The LDS Booksellers Association‘s annual convention starts today.
For those who don’t know about this convention, it is the principal trade show for LDS products. Most of the association’s 200 producers and distributors display their wares for the 200 member bookstores, who attend hoping to learn what new products are available. Its the LDS equivalent of BookExpo America or the annual shows that many other industries have around the country each year.
I’ve been attending on and off for nearly 15 years, enough to learn something about how the industry works and see the value of the show. I’ve seen the number of stores decline from more than 350 to about 200 now. Attendance at the show has also declined. I’ve also seen the LDSBA’s policies develop, as it sought to improve professionalism among its members.
I think this kind of organization is important. A trade show is useful; its more efficient than sending sales reps (which LDS publishers and producers don’t have) to every bookstore, and it can be more effective than mailing catalogs and making sales phone calls. But I won’t be attending this year, in part because the products I’d hoped to have ready aren’t done yet, and in part because I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the show.
Part of my disillusion is because my products and my personal inclination don’t fit the norm for LDSBA members. My company is unusual, small, with comparatively few products and unfamiliar to most attendees, who seem quite satisfied to ignore anything that is unfamiliar.
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.
I wish the LDSBA had actively listened to this idea.
I think there are a few other ideas that the LDSBA should listen to. In case the LDSBA board members happen to read this suggestion, let me make some concrete suggestions that, I think, would revolutionize the association, and maybe even actually improve the LDS market:
- Offer free retail (i.e., bookstore) memberships. Since the bookstore members are predominantly in the US, and the LDS Church’s growth is predominantly outside the US, wouldn’t it make sense to do everything possible to encourage new retailers outside the US?
- Explore holding conventions outside the Wasatch Front for the general Church membership. The convention that starts today is for members only (the LDSBA doesn’t even like publicity about the convention, fearing that the general public will get in and somehow collect all the giveaways). Why not hold events so that the average Church member knows something about all the products available? Local LDS bookstores (if any in the area chosen) may object, until they realize that such conventions will probably boost their sales in the long run (after exhibitors leave, where will local members go to get all the products displayed?
- Set up or encourage the development of a true wholesaler — a middleman that purchases from the publishers and producers and sells to the retailers. I posted about the need for a wholesaler some time ago.
- Join or partner with national book industry groups, such as the Book Industry Study Group, so that LDSBA members can learn about and benefit from its standards.
- Create a committee to prepare a list of standard categories for publishers and booksellers to use — something like the Book Industry Study Group’s BISAC Subject Codes. Such a system would benefit everyone in the LDS market, and eliminate nonsense bookstore categories like “LDS Authors.”
- Add ethical standards for publishers covering their contracts with authors.
I’m not sure that the above list is everything that I would suggest — I’ve probably left off things that I’ve discussed here, or things that have occurred to me at some point. But they are all things I think the LDSBA can reasonably do, and that would have a substantial positive effect on the LDS market.
I welcome any additional suggestions for how the LDSBA could improve the market for LDS books, music, film and other products.