Are the Books Available?

October 13, 2009 | 17 comments
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It is a bit of a coincidence that, as I prepared my regular list of the books and other media mentioned in General Conference, one of the LDS discussion forums in Brazil I follow was lamenting the decision to discontinue selling classic LDS works in Portuguese, like Talmage’s The Articles of Faith and LeGrand Richard’s A Marvelous Work and a Wonder.

The claims made at the Church Distribution Centers in Brazil, according to the reports I’ve read, are that members in Brazil aren’t purchasing these books, making it difficult to justify stocking and re-printing these books. Why this would be true isn’t clear at all. Pessimistic commenters on the forum I read suggest that Brazilian Church members simply don’t read enough.

I think this isn’t very likely. While it is true that Brazilians read less than people in Europe or the U.S. (Brazilians average 1.8 books per year, while the French read 7 per year, according to a 2000 study by the Câmara Brasileira do Livro), at worst this would imply that the book sector is 1/4 the size of that in France, adjusted for differences in population. This is still large. Brazil still publishes books by the hundreds of thousands of titles, including every worldwide best seller and thousands of other titles translated from abroad. It also boasts a fine and vibrant literature and one of the world’s bestselling authors, Paulo Coelho (best known for his book, The Alchemist). In the Church, it seems likely that members read a bit more than the average, since Church members in Brazil are more educated than the average and have higher incomes than average.

Regardless of how many readers there are, I see other problems which might account for the lack of sales. Without any real distribution system, how will Church members know what books are available? And without new books being produced regularly (there hasn’t been a new title in Portuguese produced by the Church in about 5 years by my count), why would anyone stop by the distribution center to see what is available?

Given all this, when I prepared my list of books and media mentioned in Conference, I couldn’t help but notice that none of the Mormon books on the list (I exclude the scriptures, Church magazines and manuals from my list) are available in Spanish or Portuguese (and generally not in any other language either, although I haven’t checked thoroughly). The most often referred to work, outside of the Scriptures and Church magazines, is The History of the Church, which is not available in any other language.

Despite all this, I did find one (only one) title mentioned in Conference that is available in Portuguese: Peter Pan.

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17 Responses to Are the Books Available?

  1. Cameron on October 13, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I think the church means for the institute manual ‘Church History in the Fulness of Times’ to be the primary church history reference. At least that’s what my religion professor Richard Cowan implied who helped work on it. I suspect many or all of the conference references can be traced both to that manual and to the the History of the Church.

  2. Cameron on October 13, 2009 at 8:56 am

    (Sorry for the double post)

    I can also feel the pain of a member on the fringe of church distribution, as I served my mission in Tahiti. I think this is a unique case, though, because members there benefitted from having French materials even though their culture doesn’t place much emphasis on reading. Tahitian is slowly dying, and those who know only it are out of luck for such reading materials as Talmage, etc. While there, I picked up doctrines of salvation, a marvelous work and a wonder, and maybe articles of faith in French.

  3. J. Stapley on October 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

    The church has also stopped publishing those volumes in English. I can’t see why they would keep publishing them in other languages.

  4. Kent Larsen on October 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Cameron (1): Perhaps. But the manual “Church History in the Fulness of Times” isn’t referred to at all in Conference — at least not in the past 4 Conferences. Its simply not there.

  5. Kent Larsen on October 13, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Cameron (2), I don’t think the case of Tahitian is really that unique. I imagine that Samoan must be in a similar situation, and that many areas with dying languages face similar challenges.

    However, I think Samoan has a little advantage over Tahitian, since both A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and The Miracle of Forgiveness have been translated into Samoan.

  6. Kent Larsen on October 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    J. Stapley (3), you are right. But there is a big difference in most other languages. In English Deseret Book and other publishers were ready to pick up the titles that the Church drops.

    In other languages, there isn’t any publisher to pick up these titles and reprint and distribute them.

    So, when the Church drops them outside of the U.S., they effectively become unavailable.

    [Now, I am not suggesting that the Church do anything differently. I am suggesting that we need publishers and distribution for works in other languages.]

  7. Matt Evans on October 13, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    If a book is not being reprinted the most likely explanation is that the demand for the book doesn’t justify it. Either the market is too small or the number of used copies available in the secondary market satisfies existing demand.

    If there’s a lot of demand for Portugese versions of Articles of Faith, for example, the cost of used copies will rise toward the cost of new copies. Publishers will issue another printing when that happens.

  8. Marc Bohn on October 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Matt, I think you’re overlooking some of the reasons Kent put forward for why he believes demand is low.

  9. Ben on October 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    If translations exist for these books, wouldn’t print-on-demand be able to deal with the problem of overhead and such?

