The Cost of Free

Last week I got back from a three week trip to South Africa, Mozambique and (briefly) Swaziland. I bought books (of course), and tried to get a sense for these countries and cultures. As you might expect, crossing the border from South Africa into Mozambique we saw quite a stark economic contrast. Where South Africa appears very western, despite its significant problems, Mozambique faces significant economic challenges and is sixth to last on the Human Development Index.

These economic issues are, of course, a major problem for the expansion of Mormon culture. Mormonism continues to expand quickly in less developed countries, but our culture isn’t keeping up with that expansion. LDS books, films, music and other cultural elements are largely not available outside the US and Canada, leading many to suggest a radical solution:

Just give these products away for free!

Unfortunately, I don’t think this will work in the long run. Its not sustainable, it doesn’t help local members grow, and it often cheats authors and producers of any way to make a living from their work.

I’m not against free. It is a great policy in many cases. You don’t seek compensation when someone is starving. Free is also generally good when you are teaching the gospel.

In the business world, free is also frequently part of a business model. Products are given away free to get consumers to purchase other items or to increase awareness of a business. But free can also be used competitively — to put a competitor out of business or to dissuade them from competing.

So, free can be both a postitive and a negative force. In fact, I believe that both positive and negative consequences follow whenever things are given away for free. Giving something away for free means not only that you aren’t selling it, but also that others aren’t likely to sell it, or may have some difficulty selling it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have run into sites that try to solve the lack of distribution by taking books, movies, etc. (often regardless of copyright law) and posting them to websites where supposedly anyone can download and read them. Free certainly covers the economic difficulty that many local church members face.

The tactic of making ebooks and electronic versions of products and distributing them seems sound in other ways also. The use of the internet as a distribution mechanism is still in its infancy, and its use, even in the third world, is still growing. Many people also believe that ebooks will soon replace most printed books.

But, there are costs to this tactic. Free may be good for a single title, or a single business or distributor. But it isn’t necessarily good for all titles or for developing an infrastructure that helps new titles to exist in the future. Its similar to the proverb about teaching a man to fish instead of giving out fish. If you give away products, where will future products come from?

In thinking about this sistuation I do make some assumptions. I assume that at some point in the future LDS products will be distributed all over the world, at least in part by companies trying to make money, and that authors will somehow be compensated for their work. I don’t claim that this will happen in the same way that the book industry works now, nor am I assuming that everything will be produced in traditional formats. I assume that whatever system exists will differ somewhat by language and perhaps even by country.

I think that some kind of system like this is necessary, so that, in the future, local authors can write or produce their works and have those works find a Mormon audience — one that they can’t reach now because the LDS market is only in English and mostly inaccessible outside of the Intermountain West without an Internet connection.

So, ask yourself these questions:

* Does posting free ebooks to a website help or deter the development of some kind of system for distributing LDS products?

* Is it fair that the author may not be compensated fairly for works distributed for free – at least some minority of which could have been sold?

* If a local author writes or produces a work for the LDS audience, how will that work get distributed?

* Is it better for local members that some LDS cultural works be produced locally? Or should all of them be translated from English?

Perhaps my assumptions are wrong, and distributing works for free is the best way to go. But I’m not sure how that would work.

And given the questions above, I believe that free will actually cost quite a lot.

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29 thoughts on “The Cost of Free”

  1. Interesting question. I would suggest that everyone read CK Prahalad’s “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,” which suggests a new business model for companies seeking to tap into the world markets where people live on less than $3 a day. Prahalad offers some fascinating examples of companies who tapped those markets, without giving away the farm and even makes a strong argument – with some solid examples – about how offering things free in developing nations may be the source for massive social and political problems.

    My own opinion about giving products away, particularly massed produced products, is that we should not. When developing nations try to modernize overnight and skip over the necessary steps for cultural adjustment, the culture becomes damaged, almost lost. Often, they wind up in much worse shape than when the modernization process began.

    China has been battling this over the last 70 years as they have modernized at an unbelievable, trying to keep the country and its culture in balance while a phenomenal amount of media and consumer products have infiltrated. Africa (in general) is also a victim of this as aid agenices and groups like the IMF have stomped in and told the African what they need to be “civilized.”

    These sorts of developments must be organic and must come to pass in their own due time. If we are not careful, “Free” will cost more than we can calculate on paper. But read Prahalad’s book, it will substantially add to your thinking.

