Own Worst Enemy

April 23, 2009 | 67 comments
By

Its tempting to shrug off the news that Deseret Book has taken Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books off the shelves because of customer complaints. After all, Deseret Book has a right to run its business how it pleases. And as Clark Goble observes, in his comment on Beliefnet on this issue, it may be Deseret Book trying to differentiate itself from other bookstores.

But I see a problem.

The problem comes down to the fact that not only isn’t this good for Deseret Book, it isn’t good for Mormon books in general.

Its probably obvious to most people that this is a money looser for Deseret Book. The Twilight books have to bring in thousands of dollars in sales each month for a 50-store chain like DB. And, to be honest, I can’t see the number of complaints they get exceeding the number of copies sold, so I doubt that the fact that Deseret Book sells Twilight is leading to significant lost sales from people who won’t shop at Deseret Book because they sell Twilight (and what choice do such people have anyway? Is there some store that is even MORE stringent than Deseret Book?)

But I really don’t care if Deseret Book makes or looses money on Twilight. Deseret Book’s success isn’t something I care much about. I worry about what this means for the market for LDS products.

One of the biggest problems that LDS products have is the reputation of the market. From my own queries of LDS Church members around the US, I believe the majority of active LDS Church members don’t like to shop in LDS bookstores. Why? The selection doesn’t match what they want. The stores are heavily oriented towards “LDS Fiction”–often romances or didactic works–and to cutsy objects and obvious rip-0ffs of the ideas behind national products. Serious non-fiction (except for works written by LDS General Authorities) is all but absent, as are many other categories typically found in general interest stores.

The problem with this move is that it re-inforces the idea that LDS stores will never carry serious work–that anyone looking for challenging work, well-written fiction and a wide variety of viewpoints won’t find that at Deseret Book or any other LDS stores. And that makes it much, much harder for LDS publishers and authors who are writing significant works to feel like writing for the LDS market is even an option.

As a result, we all loose and the proportion of active LDS members who actually buy books from LDS stores will continue to decline.

Somehow, I don’t think that is good for anyone, not even for the Church.

Tags: , , , , ,

67 Responses to Own Worst Enemy

  1. Marc Bohn on April 23, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Amen. Deseret Book has always made perplexing decisions along these lines. It refused, for example, to carry Terryl Givens’ “Viper on the Hearth” in the 1990s (which, at the time, dealt a deadly blow to the book’s potential for success), and I noticed on my last visit to Utah that the two Deseret Books I visited didn’t carry “Rough Stone Rolling” either. What this sort of narrow-mindedness does is further push the book chain into irrelevance. Luckily, we don’t have to rely on Deseret Book for the distribution of Mormon-related books anymore. You can find a much broader selection online at Amazon.com and at a much lower cost.

  2. makakona on April 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    marc, did db not carry “rough stone rolling” or were they just out of stock? our experience when trying to purchase copies three separate times at two different db’s was that they couldn’t keep up with demand. admittedly, that was over a year ago. have they changed their minds?

  3. James on April 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Even if there have been complaints, and I can see one of my sisters-in-law being one of the complainers, there may be a much more pedestrian and marketing based reason for moving the Twilight series to online orders only. I walk through the book section of my local Wal-Mart and the Stephanie Meyer section is easily the largest single author collection of books on the shelves. Okay, I’m in Arizona that that may have something to do with that. But, publishers do make demands on shelf space from booksellers for popular books. Since popular fiction isn’t the major market thrust for Deseret Book, they may have decided that the amount of shelf space that Little, Brown wanted for their product was too much. Just a simple decision about how to use shelf space. I can see this. Stephanie Meyer is the Queen of the Amazon top ten with product at #3, #4, #5, #7, and #8. A book that popular has to give a publisher clout with book stores.

  4. Dan on April 23, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Well said. Having only read the first ten pages of Twilight, I’m curious what, in the story, is in any way inappropriate reading material for active LDS members?

  5. S.P. Bailey on April 23, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I didn’t realize that Deseret Book was still doing business. Do people still buy books in brick and mortar stores? How quaint!

  6. queuno on April 23, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I wasn’t aware that Twilight was a “Mormon” book.

    (IIRC, people used to complain that Mormon cinema only meant cinema about Mormons. If you’re using that standard, then you can’t call Twilight a Mormon book, right?)

    Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of Meyer’s books. I’m not into vampires.

  7. MC on April 23, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Mr. Larsen,
    When you mentioned “obvious rip-offs of the ideas behind national products”, I immediately thought of “Settlers of Zarahemla”. Are there really Mormon parents out there who think their kids will have a stronger testimony if their board games are the same as everyone else’s, but with a Mormon “twist”?

  8. Marc Bohn on April 23, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    #2 – Makakona – I don’t know. I actually went and asked for it out of curiosity because they had a large display on a range of books related to Joseph Smith and it seemed like a glaring omission. The store clerk said they had no copies, but could special order it. That prompted me to ask for it at a different Deseret Book where I was given the same answer.

    #3 – James – Your account would be plausible had Deseret Book itself not said that they removed it because of complaints:

    “Our top priority is to meet the needs of our customers, who increasingly represent a variety of viewpoints… Like any retailer, our purpose is to offer products that are embraced and expected by our customers. When we find products that are met with mixed review, we typically move them to special order status.”

  9. Chris on April 23, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Dan, I haven’t read the books personally, but my wife tore through them (all 4 in about 7-10 days) and she tells me there is some graphic sex stuff in the later book(s). But I think the first couple of books are relatively PG.

