national distribution. And there is the Internet, which has so many different forums for LDS Church members that it seems impossible to track them all.

But in terms of actually reaching the LDS audience, few of these media reach many people at all. The local publications don’t reach most members in their areas. Sunstone, Dialogue and most of the other magazines have circulations of less than 5,000 — a drop in the bucket compared to the potential audience. And despite the excitement over the Internet, most of the various forums there (mailing lists, blogs, websites, etc.) have trouble reaching a few thousand people.

There are a few exceptions. I believe both LDS Living (email list, website and print magazine) boasts circulation over 100,000. I won’t be surprised to hear that Meridian Magazine (website) reaches large numbers. Of course the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune and their websites also reach large numbers of active LDS Church members. BYU Magazine (alumni print magazine) ships out several hundred thousand copies.

Unfortunately, the largest and most important media (Ensign, New Era, Friend and Church News) are tightly controlled by the Church, and don’t accept advertising. Getting other articles in them can be difficult or impossible, depending on the type of item.

Ideally, we should have 8 or 10 regional publications in the US, and perhaps a few more national publications than we have now. It would be great to see some TV and radio offerings (out side of Utah) also.

Fortunately, there is a model for publications in markets somewhat similar to the Mormon market. Ethnic markets are similar in many respects. I’m familiar with the Brazilian and Portuguese ethnic markets in the US, which boast more than 75 publications for a market of about 1 million. In addition, this market includes a handful of television and radio programs.

Of course, there is another option — getting more attention from mainstream media. While this is, of course, a laudible goal, I think we still want our own media. Without Mormon-specific media, too much is being missed. And with Mormon-specific media, authors, publishers and others can still seek attention from other media.

The bottom line here is that we need additional publications, large publications that help the majority of active LDS Church members connect culturally with each other. Unfortunately, we can’t be satisfied with small circulations in this case.

We need to be able to reach the potential audience!

16 thoughts on “Where is Mass Market Mormonism?”

  1. I think that is a problem – how do people discover books?

    I think that in most ways it is a better situation for people reading about Mormonism if they already know what to look for. Sadly most bookstores do a poor job, even in the Wasatch Front. As your previous article on the internet noted, there’s lots of potential but it just isn’t being used.

    Perhaps we need a book review website that people can come to without necessarily feeling like they are reading an opinionated blog or so forth. Or perhaps most Mormons honestly don’t care. (I suspect that – sadly – most are just too busy to do such reading until the kids are older)

  2. I think having the Book of Mormon published for a non-Moromon audience was a good move on the Churches part. It put it in mainstream book stores. We you look in the Religous section at Borders under LDS books half of the books are Fawn Brodie and the like. I don’t see to many anti-other religion books in their sections.

    I love going to Deseret Books but I think a lot of the books sold there should also be in book stores with a broader clientele.

  3. Larry:

    I think we covered this a little last week (see comment #7 on this post.

    Yes, you are right that it is good for more Mormon material to make it into mainstream stores — and the market shouldn’t stop trying to get them there. BUT, mainstream stores will NEVER carry all that the LDS market makes available, and will probably never even carry a substantial portion of what’s available (at least not before LDS Church members are the vast majority of the market).

    As I discussed last week, the LDS market is broken — we aren’t getting what we should get, and most LDS Church members don’t hear about what is available.

    This message is really not about this, however. It is about how authors, publishers and bookstores communicate with their audience — how we find out that new books and other products exist. Fix that and we could be well on our way to fixing the LDS market.

  4. I think Deseret Book is probably the best starting point. They try to get an outlet near most temples, and they carry more stuff than the standard church publications. Sure, it’s not gonna do the trick on its own, but that’s how you start reaching people outside the West.

  5. Huh. I’m not talking about bookstores, James. I’m talking about media — newspapers, magazines, radio and televison programs.

    Deseret Book simply doesn’t provide much in the way of cultural information (they do provide sales information about the products they carry), and what they do provide is biased towards the books they publish.

    I don’t even believe that your claim that Deseret Book tries to get an outlet “near most temples” is true. In my experience, Deseret Book tends to come late to most areas — its store in Los Angeles (and the store they used to have in Dallas), for example, was previously an independent bookstore that they purchased.

