Approximately 2,500 people attended the LDS Booksellers convention, held August 11-13 in Sandy, Utah, representing 190 retail stores and 119 exhibitors in the Latter-day Saints (Mormon) market. Although the overall number of exhibitors was down slightly from last year, LDSBA executive director Dot Hamer reported that several publishers had increased their booth sizes, squeezing out potential exhibitors on the show’s waiting list.
Although five new publishing houses exhibited for the first time at the show (American Book Publishing, Ephraim Publishing, Mapletree Publishing, Nauvoo Books, and Spring Creek), the steadiest traffic was for the established houses and their big-name authors. Covenant Communications drew long lines for a book signing by artist Greg Olsen, while Deseret Book featured popular authors Dean Hughes, who signed volume four of the Hearts of the Children fiction series, and Stephen Covey, who signed “Six Events: The Restoration Model for Solving Life’s Problems” and led a workshop on the first day of the show.
Deseret continues to expand its retail chain, and now has 42 stores in nine states. This time last year, the company experimented with placing a “Lion House Pantry” cafeteria in one of its retail stores, a move that was wildly successful and is now been implemented in at least eight stores. Gail Halladay, Deseret’s director of marketing and communications, likened the approach to that of the major chains. “It’s similar to a Barnes & Noble plan, having the kind of feel in the store where people are encouraged to linger,” she said. “They want to sit down, read a book and relax.”
Capitalizing on its retail strength in the LDS market, Deseret has also made inroads as a distributor. Debby Simmons, inventory and distributed products manager, said that the company is now distributing some 150 titles to the Mormon market, including “Turnaround,” Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s account of saving the Salt Lake City Olympic Games (Regnery, July), and Doubleday’s forthcoming trade edition of the Book of Mormon (Nov.). She’s also been actively buying New York publishers’ children’s books, cookbooks, and titles on parenting and marriage, which should resonate with an LDS audience.
The strongest trend visible at the show seemed to be the encroachment of gifts–chess games with Book of Mormon figurines, temple tchotchkes, even Russian nesting dolls featuring famous presidents of the LDS Church. “There seem to be many more religious and inspirational art companies coming into the [LDS Booksellers] association,” said Hamer, who noted a definite increase in religious art and holy hardware. Robby Nichols, v-p of marketing for Covenant Communications, agreed, saying that Covenant has increased the proportion of gifts to books in its new product line.
Still, books were the buzz of the show. Cedar Fort president Lyle Mortimer expects strong sales for the, Guinness-like “The Skousen Book of Mormon World Records,” releasing in September. The book features stories and photos of LDS world record-holders, such as the woman with the world’s longest fingernails (she has not cut them since 1979), and other “firsts” by Mormons around the world. And Deseret is already heralding the May 2005 release of “Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo,” the first in a five-book YA fantasy series about a 14-year old boy with the power to manipulate the future. Chris Schoebinger, acquisitions editor and product director, expects it to cross over easily to the national market.