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?