  2. Please forgive a couple of horrible spelling and word errors in the previous. I typed and accidentally submitted before I could correct the mistakes. “massed”? Oy vey. Should be “mass-” Also missing the word “rate” after unbelievable. Sorry. Probably other things to correct as well.

  3. Just giving stuff away for free doesn’t necessarily imply that people will line up to get it.

    Part of the challenge of distributing privately created LDS-oriented material within the church is that the church organization doesn’t allow it. That makes it hard for church members to find out that books, movies, and music even exists.

    On the other hand, I’ve had people download my songs and send me messages from Russia, Phillipines, India, and many other countries around the world. That’s very gratifying.

    MRKH

  4. In Japan, amateur manga are called doujinshi. Because doujinshi are often derivative works, publishers have developed guidelines (like the NCAA) to distinguish between “amateur” and “pro,” especially at the huge doujinshi conventions.

    Publishers in Japan are forgiving of the doujinshi market because of the publicity it provides, and because it functions as a kind of “minor leagues” where up and coming talent can be discovered. (Go to Google Books and search The Floating Girl by Sujata Massey for “doujinshi.”)

    On this side of the Pacific, similar issues have arisen with what are known as “scanlation” clubs (scan + translation).

    Scanlation clubs digitally scan manga obtained from Japan, translate the text, modify the originals (often quite seamlessly) using a graphics editor, and then post the JPG files as IRC or BitTourrent streams. It involves a great deal of work, all volunteered.

    Unlike the RIAA and MPAA, Japanese manga publishers usually don’t bother sending take-down notices until a product has been licensed. Of course, there is an ongoing debate in the manga community about the extent to which scanlations hurt paperback sales.

    But it is a fact that 1) the market was created by scanlations; 2) scanlations have become a form of word-of-mouth advertising, often the only way readers can find out about new titles and authors; 3) American publishers are never going to license all the available titles.

    I’m thinking of one (pretty out there) title that has been available as a scanlation. It was recently licensed and the posting site took it down. Not only was it licensed despite the scanlation, but I believe because the scanlation had proven its popularity.

    With anime, distributors and producers are not so forgiving. U.S. broadcast rights are often involved and the value of the IP (both in terms of capital costs and licensing) is several orders of magnitude greater than manga.

    Even so, anime was introduced into the American market in a similar fashion. It took a decade of samizdat distribution for anime to become popular enough for U.S. publishers to start licensing titles. Now practically every major anime release in Japan is eventually licensed.

    It’s trickier with books. The upfront costs are equivalent to manga, but it’s harder to build markets. Publishing Japanese genre fiction is like publishing Mormon fiction. Copyright owners who make unreasonable demands will end up with a big percentage of nothing. You can’t profit from a market that barely exists, but you can kill it fast.

    “Free” can create markets, and it can tell publishers what titles and genres and authors are worth pursuing. The “better to ask for forgiveness than get permission” strategy employed by manga publishers in regards to doujinshi might be applicable here.

    In any case, I think publishers and copyright owners need to develop a “micro-royalty” system (perhaps something like BMI/ASCAP) that makes legitimately licensing IP even worth contemplating in micro/developing markets.

  5. My brief thought: does “Mormon culture” necessarily need to expand? I suspect that pockets of down-and-out Mormons throughout the world will develop equally enriching material as what we now have.

    As for giving stuff away for free, I don’t think we will have to worry about that in the long run. High-calibre Mormon art may never want to part without a price, but plenty of people will strive to distribute their art (or at least a part) for free, whether they feel that it helps build the kingdom, provide publicity, or test the market.

  6. Mark, you are absolutely correct.

    Ever since 1972, when the Church’s magazines stopped carrying advertising, it has been nearly impossible to easily reach most English-speaking Church members.

    I’ve had a post about how the Church makes it difficult for those outside the Church to distribute materials — and about how some LDS business cheat their way around those rules.

    Giving away things free doesn’t necessarily solve this problem (nor does everyone’s favorite solution these days, “the Internet”), and, as I’ve tried to point out, it can inhibit the development of ways that this problem can be solved.

  7. Eugene wrote:

    “Free” can create markets, and it can tell publishers what titles and genres and authors are worth pursuing. The “better to ask for forgiveness than get permission” strategy employed by manga publishers in regards to doujinshi might be applicable here.

