Saturday began the ALA’s annual Banned Books Week, its effort to call attention to censorship and attempts to censor books in the United States. The good news is that the number of challenges (attempts, usually unsuccessful, to restrict or make a book unavailable at an institution–library, school, etc.) has hit its lowest level in 20 years. But last year an LDS author’s work made the top 10 most challenged books for the second year in a row.
When I was a student at BYU some enterprising student published a hardcover guide titled The Mormon Media Market, which followed the model of the Writer’s Digest annual guide Writer’s Market (now the subject of numerous spin-offs and copy-cat works). I thought at the time that this was a good idea, although it was clear from the content in the book that there wasn’t much of a market.
That has changed in the more than 20 years since that guide was published, and WindRiver Publishing is proving it, with the second (2010) edition of its LDS Writer’s Market Guide – 2010.
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.
I believe most true readers have had, at least at some point in their lives, a love affair with either a bookstore or a library. I still love getting lost among bookshelves, happening on some gem of a work that I never knew existed, or glancing into a book I’ve heard of only to emerge, disoriented, hours later, sometimes after extreme journeys in time and space.
But I can count on one hand the LDS Bookstores in which I’ve had that experience. Its not that LDS Bookstores are small (I’ve had this kind of experience in small bookstores), nor is it that they are mostly chain stores (I’ve had the kind of experience I’m talking about in several Barnes & Nobels, as well as in a few Borders stores). Nor is it the quality of the help — I almost never talk to the help or seek their advice (I only talk to staff when I know they know their stuff — or when I’m trying to make sales contacts).
It could simply be that I’m the wrong kind of customer for most LDS bookstores — that there aren’t enough readers like me. But if that’s the case, can someone please explain what the role of LDS Bookstores is or should be?
Last week William, in the comments to his post on a reader-oriented ecommerce site, suggested that the site he was proposing needed to be restricted to just fiction. While such a decision should probably be left to whoever starts such a site (William made it clear he isn’t taking on the project), I disagree. It seems to me a comprehensive site is one of the things we are missing.