    And I agree with Kent on this issue (except that “loose” should be “lose” :) ). I like good Mormon fiction and I think it would be nice if DB didn’t pull it.

  10. Marc Bohn on April 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    #6 Queuno – You clearly missed the racist Mormon subtext throughout it all. Luckily, popular young adult author Alisa Valdes Rodriguez was there to lay it all out for you though.

  11. lyle on April 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Kent:

    Your concern is shown in Mel’s comments, from the link below, about 8-9 down, which says DB is basically for church stuff only.

    http://www.newmoonmovie.org/2009/04/lds-church-pulls-twilight-from-store-shelves/

    Chris: There is no graphic sex in the novel. It is all left to the imagination, so that is an interesting comment.

    MC: Do you know the origin of Settlers of Zarahemla? As far as I know its an officially licensed/produced version of the Catan game. Cheesy? Maybe. Perhaps its just being a lawyer, but I enjoy seeing folks change the rules and creating a new, different game.

  12. James on April 23, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Re: Marc — I read that statement and couldn’t help but think of the possibility that it was a justification. Now they may have really been thinking solely about keeping their vocal customers happy. Like I said, I could really see one of my sisters-in-law being a complainer. She’s very, very old-fashioned, did I mention that She’s very old-fashioned in her attitudes about appropriate relations between teenaged boys and girls? And in any case, isn’t just about any book not published by a Deseret Book Company imprint that is for sale in a Deseret Book store going to get ‘mixed reviews’ from someone in their customer base? (The ‘why are you wasting shelf space on this gentile stuff when you could be carrying my great-great-uncles account of how….”)

    In their core mission aren’t Deseret Book stores really primarily outlets for books published by…Deseret Book! So, I can really see a little bit of whining from people who think that Bella is too forward, like my sister-in-law perhaps, giving the merchandising managers at DB a reasonable ‘customer-based’ excuse for telling Little, Brown thanks but no thanks.

    I suppose that I’m suggesting an alternate theory of the event because the complaint story sounds a little to convenient.

  13. dangermom on April 23, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    But do people generally go to DB looking for a general bookstore? I go there looking for LDS books. If I want regular books, I go to a regular bookstore. I guess this is because I don’t live in Utah, but I was sort of perplexed when I walked into a DB and saw a display of mainstream fiction. I don’t buy LDS fiction anyway, but I go to DB looking for serious doctrinal/historical stuff, not whatever’s on the NYT bestseller list.

  14. WillF on April 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    RE: 7.MC “Settlers of Zarahemla”

    Settlers of Zarahemla is a fully licensed version of Settlers of Catan – it isn’t a ripoff. It is just like Settlers but in a different “universe.”

    I bought it for our family, but not out of a “testimony building” motive like you imply. I just thought it would be fun to imagine we were in the Book of Mormon universe while playing. Also, after looking at the reviews I saw that several people said it was made of higher quality materials than the traditional Settlers game.

  15. WillF on April 23, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    (And I bought it off Amazon.com — usually cheaper than DB)

  16. Julie M. Smith on April 23, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    dangermom, I think there are a lot of people who use DB as a filter: if it is mainstream fiction at DB, you know it is “safe” and OK to buy, which you don’t know if it is just on Amazon or whatever.

  17. Ellis on April 23, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I understand you concern about LDS products and serious fiction. I don’t see how the Twilight series falls into either of these categories. I seldom find anything that interests me in DB. I don’t like the political slant of much that is there. I don’t want to fill up my life with mediocre stuff unless it is my own.

  18. Jane on April 23, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    We talked about reading at my primary presidency mtg this week. The secretary said “Oh, I wish I had time to read” (my favorite statement ever). And the primary pres., who is reading Jane Austen for the first time ever, says she hates Pride and Prejudice because it’s so shallow — every conversation is about money and looks and that’s all anyone cares about and she much prefers Little Women because Susan Sarandon is such a good mother, she just teaches those girls good values.

    (Our fearless leader loves the Twilight books, but she marked out the “sensual” passages in the second one before letting her daughter read it.)

    There is no graphic sex in the Twilight books (and I actually have read them all, unashamedly).

  19. Cynthia L. on April 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    I think #16 argues for just getting rid of all non-LDS material. There really is no reason to carry it at DB.

  20. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Marc (1), buying at Amazon is an option if you know that a particular LDS book exists. Its really not if you are simply looking for an LDS book, but don’t know which one. Its just not possible to restrict your search on Amazon to only LDS books, unless you happen to know who all the LDS publishers are (including all the new small ones).

    Julie (16) mentioned one aspect of this — the filtering that Deseret Book supposedly does (in this case it seems to have been completely in retrospect. How do you only realize after 3 1/2 years that there is a problem with the books!!)

    While I don’t buy books at Deseret Book, I do realize that there is an important role for some kind of resource to help us figure out what books/music/etc is LDS–even if our interest is not for filtered material, but for affiliation reasons.

  21. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    James (3) wrote: “publishers do make demands on shelf space from booksellers for popular books.”

    Actually, not really. Quite the opposite in fact. All those stacks of books on tables in the front of Barnes & Noble? The space is paid for by the publisher. The books on the end of a row of shelves? Also paid for by the publisher. Except in small independent bookstores, shelf space outside of normal placement (in alphabetical order in the proper section) is paid for by the publisher (or sometimes at the discretion of the store manager when the space hasn’t been sold).

    If you saw a section devoted to Stephenie Meyer, its either because the store’s management believes it will boost sales, or because the publisher paid for it to happen.