    I’m afraid that progress in this area is likely to come despite the current set of LDS bookstores. As I said last week. the current system is broken.

  6. In essence, people like to hear about the latest books and movies out there while reading their usual magazines or watching television. But the problem is that most Mormons already get the official church publications — which don’t carry media reviews — and it’s hard to get people to pick up additional LDS-interest publications.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Internet as a solution to this problem. Each individual blog and forum has small reach, but together the LDS blogs and forums have a wide audience. And I think lot of people are interested in hearing about Mormon lit through the Internet — I get tons of hits on my blog from search queries on the names of various LDS authors whose works I’ve discussed, and I don’t think it’s just the authors themselves neurotically googling their own names over and over. ;^)

    Clark’s suggestion is along the lines of a comment I posted here once before: It might be useful to have a big site with individual pages for all of the LDS lit works out there. The pages could be in the familiar Amazon style with a picture of the work, a link to where it can be ordered (perhaps on the publishers’ site), a description, and the possibility for readers to post ratings and reviews.

    The problem is that people would only go to the site when they’re actively looking for LDS literature (which they usually aren’t…) instead of just hearing about these works during their ordinary daily recreational reading.

    Here’s a possible solution:

    Whichever volunteers are in charge of the site could maintain a front page with a featured article on a recent work, plus the most interesting recent reviews (of various works) posted by readers. Then someone could write a little script that calls up your site and fetches the current featured headline. The script should be a few simple lines of code that any blogger could add to a blog template so that your site’s logo and current headline would appear in the sidebar (with a link, of course). Then go around to all of the most popular forums and Bloggernacle blogs and ask them very, very nicely to add your Mormon Lit headline box to their sidebar.

    And voila! Thousands of people are painlessly, regularly exposed to the scoop on the latest titles.

  7. You have a perfect model of what an LDS literary website could look like with a few changes. Go to http://www.artistsofutah.org/. The site is for visual artists, galleries and art patrons. Imagine it being changed to serve the lierary arts. It includes an e-zine 15 Bytes which is great for educating the community and networking for artists, galleries and buyers.

    Hire the AofU Director Shawn Rossiter to design and put the site together for you. Hire someone to administrate it and then support it like the Artists and Galleries do for the Artists of Utah.

  8. The LDS Market needs a paradigm shift to help it survive — but as C.L. Hanson mentions, people normally don’t go looking for LDS literature unless they know exactly what they want. There needs to be more adventurous marketers out thee go get the word out, and yes while the internet is hurting the market, it can just about be the solution.

    I started my blog for this specific reason. I was fed up finding out months later that a film I wanted to see (the first Work and the Glory) played nearby and I never heard a thing about it. I know marketing a film is expensive, but why put it in theaters if no one knows it’s there? Are there any LDS specific marketers out there (as there are for many ethnic groups or Christian groups)?

  9. C.L. makes some interesting points.

    However, I’m skeptical that any type of LDS review/arts portal is going to be able to attract enough eyes and make enough money to really grow into something viable. Meridian Magazine is shooting for the heart of the Mormon market and while I’m not familiar with their traffic or earnings, I would guess that they’re doing okay, but not great.

    I think that this:

    “The problem is that people would only go to the site when they’re actively looking for LDS literature (which they usually aren’t”¦) instead of just hearing about these works during their ordinary daily recreational reading.”

    is a major issue that won’t be easily overcome. The Mormon internet audience is as splintered and specialized as the American one (from what I can tell).

  10. This is an extremely interesting question to me.

    What does a Mormon entertainment crusade look like? Personally, I think one of the biggest problems we have in our center of gravitational pull towards mass media is that we are far too centric.

    Let me put that another way: when we stop focusing so much on ourselves and start focusing on the bigger picture, I think we’ll get a better perspective.

    Perhaps I can illustrate. Actually, I think I may just have to start my own Blog entry, since this seems far too heady a topic to tackle in this thread. See it over here: http://www.rhapsidiom.com/2006/11/mormon-evangelists.html

  11. I’m kind of biased in favor of the Internet since I’m hooked on blogging myself 😉 but it’s true that the Internet only reaches a limited part of the potential audience.

    I think the Internet had a big enough (and young enough) audience that it’s worth the effort to try to describe more works online, but it’s probably not a complete solution.