    I think there is a big difference between what anime publishers have seen and what might work with LDS books in, say, Spanish.

    Anime publishers have every expectation that their works will eventually appear and be purchased principally through existing outlets — bookstores, comicbook outlets, etc. And they’ve largely been successful — I was in Barnes & Noble on Saturday and saw a whole wall of bookcases of Manga and Anime.

    In contrast, I’m not sure that LDS works will be able to benefit from traditional outlets anytime soon. As an interest group, we simply don’t have the population concentration in Spanish-speaking areas to justify bookstores stocking LDS titles.

    Some kind of LDS-oriented distribution seems like the more likely system — and I think these free sites are keeping LDS-oriented distribution from developing.

  8. You’re missing my point, Kent. The only reason that there are “traditional outlets” for manga and anime now is because fans spent the last thirty years working for free in non-traditional venues, such as campus clubs and SF/F conventions.

    Before distributors ventured into the business, demand had been created by gray market “fan subs.” The same thing with manga. U.S. publishers did not start licensing manga titles until the viability of the business had been proven for over a decade in the fan and hobbyist communities.

    The “big boys” weren’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for the market to mature. They didn’t even know (or care) the market existed–until the dollar signs flashed so brightly they could no longer ignore it.

    As I said, the market for Japanese genre fiction (the “light novel”) is very similar to Mormon fiction. Microscopic markets and niche players working mostly out of their basements (which all the anime distributors were back when).

    With only a very few exceptions, “traditional” U.S. publishers haven’t yet dipped more than the tips of their toes into the light novel waters.

    And they won’t until the market “proves” itself (chicken, meet egg). At some point, the “buzz” may coax a distributor into investing in a title or genre. Or somebody like John Lasseter will take a personal interest (but don’t count on it).

    You mention “these free sites.” I’ve never heard of websites distributing free translations of Mormon literature. How many are there? What kind of traffic do they get? What titles are popular? Has any market research been done?

    But here’s the problem: most Mormon books published in English won’t net my translation fee (and I work cheap). Considering the splintered Mormon market outside the English-speaking world, any business model is going to require somebody doing a lot of work for free.

  9. As an LDS author, I want to chime in on this subject, as it’s near and dear to my heart.

    I have published two books, both of which I’m quite proud of. They were received very well in the ‘community’, one of them nominated for a Whitney Award. They have both sold well for a first time author. I have been compensated by my publisher, who holds nearly all of the rights to my book.

    That being said, I believe that if I had the right channel, and could give my books away for free, I would have been better compensated than having gone the traditional publishing route.

    As a result, I’m giving away my latest book in a series of podcasts. I believe in the long run I’ll do better by giving away my book than by letting a single publisher take most of my copy and distribution rights.

    This model is an emerging one, but one that is being proved time and time again. Cory Doctorow has proven it, Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood have proven it, Jonathan Coulton has proven it… Authors, artists, song writers etc. make so little on their work, most of it going to the publishers/producers, that they are better off giving away their work and then making money by other means. Giving seminars, offering classes, holding concerts, etc.

    The happy side affect to all of this is that as we see alternative models come into play for authors and artists, we will see a return of ‘merit’. Instead of publishers publishing what they think will make them money, we will see work rise to the top that is truly valuable. Work will be passed along and spread because it is good, not because it’s being marketed by somebody who needs a return on their investment.

    Personally, I can’t wait for these models to become mainstream. I think the world of art/music/literature will be a better place because of it.

  10. In the Mormon world, at least in music, there are two forces that keep the audience limited. The first, and I believe the strongest, is ignorance. I don’t mean that as a put down. The truth is that the vast majority of church members simply DON’T KNOW that a church culture even exists. They don’t know that there are novels, music, movies. And they certainly aren’t aware of any of the creator’s names.

    The second is apathy. Those that do know are often too busy, or too well entertained by the world, or (some say) too jaded to pay attention the the LDS arts and popular arts scene.

    Now, there are a few companies that have managed to carve a tidy profitability out of those church members that are aware and interested. But…

    I once heard Jeff Simpson (of Excel Entertainment) speak, and he had some very interesting thoughts. He said that too often we in the LDS arts business think about how big each slice of the pie is. What we truly need to think about is how to make the whole pie bigger. This is what we’re talking about here. How can we make our art accessible to the literally millions of church members that don’t know about us all across america, and those millions of church members all across the world?