    Ever since I joined the book publishing industry 22 years ago this has been the case. Its the retailers that have the power in the industry, not the publishers.

  22. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    queuno (6), my friend, whether a book is “Mormon” or not is the subject of long and frequent debates — kind of kin to whether or not “Mormons” are “Christian.” The answer depends mostly on how you define your terms. Its completely semantic.

    BUT, just to make my thought process clear, I don’t care whether or not Twilight is considered Mormon. I do care about where LDS books are sold, how they are sold, and whether they can get the attention they deserve.

    Actions like this make many active members of the Church avoid Deseret Book, because a store that would do something like this is likely to do the same thing to many books that are worth reading.

  23. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    MC (7), I wasn’t trying to be that literal when I used the term “rip-off.” I’m not suggesting that anyone actually stole anything and is legally liable (I’m not a lawyer, and I really don’t know for sure when most things are stolen). Instead, I was referring to the whole process in general, licensed or not, of taking an idea and turning it “Mormon” in some way. “Settlers of Zarahemla” is certainly what I was referring to, even though they have (apparently) done it legally.

    Its more a dig about the lack of originality in these things than anything else. There’s nothing wrong with the products per se, they just aren’t an original product, and as such don’t have as much value to our culture.

  24. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Lyle (11) wrote:

    Your concern is shown in Mel’s comments, from the link below, about 8-9 down, which says DB is basically for church stuff only.

    Um, then I’ve done a bad job of explaining. The problem is NOT that DB is basically for church stuff. It IS that DB is limiting what it will sell based on criteria that is either unknown or so strict that most active Mormons think it is silly.

    Deseret Book has actually pulled this before. They nixed a Richard Paul Evans book years ago simply because (according to reports at the time) a character had an out-of-wedlock affair (apparently we aren’t supposed to know that happens) and before that killed a humorous novel that fits in the “LDS Fiction” category quite nicely because in included a scene where one Angel drop-kicks another through a wall (as if we couldn’t suspend our disbelief that an Angel would do something like that).

    I’m NOT expecting Deseret Book to carry non-LDS fare — I don’t care whether they do or not. I do expect that their policies will be reasonable and expand the market for LDS books, instead of leading members to conclude that LDS stores “don’t carry the kind of LDS books that I like.”

  25. kevinf on April 23, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I find that many of the “LDS” books I’d like to buy are not always available at DB (history, personal essay, etc). I did get RSR there, and my copy of Volume ! of the JSPP series. If I want to go to a mainstream bookstore to browse, I’ll go to Barnes & Noble, Borders, or local independents here like Elliott Bay Books. And I also am a frequent user of Amazon’s services, but there is still something about going and picking up a book, reading the dust jacket, and then deciding whether or not to buy it. If I know what I want, I’ll buy it from Amazon, but if i want to be surprised, I’ll go the brick and mortar route.

    Deseret Book just seems to be more interested in selling Mormon culture stuff and a narrow range of books. And I’m not often pleasantly surprised when I go there.

  26. dangermom on April 23, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks Julie, I had not thought of that at all.

  27. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Ellis (17) wrote:

    I understand your concern about LDS products and serious fiction. I don’t see how the Twilight series falls into either of these categories.

    It doesn’t (unless you tend towards my view that anything written by a Mormon is an ‘LDS product’).

    A large part of my point is that this decision has implications for the major part of Deseret Book’s business–LDS products–and for the perception of the LDS market.

    I seldom find anything that interests me in DB. I don’t like the political slant of much that is there. I don’t want to fill up my life with mediocre stuff unless it is my own.

    That’s exactly the point. If you haven’t yet decided to not visit DB as a result, I won’t be surprised if you make that decision soon.

    Am I not right that this decision only makes you less likely to think that DB or any LDS store will have books of interest to you, that express your political slant, or that are better than mediocre?

  28. MC on April 23, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Kent (23),
    That was precisely the point I was trying to make. I think the subsequent commenters misconstrued my comments as some sort of fraud accusation, when it was really a cheesiness accusation.

  29. Eric Russell on April 23, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I bet these complaints came from the same five people who complained about The Last Promise.

  30. Marie on April 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I hate to be a “Debbie-Downer”, but is the work of Stephanie Meyer really “serious work” that is “challenging” to read? Her books were originally intended for a youth audience, weren’t they? And, they’re romance novels meant for said audience anyway, aren’t they? I haven’t read the books nor will I ever, and while I am very happy for Meyer’s success, it doesn’t bother me at all that I won’t find her books on the shelves of DB. I really don’t mean/want to sound negative or anything, and I DO agree with you that it would be nice if “serious works” that are challenging to read, written by LDS authors would more often find their way to the shelves of DB. Just my two cents.

  31. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Marie, I’m sorry if I gave that impression. I think if you read the post carefully, you will see that I did NOT say that Stephenie Meyer’s work is “serious work” or “challenging to read.”

    My point is simply that if DB is rejecting books like those written by Meyer, what hope can those of us interested in more serious and challenging works have that DB will ever have them.

    And, if they are books intended for an LDS audience, then not having them distributed in DB is almost a kiss of death–most Mormons rarely find out about books that aren’t listed in DB’s catalog or appear in DB’s stores.

    Its all about what this move says about the LDS market.

  32. dangermom on April 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    “most Mormons rarely find out about books that aren’t listed in DB’s catalog or appear in DB’s stores.”

