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!