Could the US Support a Spanish-language LDS Market Alone?

After my recent look at different Bible translations, I crunched some additional numbers about the possibility of a market for LDS Books in Spanish, and I’m more convinced than ever that we are ready to see the market develop, once the content is available.

It may even be obvious that this market is likely to start here in the U.S.

Or it may not be so obvious. The number of Spanish-speaking members of the Church in the U.S. is relatively low — somewhere close to 300,000 attending 693 different wards and branches (as of 2006), compared to approximately 4.2 million Spanish-speaking Church members worldwide that same year. And as a proportion of members in the US, Spanish-speakers make up about 5%. And, assuming they are like Hispanics in general in the US, their disposable income is about 60% of the national average in the US.

It hardly seems large enough to support much publishing. Yet, when I look at the numbers, I still believe that even this small group could support a nascent market for LDS books.

The LDS market currently supports some 5,000 titles, which on average sell at least a hundred copies a year — meaning that the entire market for LDS books is probably at least half a million copies a year and could be several times that. Nearly all of these sales were made in the U.S., of course. Proportionally (Spanish-speaking LDS Church members to all LDS Church members in the U.S.), that would mean potentially at least 15,000 copies sold in Spanish each year, just from the U.S. Spanish-speaking population! Worldwide, Spanish-speaking members of the Church number 14 times the US-based Spanish-speaking members.

I know, it still doesn’t sound like much. Let’s convert this into the dollars each part of the market could get (assuming a cover price of $15 and standard discounting and royalties):

  • Bookstores and other retailers would sell 15,000 copies for about $2.25 million, and pay publishers about $1.35 million for those books. Even if the remaining $900,000 were spread over all 200 LDS bookstores, the average store would still get several thousand dollars toward covering its costs (and more than $10,000 in revenue).
  • The $2.7 million that publishers potentially could receive would pay for its costs and profits, and royalties for authors of about $225,000.

I think this is enough to support at least a couple publishers, and give retailers a reason to stock books in Spanish. Proportionally, compared to English, the above model assumes about 150 titles – which will take a few years to as much as a decade to get into print. Given how much current LDS publishers have bought into Spanish, it could be much longer.

There are some caveats, of course. The biggest assumption usually made when talking about LDS books that are not in English is that those books will be translations from English — and indeed most books published outside of English ARE translations. Unfortunately, translations are rarely economical. Market rates for professional, certified translations start at $0.10 a word. For a small, 50,000 word novel (at most about 200 pages), the translation cost would work out to $5,000. And in order to keep the cost per copy reasonable (equivalent to royalties, raising costs slightly for books not in the public domain), the publisher would need to sell at least 3,000 copies.

Another caveat is that authors aren’t likely to make much money on writing for the Spanish-speaking market. If anything, titles in Spanish aren’t likely to sell as many copies (especially initially, when the market is unproven). If the average title sells 100 copies a year (probably more than would sell initially), then at a 10% of cover price royalty on a $15.00 book, the author would earn $150 a year for his efforts. Its hard to see how that would be worth the effort to write the book. [This is also true, to a lesser degree, for books in English in the Mormon market. Fortunatley, there are other motivations for writing, which I discussed in my post If Not For Money, Then What? So, perhaps this isn’t really different than in English.]

But except for these caveats, a Spanish-language market should be viable in the U.S. The real difficulty is marketing and distribution. Even if the books are on bookstore shelves, how will Spanish-speaking members know that they are there?

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7 thoughts on “Could the US Support a Spanish-language LDS Market Alone?”

  1. This is how my post should’ve read–sorry for the mistakes in the first.

    The biggest problem I see is that there really aren’t 300K Spanish-speaking Mormons in the US with an additional 4 million living outside the US.

    Simple math shows that the average Spanish-speaking unit has 432 members in it. Have you been to a Spanish-speaking ward or branch lately? Did you see anywhere near 432 members?

    Sure, 300K might have been baptized or blessed, but there aren’t 300K active.

    The picture isn’t much better in Latin America. The census counts from Mexico and Chile showed only 20-25% of the number Salt Lake claims as members consider themselves to be Mormons.