    Oh, come on. MOST Mormons? Most Mormons don’t even live near a Deseret Book, much less use it as their only book shopping resource. Are you seriously trying to say that most of the millions of Mormons out there only look at what DB has to offer?

  33. Kent Larsen on April 23, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    No, I’m trying to say that its nearly impossible to let members of the Church know about an LDS book that has been published, UNLESS DB is involved somehow.

    What market there is for LDS books, is so dominated by DB that both smaller publishers and smaller retailers are beholden to it.

    And, its not that Mormons use DB as their only book shopping resource. I think Mormons purchase from a wide variety of places. BUT LDS books are another matter. DB is both THE major retailer of LDS books and one of the major sources of information about what LDS books are available.

    So, let me put that sentence another way. If a book is not listed in DB’s catalog and doesn’t appear in LDS stores, the number of people that find out about the book is very small — at most a few thousand people.

    That’s a very small group to market to.

  34. dangermom on April 24, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Sorry I misunderstood. I didn’t get that impression from your sentence. :)

  35. Owen on April 24, 2009 at 12:55 am

    Do “most Mormons” even read?

  36. paul on April 24, 2009 at 9:35 am

    When I first read the quoted justification for pulling the books, I wondered what would happen if the bloggernacle mounted a coordinated complaint campaign against John Bytheway books…maybe we could muster enough opposition to constitute “mixed reviews…”

    (to be clear, I really have nothing against John Bytheway books, but I still think it would be an interesting experiment…)

  37. Eric Boysen on April 24, 2009 at 9:56 am

    I can’t speak for most Mormons, but I read. As a child I haunted Waldenbooks and wished I owned my own bookstore I read then and read now as much as I could. These days, though, there just isn’t any time.
    I get my general reading material from the library. DB is about the only bookstore I go to because, if I am going to BUY a book, then it is going to be something I can’t get for free at the library. So I go to DB for church books-doctrinal, historical, and sometimes fiction with an LDS slant. (I am saving my pennies to go buy a copy of RSR, which they had on display there last week.) If the selection is more narrow than it could be, I can’t tell because I I only have time for a sample of what they have to offer.

  38. SmallAxe on April 24, 2009 at 10:14 am

    DB is caught in the difficult position of representing both the demands of its target market (the way that most businesses operate), and the values of the institution. It seems rather clear which of the two it sees as most important; although how exactly it determines this is not always obvious. IMO, the Twilight issue should be taken as an application of oft-repeated story of “driving the truck as far away from the edge of the cliff as possible”.

  39. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Paul (36), LOL! Let’s try it! (Of course, my daughter would kill me, she likes Bytheway’s books).

    What this says to me is that DB is apparently more willing to accept the views of an anonymous group of customers, and its employees interpretations of this group, than trusting in the majority of its customers.

    I don’t know about you, but I respect a majority more than a minority, and, should the GAs want to weigh in on this, I’m more likely to accept their counsel than the above.

    BUT, as far as I can tell, the GAs haven’t weighed in on this one.

  40. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Eric Boysen (37), by my rough estimate, DB has less than 2/3rds of the LDS titles available. So you are missing a bunch of stuff that you could purchase if you knew they exist.

    I’m glad you posted, you demonstrate my point that a lot of members only find out that LDS books are available because they appear in DB.

  41. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 11:10 am

    SmallAxe (38), I agree. But I don’t think that the Brethren are behind this move. If they were, my analysis of this might be a bit different. So my read is that DB is over-representing the “values of the institution.”

    The problem with the idea of “driving the truck as far away from the edge of the cliff as possible” is that usually there is an equally difficult hazard on the other side of the road–a cliff wall, or maybe oncoming traffic.

    In this case, that hazard is the reputation of not just Deseret Book, but the market for LDS products as a whole. As I say, active, faithful LDS church members are getting turned off by what DB and other LDS retailers carry in its stores and their reputation for capricious decisions about what to carry.

    And, I think they are rapidly coming to the conclusion that LDS stores don’t carry anything worth reading and LDS publishers don’t produce anything worth purchasing.

  42. John Buffington on April 24, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I frequently take the bus to work, and read. My daughter had the Twilight books, and I read them all. Must admit I do not understand the brouhaha. (I did get a lot of grief from male ward members who saw me reading these juvenile romance books however)

    I think that if these books bother someone, then the Ender books would be much more objectionable. After all, young Andrew KILLS a bunch of innocents. Do we find Brother Card’s books at DB?

    It is hard to display irony in these posts, but clearly I find neither series to be objectionable. I guess I view this action (removing books due to complaints) like I view recommendations not to watch R movies.

    Not necessarily bad, but can lead you down a crazy path where you engage in behaviour that is sub-optimal from a learning and growth perspective.

    For example, if DB removed say, Madame Bovary, we probably think this is okay since it might offend many clients, and they are after all a private business who are trying to please multiple stakeholders. If they remove Ender’s games since a bunch of “buggers” are killed, then clearly we are all poorer since access to this book is likely beneficial to any reader who primarily frequents DB.

    Like the old argument about R movies. Not seeing “Pulp Fiction” is probably okay. Not seeing “Schindler’s List” would be a serious gap in one’s cinematographic education.

    Seems like this removal is the action of someone who only sees in shades of black and white, and does not appreciate nuances.

  43. Justin on April 24, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Re #24, a November 2002 news article reporting that Deseret Book was then implementing new “brand guidelines” (rejecting material presenting a sympathetic view of behavior violating LDS standards, etc.) comes to mind here. The guidelines were apparently designed to address the results of Wirthlin survey of 350 DB customers who identified themselves as active church members. As Sheri Dew said of the survey findings, “We found that there were a lot of customers who had at one time or another purchased something at Deseret Book that for them created a feeling of distress. . . . One area where we on occasion had lost trust was we had stocked items that did not match with the core beliefs of our key customers.”

