Last week William, in the comments to his post on a reader-oriented ecommerce site, suggested that the site he was proposing needed to be restricted to just fiction. While such a decision should probably be left to whoever starts such a site (William made it clear he isn’t taking on the project), I disagree. It seems to me a comprehensive site is one of the things we are missing.
The LDS market is already a small niche of the larger publishing world in many ways. Like other niches and market segments (the Christian market, for example) we have various categories of products — different genres, literature, history, doctrine, etc. What unifies the LDS market is simply a shared base of customers — the same people who purchase books of LDS history are also, largely, the same people who purchase LDS fiction.
Think of it this way: How many people do you know that really stick to just one genre and never read anything else?
Of course, in the national market does have stores that concentrate on just one genre. I’ve seen scores of listings for bookstores that concentrate on mystery and crime, for example. But I’ve never seen such a store, on or offline, that does so just for one market niche. Perhaps I just don’t get around enough, but I wonder if limiting yourself to just a few genres in a relatively small market niche can be successful?
The sense I have of the developing market for books is that, if anything, stores, especially online stores, are moving towards being more comprehensive, not less. Amazon.com is clearly very comprehensive. It carries books regardless of genre or market. The only thing that seems to be important is whether or not Amazon can get the book dependably. The same applies to a host of other online book retailers — as long as they can get the book dependably, they have no problem listing it on their website.
When the Internet came along, the move toward more comprehensive stores was already in full swing. The move to the giant Barnes and Noble super stores in the 1980s and after was in large part because people wanted more choice — and the number of titles that a Barnes and Noble carried on its shelves was triple or more what the average bookstore carried.
Is there a limit to this whole process of carrying more and more books — especially considering the fact that most of the slowest sellers aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on? Well, the theory says no. According to the theory of the Long Tail (I hope to post in the near future on how this applies to the LDS market), there is a lot of money to be made in providing the titles that only sell a few copies.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what we have in the LDS market. The largest stores, both on and off the Internet, don’t cover every LDS item available. Nor do the smaller, neighborhood LDS stores.
In fact, the store that comes closest to being comprehensive for the LDS market is Amazon.com! It doesn’t carry everything (Deseret Book seems to exclude some of their titles, and many smaller publishers don’t know how to get their titles into Amazon.com, and since they are targeting the LDS market, they don’t necessarily even try).
I’m increasingly convinced that the LDS market needs its own comprehensive site — one that fills an Amazon.com-like role. Perhaps surprisingly, this is particularly true for a reason that I’ve already covered here — we need more organizations in the market that can educate the market about what makes a book Mormon. The stores in the market now exclude many books that are Mormon simply because the store either doesn’t think the book will sell (which, according to the Long Tail leads to lower sales for Internet-based stores), or because of difficulty getting the book, or because they don’t think the book is “appropriate” somehow, whatever that means.
So, I have to argue for a site like William wants to be comprehensive — to include everything in the LDS market, as much as possible. Whoever does take on this task will need to be cognizant of the issues surrounding what makes a book Mormon. Lets hope whoever takes it on gets it mostly right. The current crop of stores in the market certainly haven’t.