    And, when asked what the impact of free and “stolen” music was having on his business (this was before Excell became a part of DB), he said, “Would that someone cared enough about our music to steal it!”

    MRKH

  11. .

    If you don’t have the time to read an entire book, this is a good primer on why free is a good idea.

    I agree with the idea that we need a bigger pie. And I also am leery of exporting “Mormon culture” abroad. We don’t want some sort of cultural hegemony where we overwhelm any local output. I want to import culture as much as I want to export it. I don’t want another trade imbalance on my conscience here…..

  12. Peter:

    My brief thought: does “Mormon culture” necessarily need to expand? I suspect that pockets of down-and-out Mormons throughout the world will develop equally enriching material as what we now have.

    I think we’re saying the same thing. When I talk about “Mormon Culture,” I mean everything that exists and that will exist, not just the popular culture that we have on the Wasatch Front at the moment — I’m generally not very impressed with the “culture” that appears in most LDS bookstores and other popular venues. And I’m not suggesting that these items need to expand. BUT, there is a need for some kind of Mormon culture to expand along with the growing Church. I hope that it is better than what is popular in Utah.

    As for giving stuff away for free, I don’t think we will have to worry about that in the long run. High-calibre Mormon art may never want to part without a price, but plenty of people will strive to distribute their art (or at least a part) for free, whether they feel that it helps build the kingdom, provide publicity, or test the market.

    I don’t think I’ve made my point well enough. The problem I see is that distributing the wrong cultural product free at the wrong time could keep the distribution network we need from developing! If no one can make money from distributing LDS cultural products, then there won’t be any businesses that distribute those products!

    I think we need the network at some point, preferably sooner rather than later. If everything is always free, how will the network develop?

  13. .

    Conversely, if nothing is free, how will the network develop? In a world where I can participate in a high-quality forum such as this one without a fifty-buck subscription and hope the editor will print my letter, I am a thousand times more able to be a connection within the network. Similarly, more people have read my work that’s available free online than in pay-based services and I don’t see that equation changing in the near future. Similarly, these people who found me while I am free am more likely to buy a twenty-dollar book than someone who has never heard of my, free or not.

    Free builds networks.

    It would be nice to get paid in the early part of a career, but that manner of doing business is on its deathbed. For better or for worse.

  14. Eugene wrote:

    You’re missing my point, Kent. The only reason that there are “traditional outlets” for manga and anime now is because fans spent the last thirty years working for free in non-traditional venues, such as campus clubs and SF/F conventions.

    Before distributors ventured into the business, demand had been created by gray market “fan subs.”

    No, I understood that point. My point is simply that there aren’t any distributors in this case to get into the business! No “big boys” to step in when the demand has been demonstrated.

    Mormons in Latin America, for example, aren’t concentrated enough that mainstream bookstores will carry Mormon books. That doesn’t even happen in the US, outside of the Wasatch Front. If an individual store doesn’t think they can sell enough copies of a title, it won’t stock that title. Giving the title away free on the Internet won’t change that, unless the store believes there are enough customers in their service area that want to purchase the title.

    Anime and Manga don’t require religious conversions for their market to grow (although I suppose some fans may look at them like a religion).

    The “big boys” weren’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for the market to mature. They didn’t even know (or care) the market existed”“until the dollar signs flashed so brightly they could no longer ignore it.

    No, but there actually were “big boys” that would be interested.

    Contrast your experience with Anime and Manga with the development of the Christian book market. Instead of the “big boys” stepping in, the Christian market created its own stores and own distribution.

    I don’t think it was because they didn’t give enough products away.

    You mention “these free sites.” I’ve never heard of websites distributing free translations of Mormon literature. How many are there? What kind of traffic do they get? What titles are popular? Has any market research been done?

    There aren’t a lot of these sites. I’ve seen a few Spanish-language sites, a couple in Portuguese, one in French. They aren’t distributing translations they have done — they are distributing files of translations that others have already published (I believe, in my imperfect knowledge of copyright law, that they are generally violating that law).