    It’s a recurring story: a prominent book is pulled from the shelves or not carried (Richard Paul Evans, Anita Stansfield, the drop-kicked angel book, etc.) or Deseret Book decides to clean house. In the mid-1990s, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a story on church members who complained that Deseret Book was peddling sleaze by selling certain fiction (e.g., R. Gary Shapiro’s pamphlet “For the Money? An Open Letter to Deseret Book…”).

  44. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Justin (43), you are right. I remember that news article, and the situations you mention. I agree that this is a recurring story.

    What I didn’t remember (and I appreciate your mentioning it for that reason) was the Wirthlin survey. I’m sure that the survey was valid, and that there are people who feel that way.

    BUT, to me the survey sounds flawed as you have presented it. You say that Wirthlin surveyed 350 Deseret Book customers. That is a problem.

    The survey should have been of 350 active LDS Church members, regardless of whether they are Deseret Book customers or not.

    By only surveying Deseret Book customers, the survey is essentially saying that DB only wants to keep its current customers, and not win those who have already been turned off and believe that “Deseret Book doesn’t sell the kind of books I like.”

    The problem with the survey is that Deseret Book takes too narrow a view of its market.

  45. Kate on April 24, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    “Lose.” I am sorry to have to point it out, but there are several places in your post where you use “loose” and it should be “lose.” “Loose” is a different word altogether and with a different meaning and a different pronunciation.

  46. Huston on April 24, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Is Twilight really a “serious work,” an example of the “challenging work, well-written fiction and a wide variety of viewpoints” that we want to contribute to our culture and the larger community? I hope that when history looks back on Mormon literature, Twilight isn’t the most “significant work” we have to offer. Removing it from the physical inventory hardly constitutes Philistinism.

  47. Sarah on April 24, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Some non-members I know at work (I’m in Ohio, and the subset of people at work who are LDS is, as far as I know, made up by me alone) are absolutely obsessed with Twilight. “I just never stick with books, but these, I couldn’t put down!” The LDS young women (by that I mean 14-35, not 12-18) that I interact with at church and through my sisters all either hate the entire series, or at a minimum find the last few books increasingly disturbing, from a “he’s permanently 17 and they wake up with the bed in splinters” standpoint.

  48. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Kate (45), its my achilles heel. For some reason its the error I make most consistently. I will repent and make amends.

  49. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Huston (46), read comment 31 — I’ve already answered your statement about whether or not Twilight is “serious work” or “challenging” in that comment. I think a careful reading of the post will make it clear that I didn’t actually say that Twilight is “serious work” or “challenging.”

  50. Kent Larsen on April 24, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Oh, and Huston (46), I didn’t suggest that “removing it from the physical inventory” constituted “Philistinism.”

    I did suggest that because of Deseret Book’s action, the LDS market will suffer as more people think this kind of silly action controls what is in LDS stores, leaving a warped, narrow selection.

  51. Anna on April 25, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I was actually surprised when I saw Meyer’s books on shelves of Deseret Book and Seagull bookstores. While she IS a Latter-day Saint, it doesn’t necessarily mean her books are Latter-day Saint product. The characters aren’t even Latter-day Saints. Many never consider it in the same genre as “LDS romances”.

    On the Deseret Book website’s “About” section, it states:
    “Deseret Book is committed to support the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by providing scriptures, books, music, and other quality products that strengthen individuals, families, and our society.”

    Wouldn’t that mean that Deseret book would want only items on their shelves that “strengthen individuals, families, and our society”?

    I don’t know about any other books that may be on sale there currently (LDS-romances, etc.) but I do know that’s the place to go if I need scriptures, religion-focused books, and other church-use essentials. That’s why the inclusion of the Twilight series was so surprising; they seemed like such an anomaly.

    I did read all of Meyer’s books, and while it was impressive that the teens practiced abstinence before marriage, it was still indirectly graphic, especially in the last book. I think that’s why the books were such a big hit with Latter-day Saint readers–because it never says things outright. But it was implied, which to many, had the same effect.

    That’s why it surprised me out when I saw those books displayed in a book store that is religion based. I’m still in college and already apprehensive for my future children. I really don’t want my thirteen-year-old daughters reading those books and thinking the Twilight series are in the same canon as works penned by church authorities.

    In that light, it only made sense the store took the books off their shelves. Meyer’s works have sold incredibly well across the nation, so their absence off of Deseret Book’s shelves has probably had little impact on revenue. Also, I’m sure the owners of Deseret Book realized that the sales weren’t significant enough for them to keep the books in stock, and that the books ultimately did not work toward the store’s mission to “strengthen” families.

  52. Kent Larsen on April 25, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Anna, I understand your viewpoint, but there are some things about it that may represent misunderstanding the facts:

    While she IS a Latter-day Saint, it doesn’t necessarily mean her books are Latter-day Saint product. The characters aren’t even Latter-day Saints. Many never consider it in the same genre as “LDS romances”.

    Correct. However, many things sold in Deseret Book are NOT LDS by a long stretch. They may mostly fit LDS values, but they have not been written for an LDS audience.

    Among LDS bookstores, Deseret Book is, IMO, one of the worst in limiting its stock to what was written for the LDS market.