    Thus, only some 100K in Chile and around 200K in Mexico self-identified as Mormon versus 520K and 850K claimed by the Church at the time of the census.

    This is just the self-id number; the actual number of active members is smaller still, and in my experience the number of members who would consider buying LDS books is even smaller.

  2. [I deleted Kendall’s first comment — no need to keep a duplicate when the 2nd is what he wanted.]

    Kendall, while you are certainly correct, I’m not sure exactly what you are saying.

    Are you saying that there is no market because of this, or only that it is slightly smaller?

    The fact is that what you say about Spanish-speakers can also be said about English-speakers. The comparative numbers I give for the number of English-language titles already assume a market where only 40% of members are active. Sure the number among Spanish-speakers (in the US) is probably more like 30% (thats what we see here in NYC) — so discount the size of the market accordingly.

    I’m not sure that it means that there isn’t a market for Spanish-language books, or that the US Spanish-speakers couldn’t provide enough support for publishing LDS books in Spanish to get off the ground.

  3. I’m saying that the potential market for LDS books in Spanish is much smaller than what the raw numbers might indicate.

  4. And my point is that the market for Spanish-language books is larger than most members assume.

    The problem is that too often we assume that the reason the market for Spanish materials doesn’t exist is that there aren’t enough buyers. That isn’t true.

    The real problem is simply that no one has figured out how to reach the buyers that are there.

  5. I am a Mexican-American. Born and raised in Los Angeles I grew up speaking Spanish and English fluently. I was also born into a family that are LDS churchgoers. My parents decided early on that my family would attend a spanish speaking ward. As I grew up attending this ward in an English speaking Stake I saw the many difficulties many of the members (who most often times spoke only spanish) had receiving help from leaders who did not speak spanish at all. They would attend stake training meetings and receive handouts and beautifully/clever made handouts for lessons/activities onyly to return dissapointed because everything was in English. Well as you can imagine many of our activies/lessons were bilingual. Which was fine for many of the other youth because half either knew english better or were ashamed to speak their mother tongue. Then in 1994 the East Los Angeles Spanish was formed and my ward became a part of it. It was difficult thos first couple of years trying to establish strong leadership. As I grew older I was called to leadership positions and in trying to help the other people I would buy teaching helps in English or show them of the different websites they could go, in English. I have come to a point in my life where I want to help the spanish speaking members worldwide. I am currently researching publishers for material I am in the process of creating. Part of my research was coming across your blog. Growing up in a spanish ward and stake and still attending I know that there is market. I think I have figured out a way to reach the buyers. By the way my background is in design

  6. I am happy to share that for the past three years, we have been paving the way to establish Spanish LDS book distribution channels in Latin America. We are making progress, although not at the pace we would like. This is going to take time and requires lots of patience. We are willing to hang in there. Please visit our websites to learn more about us: http://www.aztecpress.com and http://www.emporiolatinosud.com

  7. I have been involved with Spanish language units for almost ten years now in the US. The issue is not unique to LDS lit. In Los Angeles, with almost 2 million native Spanish speakers, there are only 3-4 bookstores with some meaningful selections. Most of them are a “swap meet” or sort with 1000’s of other items in much larger numbers than books!! The issue are related to the social history of immigrants coming north in the last 20-30 years whom, by far, they tend to have a lower educational level and no history of doctrinal or recreational reading habits. Away from the lare cities in Mexico, there are very few bookstores in the hinterland from where most of the immigrants to the US come from.

    In Latin America the issues are compounded. There are no independent LDS bookstores. In Mexico, for example, Christian bookstores are struggling with very small clienteles. The few that survive cater to the breed of evangelical Christians that is beginning to sprout from the Brazilian imported evangelical congregations and other tiny non-Catholic sects. These (new congregations) tend to produce their own lit, print and sell within the church complex. Another unsurpassable issue is counterfeiting. In one week the title will be selling on the street corners for $3.

    The are two shelves of translated titles inside the very-very small distribution store at the Temple complex in Mexico City, for example. There were 16 titles last month, excluding the scriptures, manuals and reference books.

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