Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dear Deseret Book: an open letter

Dear Deseret Book,

I'm a lifelong, active Latter-day Saint.  Married to a man of the same stripe.  Stay-at-home mother of six, ages 13 to two.  I am your target market.  I have a lot of growing minds to educate and entertain, along with my own.  And, as such, I thought you might like to hear my perspective.

When we visit family where there are more church members, I love going to Deseret Book.  I love browsing the website, too.  I love looking at the beautiful books, the thoughtful and truly useful things that can help to raise my children in light and truth.  Everywhere I turn, I see things that fit the way we live, and could help strengthen and guide my children and myself.

I'm a lover of uplifting and clean literature and entertainment. I've long loved many things that DB offers, and can lose myself in one of the retail stores in a matter of seconds. I also love ebooks . . . the fact that I can be reading a new book within minutes, and without having to leave home (we live in a rural area, twelve hours or more from the nearest DB) or wait on shipping times from online purchases, that I can fit untold numbers of them into our little house, and so many more reasons. I have quite the library of purchased ebooks from Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords, and directly from authors.


My library has not a single ebook purchased from Deseret Book.


There's a sharp disconnect between reality and your store.  It's something I could only hypothesize in the past with physical goods; but with ebooks, I can show it clearly.

Your ebooks are shockingly expensive for their genres.

Last week I downloaded the DB Bookshelf app to my phone, interested to see what it could do, look at the free books it came with, and see what I could see in your ebook selection.  Unless there is a fatal flaw in your sorting algorithms, there are a few free doctrinal books, all the usual suspects in the public domain for free, a small handful of ebooks around $7, and then they jump to $10 and go up from there.  $10 is exorbitant for an ebook novel.  When I'm done with it, I can't sell it secondhand, and it's not easily lent to friends.  When most ebook novels can be had at Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks and elsewhere for $4 or less, $10 ebooks have no appeal . . . even if written by an author I'm dying to read.  Sarah Eden has five other novels I would love.  But the total cost for them would be over $50.  Even spread out over months, that's still far, far too much (if you'll excuse the expression) to blow on ebooks.  Technical or educational books I can see being more expensive.  But simple fiction, of standard paperback length, really can't compete in that price bracket.  But here's the most salient point.  eBooks cost you nearly nothing to reproduce.  The more you sell, the better you do on a given book.  (Have you read The Long Tail? You should.)  Novels for $10 aren't going to get you much more than a fraction of the sales you could have on those novels.

For example, I recently discovered Sarah M. Eden. I found her book Drops of Gold, at Goodreads, purchased it at Amazon.com, and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I went looking for her other books, I gasped to see her previous DB-published ebooks (under the Covenant Communications label) in the $10+ price bracket, and had to pass them up. The DB paperbacks are no better, all around $15 each.  Drops of Gold, a Shadow Mountain release, is priced competitively.  And even more confusing, Shadow Mountain is also owned by DB . . . so why the more than 250% price difference?  And, for the final bit of craziness, Drops of Gold, in the bookshelf app, is $12.99.  325% of the Amazon price.  Talk about taking advantage of your customers, when the same ebook is $3.99 at Amazon.  That's not the message you want to send.

In the past, you've been able to keep a handle on the LDS niche market simply because there have been few other options for authors.  But now that there are so many other avenues for authors to get their work out there, why keep such a stranglehold on digital media?  Why keep the books and other digital media priced so high as to be far, far out of reach for so much of your target market? Why build gorgeous stores in high-end parts of town, and then price your goods so far outside so many of the church membership?

It stings to be marketed to on the basis of faith and spiritual growth, and then have to put the book back on the shelf (metaphorically speaking) when I see the price.  It's time to get competitive, and act more the part of partner in education, spiritual growth and clean entertainment rather than smiling extortionist.  I recognize that Deseret Book is not a charity . . . but surely you can do without a portion of vast profits to make affordable the truly good and lovely things you offer.

1 comment:

Jarodious Badger said...

I couldn't agree more! In fact, I think you are far to kind to DB.