    On the Deseret Book website’s “About” section, it states:
    “Deseret Book is committed to support the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by providing scriptures, books, music, and other quality products that strengthen individuals, families, and our society.”

    Wouldn’t that mean that Deseret book would want only items on their shelves that “strengthen individuals, families, and our society”?

    Theoretically. In practice what will “strengthen individuals, families, and our society” is often hard to determine and even controversial.

    I don’t know about where you live, but where I live the majority of people believe that the death penalty is detrimental to society, and so would conclude from DB’s policy that a book written to persuade others to get rid of the death penalty should be on the shelves. On the other hand, I learned today that a Montana politician and LDS Church member says that the Book of Mormon supports the death penalty–implying that perhaps DB’s policy should encourage books supportive of the death penalty.

    Of course, the death penalty isn’t the issue. This same kind of thing can be done with many, many moral issues, especially those on which the Church hasn’t taken a stand.

    I don’t know about any other books that may be on sale there currently (LDS-romances, etc.) but I do know that’s the place to go if I need scriptures, religion-focused books, and other church-use essentials.

    Actually, for essential Church materials, I go to LDS Distribution, not Deseret Book. Its cheaper from the Distribution Center in general, and the closest Deseret Book store is more than 1,000 miles from here.

    My point is that the Church has a system for distributing and selling the essential materials–its the Distribution Centers. Deseret Book is a for-profit bookstore that tries, in general, to support LDS values. It isn’t the primary source for essentials.

    I did read all of Meyer’s books, and while it was impressive that the teens practiced abstinence before marriage, it was still indirectly graphic, especially in the last book. I think that’s why the books were such a big hit with Latter-day Saint readers–because it never says things outright. But it was implied, which to many, had the same effect.

    I don’t think your perception is uncommon. In fact, I think that complaints about these books from people like yourself are likely what led to this decision.

    But what you seem to be arguing is that the book has to be perfect, to fit your vision of what is OK to imply and what isn’t, or Deseret Book can’t carry it, even if it is world-famous for being substantially BETTER than every other book in the national market!!

    What you haven’t addressed is the other side of my argument above. What if the decision to exclude books like this is actually driving faithful, active Church members AWAY from Deseret Book!!

    I’m sorry if some members of the Church don’t think that Twilight is quite moral enough. But for those of us who have seen Deseret Book make this and several other decisions that seem silly, we wonder if there is anything in Deseret Book that hasn’t been so whitewashed and edited to not offend anyone’s sensibilities that nothing of value is left! We’ve stopped shopping in Deseret Book and many other LDS stores for this reason.

    I think in order to argue for Deseret Book in this case, you really need to address this argument. Is Deseret Book’s decision driving potential customers away?

    I’m sure the owners of Deseret Book realized that the sales weren’t significant enough for them to keep the books in stock, and that the books ultimately did not work toward the store’s mission to “strengthen” families.

    Not sure who you mean by “the owners of Deseret Book” — the Church owns Deseret Book through a for-profit company called Deseret Management.

    In any case, regardless of who you mean, I’m waiting for your explanation for why it took them 3 1/2 years after the first book came out to realize that these books didn’t “strengthen” families. The delay makes it seem like the response was to complaints, not to the content of the books.

  53. Amy on April 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Hmmm. I think it’s hard for me to get why this is a big deal or relate to it because I don’t live in Utah. I don’t have a deseret book anywhere near me and can’t even imagine finding an LDS book in a walmart or something.

    When we go to the temple (which is few hours away), we make the requisite stop at the independently owned LDS bookstore. So, while I like the Twilight books fine, I wouldn’t really want them to be there because in my mind, when I let my daughter pick out a book at the LDS bookstore, it should be LDS standard. Now granted, the Twilight series isn’t exactly a bodice-ripper, but if my daughter is a tween, I’m not exactly going to be thrilled with some of the scenes or the language (mild as it might be for an adult). 98% of what is in the LDS bookstore is strictly LDS material in some sort of way, and I was shocked when I saw the Twilight series there, and not all that happy. Like I said, I want to be able to let my kids loose in an LDS bookstore to pick something that I don’t have to do the usual background-checking on. Does that make sense?

    But it sounds like a Deseret Bookstore is different. If I understand correctly, it sounds like a db has LDS content, but also rest-of-the-world stuff as well. If that’s the case, and I know that going in, then I would not mind the Twilight series being in there at all.

    My disclaimer: I was up all night with a teething 6-month-old, so if this post doesn’t make sense, I blame the baby.

  54. Amy on April 25, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I revise my second paragraph above. I have never seen anything in our LDS bookstore before that was not somehow churchy on some level or somehow related to Mormonism in some way. So I was really surprised when I saw Twilight there. It’s not enough for me in that situation that the only connection was that the author was a member of the LDS church. Ok, I’m done now.

  55. Kent Larsen on April 25, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Amy, you are right that it is all about your expectations. Deseret Book is somewhat like your independent LDS bookstore, but it does carry more general market stuff. In general, I still think you would still be able to let your kids run loose in a Deseret Book.

    And if you don’t think that Twilight fits what you expect from an LDS store, you should complain.

    But again, there is still the problem of those other active, faithful LDS Church members who are getting turned off because LDS stores are not carrying what they expect–thoughtful, challenging stuff.

    The problem is that the objections against Twilight and similar works that you don’t want your children to find also result in getting more important and worthy works, some of which do have material that you might object to, also kept out of bookstores (although, they are probably not nearly as likely to be of interest to teens and tweens).