    But here’s the problem: most Mormon books published in English won’t net my translation fee (and I work cheap). Considering the splintered Mormon market outside the English-speaking world, any business model is going to require somebody doing a lot of work for free.

    Yes, you are right, if they are doing original translations. They are not. They are distributing translations done by Deseret Book or the Church, or even English-language works for those that speak English in their areas.

    But even disregarding these sites, translation is indeed a major stumbling block. There are two ways to overcome this block.

    First, there is the possibility of collaborative translation. I have a pilot project for this at Mormon Translation. We may be merging with another site, Open LDS, which has the same idea. This could be a good way to increase the number of translations done cheaply.

    Second, and perhaps better, DON’T TRANSLATE!! Local members can write books themselves, publish them through local publishers, and creating local Mormon culture in the process. This is much better for everyone, except, perhaps, for US-based LDS publishers. This won’t work for all subjects (some translation will always be needed), but local members will generally benefit the most from this option.

    In order for this latter option to be viable, however, the distribution system needs to develop. Latin America, for example, needs LDS publishers, distributors and bookstores. They won’t develop if everything is given away for free.

  15. Matthew:

    This model is an emerging one, but one that is being proved time and time again. Cory Doctorow has proven it, Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood have proven it, Jonathan Coulton has proven it”¦

    Yes. I’m aware of this idea. I use it myself, and I plan to expand my use of it in the future.

    Under this model you post your book for free on a website, for anyone to read (or hear, in Matthew’s case). Those that read/listen to it sometimes decide, for whatever reason, to purchase the book or other books by the same author, we assume because they like the author’s writing style and storytelling ability.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that will work for LDS books aimed at Latin America, for example. There are a couple of problems. First, Internet access there isn’t as ubiquitous as it is here, and LDS Church members are much less likely to find or see the free copy in the first place. Second, they won’t be able to reasonably purchase hard copies of the book or other books as a result. There aren’t any LDS publishers or LDS distributors and very few LDS bookstores. And if they purchase the book from you directly, they pay shipping (if its from the US, it could easily be double or triple the cost of the book!)

    Matthew, I think your strategy is good. I’ll be using it more myself.

    But I don’t think it translates well to areas where there isn’t an LDS book industry at all.

  16. Mark:

    I once heard Jeff Simpson (of Excel Entertainment) speak, and he had some very interesting thoughts. He said that too often we in the LDS arts business think about how big each slice of the pie is. What we truly need to think about is how to make the whole pie bigger.

    He is absolutely right. Unfortunately, I don’t see his corporate bosses at Deseret Book — or anyone else in the LDS market — doing anything to accomplish that.

    And, when asked what the impact of free and “stolen” music was having on his business (this was before Excell became a part of DB), he said, “Would that someone cared enough about our music to steal it!”

    I agree with his sentiment. While there are a few who care and will steal LDS products, I also think that giving away products for free helps solve the problem (provided your product is of interest).

    But I don’t think it will work in those areas where there isn’t an LDS market.

  17. Thmazing:

    I agree with the idea that we need a bigger pie. And I also am leery of exporting “Mormon culture” abroad. We don’t want some sort of cultural hegemony where we overwhelm any local output.

    I am also leery of this.

    To avoid this, you need local networks, so that artists/authors/musicians/etc. have a way to distribute their work.

    I worry that free, in this case, is inhibiting the development of the network.

    Conversely, if nothing is free, how will the network develop? In a world where I can participate in a high-quality forum such as this one without a fifty-buck subscription and hope the editor will print my letter, I am a thousand times more able to be a connection within the network. Similarly, more people have read my work that’s available free online than in pay-based services and I don’t see that equation changing in the near future. Similarly, these people who found me while I am free am more likely to buy a twenty-dollar book than someone who has never heard of my, free or not.

    Free builds networks.

    Um, I think you left out a few steps.

    Believe it or not, someone invested in a lot of equipment so that the Internet exists. They’ve generally made their money back, too.

    It would be nice to get paid in the early part of a career, but that manner of doing business is on its deathbed. For better or for worse.

    Yep. But I’m not suggesting that you have to get paid “in the early part of a career.” I’m suggesting that those making the network possible need to have a way that they will eventually be paid.

    In networks for selling products, that is traditionally by taking a cut from the price of the product — i.e., producing and reselling the product.

    If those building the network (traditionally the publishers, distributors, and booksellers) can’t make money that way, how exactly are they to earn back their investment?

