In the wake of last week’s news about Deseret Book taking Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books, I started thinking again about what alternatives there might be to Deseret Book’s dominance of the LDS market. There seems to be little question that many more sophisticated books, although apparently some are books that make the most sensitive or religiously conservative uncomfortable, and as a result those books are mostly shut out of LDS bookstores.
That might be a simplistic explanation, and perhaps doesn’t cover all aspects of the problem. I’ve tried to discuss the problems with Deseret Book in the past (see The problem of Deseret Book Part 1: A Question of Size, The Problem of Deseret Book Part 2: A Question of Focus, The Problem of Deseret Book Part 3: Unresolvable? and Bad Move, Deseret Book). Let’s come up with some ideas for other ways to get LDS books to LDS consumers, especially those in areas not served by LDS stores.
Alternative distribution has, of course, a significant hurdle to overcome, simply because the first idea on how to find an LDS book is to go to an LDS store, although searching an online site like Amazon.com is becoming a strong second place.
The alternatives below are mostly things that publishers could implement to sell their own books, but they would be better implemented by independent companies that sold the books of all publishers. They could also be implemented simultaneously. Some don’t even exist at the moment, even in the U.S. national market. This is probably true for a reason–bookstores are probably more efficient than those that don’t exist. But even these might be right for the LDS market because bookstores are often far apart or don’t even exist in many markets. Some alternative need to be used in those cases.
Here are some alternatives:
- Amazon and other online retailers: Already Amazon carries the vast majority of LDS books, and many other online retailers are not far behind.
- Online retailers usually have very large audiences, much larger than Deseret Book and all LDS stores together.
- It is relatively easy to get books listed on most of these retailers.
- LDS Books are often hard to find because the books aren’t labeled as LDS in any way. While Amazon does have an LDS or Mormon category, it is only for books whose subject is Mormonism.
- Each title is one among as many as 5 million or more.
- Authors and publishers still have a significant amount of promotion work to do to let consumers know that the book even exists.
- Only 10% of sales end occur on line.
- An Independent LDS Online Retailer: By this, I mean a retailer independent of Deseret Book.
- Depending on how the retailers policies are set up, it should be easy to get books included in its catalog.
- As an LDS store, its organization would be more like that of brick and mortar online stores, and the items it carried would all be identified as LDS.
- The store’s selection would probably be better than brick and mortar LDS stores.
- Since no such store exists, sourcing LDS books might be a problem, especially if major LDS publishers choose not to sell to the store.
- Book Clubs:
- Sales are mostly easier-to-handle bulk sales.
- Book Club consumers are often quite loyal and sophisticated.
- There are probably not many clubs, so the sales they represent are marginal.
- The require a lot of organization and interest by consumers.
- Authors or publishers need lists of clubs to market to or ways of identifying the clubs.
- Book Fairs/Event Sales:
- Its easy to meet large groups of people at events, and often many sales can be made in a short period of time.
- Book fairs can be very attractive to groups wanting to use them as fundraisers.
- Book Fairs can’t really be done in Wards and Stakes anymore, given Church restrictions on fundraising.
- The number of regular events each year isn’t very large–it is difficult to build a business just on that.
- Direct Marketing (aka catalog sales):
- Relatively easy to set up and administer.
- Effort needed is in growing and maintaining mailing list and pesenting materials.
- Requires building a mailing list of 10,000 names or more to make significant sales.
- Person to Person Marketing (representatives in each ward/stake):
- Would probably give the best coverage of the market.
- Just to cover all LDS stakes would require more than 1,000 representative.
- Sales in a single stake may not be enough to support a full-time representative.
- Turnover and getting reps to do what is needed would be a significant management headache.
- Multi-level Marketing:
- Allows growing a network of representatives quickly.
- Also brings in sales quickly and maybe at a higher rate than other things.
- The margins available to pay representatives may not be high enough to support a MLM network.
- Many people consider this sales model to be ethically questionable.
I don’t know if the above will help authors or publishers directly. I hope it will. It could also give publishers, authors and others ideas for what to do to build their sales. Better yet would be if this led to an idea to improve and strengthen the independence of the LDS market.