    Again, the problem here is NOT Twilight. I don’t care if it stays in LDS stores or not. The problem is that this kind of decision makes LDS stores look arbitrary and look like they won’t carry anything that makes you think.

    I just want to feel like, when I go into an LDS bookstore, I can find something intellectually stimulating. I don’t have that feeling today.

  56. Anna on April 25, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Kent, you asked my opinion on why it took DB 3 1/2 years to decide to take books off the shelves. I honestly don’t know the truth of it. Really. However, your reasoning that it was complaints over content is something I agree with.

    The general thoughts and arguments concerning Twilight for the first two books were “do you like it, hate it, think it’s cheesy, not cheesy, etc.” In general, basic stuff.

    But as the third and fourth books came into publication, most, if not all of the Twilight conversations I heard, read, or was engaged in took a completely different tone: “do you think it was appropriate, or did it push the envelope too far? would you want your children reading it? Would you recommend this book to your parents?” etc. I think I’m safe in saying that the last two books, especially the fourth one, somewhat overturned the cheesiness/hater-or-lover debate to more of a moral debate. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but for a lot of people.

    So, I think the discontinuance has to do with both complaints and content. A review in the NY Times stated that “Meyer writes with a PG-13 sensibility” in her third book. This turnover from PG status definitely defined a different audience for the books, and because of that, I believe some customers (probably parents with elementary-age students reading the books) complained about it.

    I’m not sure what other what all the items at Deseret Book are like, but I do know that while the Twilight books are compelling and make for an interesting read, I don’t know how their absence denies Deseret Book as a carrier of anything “intellectually stimulating”. In comparison to Latter-day Saint themed books, it’s clear that the Twilight series stimulate the mind in a completely different way. While the Twilight series (and other LDS romance novels) do engage the mind, books written by Church authorities stimulate the mind in a more spiritually focused way.

    As you mentioned, Kent, Deseret Book carries non-religion-focused books on its shelves, for they “mostly fit LDS values”. This definitely makes sense, because the Church doesn’t deny other forms of truth or equal standards just because they come from a different source. Even if the books have not been directed to a Latter-day Saint audience, good morals are good morals anywhere.

    However, back to my aforementioned observation of the moral debate. The enamored couple of the series, particularly the female protagonist, is carnally driven toward marriage instead of the more rational, long-term commitment aspect of marriage the Church supports. While this book is a long shot from X-rated or even bodice-ripping, the change in the series is what I think caused a major issue with Deseret Book customers.

    I find that Deseret Book and the Distribution Centers have a great amount of intellectually stimulating and religiously strengthening material. It only makes sense that Deseret Management (and therefore, the Church) regularly streamlines its choice of products to preserve its religious standard and mission to strengthen its customers in that way. Deseret Book, as a religiously-run store, should be something different than the average bookstore. Whether Twilight is sold there or not, Latter-day Saints are equally as able to head to places like Borders and Barnes and Noble to appease their other, different, intellectually stimulating needs.

  57. Kent Larsen on April 25, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Amy wrote:

    I do know that while the Twilight books are compelling and make for an interesting read, I don’t know how their absence denies Deseret Book as a carrier of anything “intellectually stimulating”.

    That isn’t what I was saying. I don’t claim that the Twilight books are intellecutally stimulating.

    I’m saying that Deseret Books’ policies towards Twilight make me believe they would do the same thing to books that ARE intellectually stimulating.

    You keep trying to make this about Twilight. It isn’t about Twilight.

    It IS about Deseret Books’ policies towards ALL books, especially those written for the LDS market.

    If Deseret Book and other LDS stores can’t provide an environment where LDS Church members can find good, challenging, intellecutally stimulating books, then we will eventually find that we don’t really have an LDS market after all.

    Deseret Book’s action towards Twilight is just an indication of the broader problem, just the latest example (albeit with books that aren’t intellectually stimulating and that have their weaknesses) of arbitrary, short-sighted decisions that don’t help its customers or other members of the Church.

  58. Owen on April 27, 2009 at 10:48 am

    I figured it out! Last night I was watching the Twilight movie with my wife for the umpteenth time (best to keep the women-folk happy…) and I realized why DB did this now. It’s because the movie just came out on DVD. I’d bet just about anything that pulling the books is a result of a bunch of people who have never read them (and probably don’t read much in general) finally realizing what they are about because they saw the movie, heard about the movie, saw a trailer, caught a teenage daughter watching the movie at home etc.

  59. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Seagull Books had an entire section devoted to the Twilight books last year. It seems a little late to be worried about it? It also seems to be a little hypocritical since DB has clearly realized a lot of proft from the thousands of books it already sold.

    My guess is that, because of the LDS connection, the books sold even faster in the LDS market than nationally (that is my observation of my own family and daughter-in-law), and the market has now become saturated, almost a year since the last book came out, so that sales were starting to drop off in Mormonland. (There are so many copies out there now that, in closely knit LDS families and wards, people who are just now starting to read the books can easily borrow them.) DB has already made most of the profit it can from sales of the series, so its removal of the books is a gesture that is more a sop to some of its more loudly complaining customers than it is a real sacrifice. Furthermore, the fact that they are willing to take orders fo it online means that they are still making profits from it while proclaiming their virtue. This may not be what really led to the decision, but it matches the events so well that it has a strong possibility of being true.

    One of my kids is an aspiring author who hates the way the story develops, and thinks that it does, in fact, end up teaching a moral view that is materialistic and selfish. If DB were interested in the moral quality of its novels, one could understand a decision early on to refuse to carry the books. But doing it after selling thousands of them (and being part of promotions ofr midnight openings to promote the last book) makes it appear that DB’s literary and moral qualms only kick in after the first couple of publishing runs are exhausted.