    Solve this problem, and I won’t object to anything that is free and legal. Solve this problem and giving away things for free might actually work as a strategy for authors/publishers.

  18. .

    Ah. Now I see your point. And you’re right: suits need money. And datapipes need to be paid for.

    But I still think that to create a market in, say, Bolivia (or even Birmingham), we’ll have to take a risk and give something away. Even a couple bucks can be an impenetrable barrier when the idea of buying a certain sort of product has never crossed my mind.

    For instance, I’m a big reader of both comics and LDS literature, but the first time I saw Mike Allred’s The Golden Plates in a store, I didn’t think to spent the money on it. It was a couple weeks before I realized I had to buy it on principle whether it was any good or not.

    But if there had been something free, I would have taken it. And if it had been good I would have bought the book and I wouldn’t have needed my support-the-Mormon-arts principles (which most people don’t have) to make that decision.

    Free is a catalyst. Free cuts the rock from the mountain. Free gets things started.

  19. Kent, we’re talking about the same thing. The “big boys” I refer to didn’t step in until the cumulative market value was approaching the billion dollar range. The importers and distributors who grew the manga and anime market from zero to that point mostly started from zero themselves.

    The same thing with Harlequin creating the Steeple Hill imprint once the value of “Christian romance” had been demonstrated. They didn’t create the genre, but are more than happy to profit from it now that it has matured.

    “Would that someone cared enough about our music to steal it!” An informal study was recently done tracking the piracy rate of Sundance films. The piracy rate was zero. Pirates don’t bother pirating Sundance films. It’s not worth the bother.

    Studio Ghibli’s IP is worth about a billion dollars in Japan, which is why Disney bought the worldwide distribution rights. But it is unlikely Disney would have bothered releasing Ghibli films in the U.S. unless John Lasseter at Pixar took a personal interest.

    The suits were pretty much right: despite high production standards, the Disney name, and an Academy award, Ghibli films have not made money in the U.S. market–or at least the kind of money that justifies the capital expenses involved.

    In other words, anime importers don’t spend two million prepping a title for release, but more like $20,000. Ten years ago it was $2000. Twenty years ago it was $200 and pizza.

    Unfortunately, I think this line of discussion grossly exaggerates the actual size of the market outside the “Mormon Corridor.” We’re also grossly exaggerating the size of the Mormon population outside the U.S. Activity rates have to be figured in, and they are not pretty.

    I’d have to see some hard numbers that would justify the up-front capitalization. I don’t think they exist. Of course, there is an institution that has been creating brick & mortar infrastructure all along, but I think the phrase “when hell freezes over” then becomes germane.

  20. I don’t have much to add to this excellent discussion other than to note that I’m not sure the pie can be made bigger — but perhaps we can grab slices of other (tiny) pies. Or in other words, if the market has been defined by Deseret Book (and it pretty much has) then the only pie you are going to get is the narrow range of product categories (and the narrow range of allowable content within those categories) that DB offers. This point was reinforced to me by the arrival today of the latest DB catalog. I think that’s great for a certain segment of the audience. But it becomes much more difficult with LDS who aren’t interested in devotional and self-help works (and a few genre novels).

    It would be interesting (and incredibly expensive) to do a survey of American active LDS and find out what their media consumption habits are. And then choose, say, the top 5 genres/modes of entertainment and try to create an LDS-audience-oriented review site that mixes the Mormon with the gentile and reviews both to the same standards, that is for both “appropriateness” (or at least a range of appropriateness with content warnings) and production values/craftsmanship. Might be to diffuse to do much good. But I remain intrigued by certain non-Mormon cultural products that tend to have a lasting effect on American Mormon culture (Depeche Mode, the Princess Bride, the God’s Must Be Crazy, Newsies).

  21. Eugene writes:

    Unfortunately, I think this line of discussion grossly exaggerates the actual size of the market outside the “Mormon Corridor.” We’re also grossly exaggerating the size of the Mormon population outside the U.S. Activity rates have to be figured in, and they are not pretty.