  10. Kent Larsen on October 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Matt Evans (7), your answer is good in a PERFECT MARKET, which, as far as I can tell, does not and has never existed! It might also work when a market functions well enough that the audience remains well informed about what products are available or can easily find that information. While that happens in the U.S. market for books, for the most part, it mostly doesn’t happen for LDS books, it doesn’t happen that well for most books in Brazil, and it certainly doesn’t happen for LDS books outside of English.

    BUT, I should also agree with Ben, that with print-on-demand, when it is well integrated into a distribution system (as it is in the U.S. if you choose the best print-on-demand vendors), these books should NOT go out-of-print.

    Unfortunately both the Church and Deseret Book act as if print-on-demand do not exist. As far as I’ve seen, they have never used it for a book. [I'll have to ask my contacts about this to be sure.]

    And, worse, print-on-demand in Brazil, and in most other places around the world (Germany and the UK are exceptions), is not yet integrated into the distribution system, so even if you published these books by print-on-demand in Brazil, you would still have to do a lot of work to make it easy to purchase them.

  11. Matt Evans on October 13, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Marc, the books were sold by the church for a long time, so it’s improbable that the lack of demand that led to their being discontinued is due to their not being distributed. There wasn’t enough demand even while they were being distributed. If Brazilian members were buying the books the distribution center sold, they wouldn’t have to go five years without a new book. That the supply of books was dead tells us about the demand.

    Kent, my answer works in the real world, too. I’ll bet that: 1) the supply of LDS books in Brazil far exceeds demand (the church heavily subsidizes book distribution; the Book of Mormon is probably the most unread book in Brazil, like it is in the US), 2) that the Brazilian market for LDS books is reasonably efficient, 3) that there is very little demand for Articles of Faith or A Marvelous Work and a Wonder in Brazil, and 4) that there was very little demand for those books even after being distributed in Brazil by the church for 30+ years.

  12. SW Clark on October 13, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    If it’s any consolation, members in France complained too that classic books were no longer available in French either, and you can forget about trying to get any of the apostles or prophet’s newer works: it doesn’t seem worth it to translate them.

    For books that have been translated but are no longer in print, it would seem reasonable to make a PDF available online, since the marginal cost of production would be miniscule, and help maintain access to these valuable works.

  13. Kent Larsen on October 13, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Matt (11), You are assuming that members in Brazil knew that these books existed simply because they were available in the distribution center, the place that, for much of the country until the past few years, only the most wealthy could go more than once a year. And even then, I doubt that many members even went to the distribution center when they went to the Temple.

    I can’t see how you can claim #2, that the Brazilian market for LDS books is reasonably efficient. For a market to be efficient, don’t consumers need to have a basic knowledge of at least the fact that some books are available?

    I still encounter many Church members in Brazil who have no knowledge that these books ever were translated into Portuguese.

    I’m still waiting for some kind of logic or evidence that will support your contention that these books are really available to Brazilian church members to a similar degree as in the U.S., or even the U.K. or Germany.

  14. Matt Evans on October 13, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Kent, I haven’t claimed that the books are as easy to find in Brazil as they are here, that’s certainly not the case. I’m saying that because the church carried the Portuguese books for 30+ years there’s no reason to blame the low demand for the books on the church’s failure to distribute them. They can lead a horse to water but they can’t make it read.

    I don’t doubt that many Brazilian members don’t know Talmage’s Articles of Faith was translated into Portuguese and would be surprised if 10% of active Brazilian members have even heard of it. Like the many other books written by the brethren, such as John Taylor’s The Mediation and Atonement, etc., these books will become less and less familiar. They’ve been taken out of the Missionary Library, and I’m sure the only reason I ever read Articles of Faith was because it was part of the Missionary Library. Missionaries today probably don’t even know there’s a book by that title.

  15. Cameron on October 14, 2009 at 12:54 am

    @ Kent (4 & 5) I think Marvelous Work and a Wonder is in Tahitian as well. Not sure about Miracle of Forgiveness. It’s been 5 years, so things are getting hazy =). I suspect they cite History of the Church instead of the institute manual since it’s considered the consensus authority and citing a current manual would seem circular or weird? Or, maybe it’s because many general authorities have their own HoC collection with notes already, and so that’s what they quote? I guess the latter is more likely.

  16. Carlos De Siqueira on October 18, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I sure that those books will be miss it by my brothren in Brasil, I read all and many others, I just wonder it how long you guys lived in Brasil our better asking where? You can’t judge all Brasilians just for on part or region, the same as we can’t say all USA members have those book at home. It is no true. Americans still believing that we still living as plural marriage people; we have ignorance all over the would. Those books are important to all, and as a man that love read,I’m grad the I read and I have it in home.

  17. liberty on October 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I don’t think I’ve referred to either of those works in years. Are these works truly “classic” or are they outmoded expressions of faith? Have we moved beyond the bounds of these works and should we look to another generation of writers and theologians to explore our faith?

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