  60. James on April 27, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Just for clarity, the Koffords sold Seagull to Deseret Management Co. in 2006. It is managed separately from DB. Their product mix is a little different and they often have better prices on things that they have in common with DB.

  61. Kent Larsen on April 27, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    James (60) wrote: “It is managed separately from DB.”

    For now. I don’t know when, but economic pressures will eventually force DB to at least consolidate the two editorial groups (Covenant Communications and Deseret Book’s own imprints).

    Those same economic pressures will also likely effect the retail stores, and I forsee stores competing with each other eventually consolidating in some cases, and some stores in more remote places changes brands from Seagull to Deseret Book or from Deseret Book to Seagull, depending on market factors.

    I already weighed in at the time on how the purchase was a bad idea.

  62. DavidH on April 27, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Deseret Book and “intellectually stimulating”? Of course, anyone interested in anything approaching Mormon studies should probably shop elsewhere.

    I am not sure how long ago Deseret Book stopped carrying Dialogue and Sunstone. I know it has been a while since I could find a copy there of the Journal of Mormon History. I have not even been able to find BYU Studies, Irreantum, the FARMS Review or even the Religious Educator there.

    I am told that Deseret Book does not carry anything published by Signature Books. I think it does carry some Mormon studies titles by University of Illinois and Oxford University (I bought my copy of Massacre at Mountain Meadows there).

    With respect to publications that have stories inconsistent with LDS values, does anyone know if Deseret Book sells any volumes of Shakespeare or of the Old Testament?

  63. Vader on April 28, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Owen, I read. Ravenously. Was that gratuitous swipe necessary?

    Serious non-fiction (except for works written by LDS General Authorities) is all but absent, as are many other categories typically found in general interest stores.

    The tiny Deseret Books store in my non-Utah neck of the woods carries Massacre at Mountain Meadows, a decidedly serious non-fiction work by non-General Authorities. It also carries Rough Stone Rolling, ditto. And it carries a very serious new commentary on the New Testament, exploding a certain number of Mormon myths while affirming the restored Gospel, ditto. And I’m just getting started.

    So I cannot reproduce this observation, and find it a bit flabbergasting.

  64. Kent Larsen on April 28, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Vader, how familiar are you with all that is available?

    Would you know what is missing, but available elsewhere?

    To a degree this is a matter of perspective, and how well you know what is available is an important part of the issue.

    You mentioned Massacre at Mountain Meadows, but does the story carry Juanita Brooks’ Mountain Meadows Massacre? You mentioned Rough Stone Rolling, but did the store also carry Donna Hill’s Joseph Smith: The First Mormon? I’m sure it had a few other books on Mormon history, and the doctrinal and history works that Deseret Book itself publishes are, of course, in every Deseret Book store. I can’t change my comments when all Deseret Books carries in the way of “serious non-fiction” is its own publications and a few very popular works.

  65. annegb on May 2, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Skipping the previous comments—sorry, I have so little time for blogging (remember when I had hours and I was always on here annoying you guys?–although the “you guys” seems to be so different now…those were the good old days. Well, at least for me LOL).

    The sale of Twilight bothered me for different reasons than I’ve heard it bothered others. I’m bothered how our church caters to the media. I have personal reasons for this. I so wanted to tape my son’s funeral and was denied this request, being told that “the church only allows taping where’s there’s significant public interest.” Huh? Now, people tape all the time, getting forgiveness over permission.

    But the cold leeching of spirit and personality from the works of fiction published by Deseret Book, destroying real talent exhibited by writers who succumb to this destruction of their work, and Deseret Book’s refusal to sell other literary works of excellence based on silly “standards” makes the sale of Twilight hypocritical and self-serving.

  66. Blake on May 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I’m mystified. I’ve read all of the Twilight books and to my surprise I even like them. My teenage daughter was reading it just after me so I kind of read them through 16 year old eyeglasses. I didn’t see anything that even approach graphic or sexual such that I was concerned as a father.

    In the olden days, I used to spend hours at DB. My concern is that it has been turned into a female friendly place judging by the ambiance. I guess I should expect such changes when a female CEO takes over. The problem is the pablum.

    Where the the thought-provoking works in theology and literature? Where is the classic poetry and books of broader interest to Mormons? I bought numerous books at DB that would be considered verboten now, like Unpublished Revelations and Raphael Patai’s works on the Mother Goddess in Israel. I probably wouldn’t have picked them up if they hadn’t been at DB — but they were important works that gave me a broader outlook.

    So I agree with Kent. I agree with the decision to not carry the works of publishers that are transparently working against the Church’s interest like Signature Books. But refusing to carry BYU Studies and FARMS and such works? I just don’t get that.

  67. Jonathan N on May 3, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Not carrying Twilight is yet another step Deseret Book has taken to copy the business model of typical “Christian” bookstores. I googled a few such stores and found that they appear almost identical to the DB website–and none of them carried Twilight. Just like DB, books are only one category of product. They appear to be targeting the female market just as DB does. Here’s a couple if anyone’s interested.

    http://www.familychristian.com/
    http://www.berean.com/

    Seriously, if the #1 bestselling product at DB is Sherri Dew’s latest book accompanied by 5 truffles, how much thought-provoking material would you expect them to sell there? DB is essentially a Mormon Hallmark Gifts store, except they also sell gift books which I don’t think Hallmark sells.