    Actually, I’ve made some estimates, mostly using the activity rates at Cumorah.com, which I believe are pretty good. I’ll have to write them up some time in a way that others can follow. The 14 largest languages (or countries, when the country speaks multiple languages) ranked by number of active Church members are:

    English 2.5 million
    Spanish 930,000
    Portuguese 250,000
    Philippines 135,000
    Nigeria 32,500
    Samoan 29,000
    Japanese 25,000
    Tongan 22,500
    Korean 19,000
    German 11,000
    Ghana 10,500
    Tahitian 10,000
    French 9,500
    Taiwanese 8,500

    Please don’t treat these as gospel. I need to review them and redo them when the new Deseret News Church Almanac comes out. Also note that the Phillipines, Nigeria and Ghana represent multiple languages — I don’t have any way of dividing these numbers up.

    In addition, in order to get a proper sense of each language, we need to factor in the ability and propensity of members to purchase books.

    But even so, it seems clear that Spanish and Portuguese should have enough members to support a fledgling LDS market. When LDS books started being published in earnest in the 1880s, the Church had approximately 250,000 members total.

    And, it should be noted, books were being published in a variety of languages: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Welsh, French, German, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Dutch and a little Spanish.

    I guess my point is that while I don’t know what others are thinking, I believe I’m being realistic with the numbers.

  22. William wrote:

    I’m not sure the pie can be made bigger … if the market has been defined by Deseret Book (and it pretty much has) then the only pie you are going to get is the narrow range of product categories (and the narrow range of allowable content within those categories) that DB offers.

    This is a very interesting question. I’ve always assumed that with the growth of the Church, it is almost inevitable that the pie not only grow, but that the definitions shift because of the other cultures that are represented.

    I tried to show in a previous post that I believe a Mormon culture is important and needed. And I suspect that in the long term, with enough growth, a Mormon subculture will exist in every country — uniquely Mormon in each case, but also reflecting the local culture as much or more than the Mormon culture we now see on the Wasatch Front. The commonality among these cultures will come from the beliefs and practices of the Church, and not necessarily from what we now know as Mormon culture.

    So in the far future, I’m sure that the pie will be much larger and much more diverse than what we now know.

    Of course, in my lifetime, its possible William will be right.

  23. I totally agree with your post on the need for Mormon culture, Kent.

    I don’t know if Mormon subcultures will develop — or perhaps they do but they may not develop as a viable cultural market. It’s quite possible, after all, to be a Mormon whose expression of LDS-ness is confined to products and events directly sponsored by the institutional church.

    If it weren’t for my association with the AML and A Motley Vision, I would know a lot more Mormons that are gamers or sci-fi geeks or Jane Austen-philes than readers of Mormon fiction.

  24. The problem is, outside the Mormon Corridor, the market is very dispersed, both geographically and economically. “Spanish” by itself is uselessly imprecise in marketing terms. It’s like saying that material that appeals to a Utah Mormon can be marketed equally to a Mormon of British extraction living in Singapore because they both speak English.

    I think that even Cumorah’s numbers are optimistic. A more realistic assessment, also from Cumorah, is here. Persistent high turnover in membership prevents the establishment of an identifiable “culture.” In any event, the ecclesiastical reality such a plan would face is underscored here.

    Ultimately, I believe the true future of Mormon “culture” will come only as Mormon artists acquire legitimacy in non-Mormon markets, and then are reabsorbed by the Mormon subculture. Without the imprimatur of the church, the Mormon artist is largely without honor in his own country.

  25. Eugene, you are a pessimist!! [GRIN]

    As for the development of a “true future Mormon Culture,’ I don’t think we will ever have such a thing. Language, if nothing else, will prevent a common culture from existing.

    We will have related subcultures within the various national and regional cultures where Mormons manage to get enough concentration to create a subculture.

    When these things will develop is a good question. I don’t claim to know.

    I just think that Church members around the world need something, and many are actually begging for cultural supplements to the Gospel.

  26. I get the feeling from some of the comments above that some thought I was saying that free is never a good tactic.

    I do not think so.

    Quite to the contrary. I think free is an important and underrated tactic — one that should be used more.

    BUT, it isn’t always the right move. There are times when free doesn’t work.

    It depends on your strategy and on the situation you face.

    If you don’t have a strategy that takes advantage of giving away things for free to eventually get sales (or, as I was discussing above, to eventually build a market) or whatever your goal is, then free is a bad tactic.

    Likewise, if the situation or environment won’t allow giving away products for free to help you to reach your goal, why do it?

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