  12. To be frank, if they don’t actively look for Mormon-related news or don’t have active ties to Utah, they remain ignorant of cultural elements that those on the Wasatch Front take for granted.

    Having lived in the Wasatch Front and now living in Central New York, I’d have to say that I’m not really that interested in the “cultural elements” offered by that homogeneous region. Why would I want to import them into my neighborhood?

    I’ve seen enough of Mormonism both inside the State of Deseret and outside of it to know that there are different flavors. I’m not saying that the doctrine is different, but what you call “cultural elements” vary from locale to locale.

    Aren’t you worried that those “Utah Mormons” aren’t being exposed to the rich diversity of Mormon culture outside of Deseret?

  13. Scott (#12):

    I am absolutely interested that “Utah Mormons” aren’t being exposed to Mormon culture outside of Deseret! I’ve even covered that before (see, if nothing else, my post on language issues).

    The problem is still how to harness cultural elements outside of Utah. We don’t have a mass market to draw on to help non-Deseret culture reach Deseret.

    I think mass market media would help, even if it were centered in Utah.

  14. This discussion has totally stunned me… I had no idea there was a group of people discussing topics like these! I recently started an online LDS store to supplement the growing costs of another LDS-related website, and I’ve been stunned by a number of things relating to the store. I get a slew of emails from people saying, “I never knew there was such cool LDS stuff out there…” and the high percentage of orders coming from Utah. I had thought my biggest market would be OutsideTheBubble Mormons, living far out of the range of an LDS bookstore, but nearly 60% of my orders this year came from Utahns, when only around 15% of the store’s traffic is actually from Utah.

    I’ve also been a little surprised at how easy it is for me to promote and sell a product, just because I put a tiny link to it on the clipart site.

    Based on my (limited) experience, I am wondering if part of the key is creating trusted websites (or other venues) that reach a wide audience and do the “thinking” for double calling’d, over-meeting’d, often tired members. Is the current model of LDS marketing asking folks to hunt/think too much? Is there such a thing as the mass market of Mormons, or are there just Young Women Leaders or Primary Music Leaders? I mean, if you ask someone about being a Mormon, you’ll get some generic answer, but ask them what they do in the Church — that has a title — and it’s extremely specific, unlike in some other faiths.

    So I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions, but my mind is reeling after reading about a million posts here. Does the Mormon market require something totally new in terms of a mass marketing model? I think the key to LDS marketing will ultimately be finding a way to do it mass, but making it feel absolutely individualized (read “inspired”, if I can say that without sounding heretical).

    BTW — what about the BYUTV satellite channel. They allow sponsors and reach a massive audience.

    I gotta go do some thinking to absorb all this! 🙂

    At the risk of sounding like a groupie, thanks for sharing all the thoughts. -j.

  15. Mass market Mormonism requires one of two things: either an active way to push advertising out to the Saints or a sudden desire among the Saints to buy LDS products despite a lack of advertising. The former requires knowing where all the Saints are*, which is a pretty hard nut to crack. the latter requires more Mormons.

    Some good ideas have been proposed in this thread, but they all have the same failure — they don’t explain how to advertise themselves to the Saints. Providing product information has no value if no one knows where to find it. (I’d also like to point out that a volunteer effort won’t work. Many have been tried, few if any have succeeded. Serious databases and programming require money.)

    So far as I can see, the beginning of the solution is the answer to the following question: how to find the Saints?

    *Footnote: It’s true that someone with a ton of money could solve the problem by advertising on national media, but the LDS market is too small for that to be profitable.

  16. I think “finding” is not the issue. “Reaching” the audience is. It’s easy to find Mormons, but how does one promote a church-oriented business to them without using ward/stake directories or self-promoting through a calling?

    We all fear the “selling at the temple” thing. I am always very careful to avoid mentioning my sites at any church activity, especially one where I’m serving in a leadership position, and I expect others do, too. Placing flyers on cars won’t do, can’t put a poster on the temple door, can’t call stake presidents and ask them to promote…. so how?

    My clipart site gets well over 100,000 visitors/month, and even though the costs in dollars and time I spend maintaining it are more than I’d prefer to admit, I struggled for a very long time about selling advertising. Then I struggled again making the move to an obvious business model that included the store.

    I’ve found a (small) audience, but how do I appropriately introduce them to products?

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