In the relatively limited market for LDS-related books, independent bookstores that feature them face extraordinary problems.
It's tough enough that the largest Mormon bookstore chain, the aggressively expanding Deseret Book, also is the largest publisher of Mormon titles. That means that the principal supplier to small stores often is their toughest competition.What makes it even tougher is that Deseret Book is owned by the Mormon Church, which in the eyes of many members makes it an "official" outlet to which many Mormons feel an immediate loyalty.
"They're competing with their own members," said an angry Bob Franz, Mormon owner of two Idaho bookstores that specialize in Mormon items.
Franz said his Idaho Falls store "just about died" several years ago when Deseret Book opened a store in a mall, drawing most of his customers.
But he was able to stay in business, thanks to a move to a new location close to the city's Mormon temple and thanks to a boom in the Mormon publishing business.
Like the 7.8 million-member church, Mormon publishing has doubled in size over the past 15 years and now supplies a $50 million-a-year retail market, said Greg Kofford, a Mormon who's president of Seagull Book and Tape, a competitor with nine stores in Utah and one in Mesa, Ariz.
Twenty years ago, Deseret Book owned three stores in Utah and one in Orange County, Calif. Since then, it has expanded to 24 stores from Arizona to Oregon.
In addition to in-store sales of books, including dozens of inspirational titles written by church authorities, it operates a direct-mail business and book and audio clubs.
Deseret Book also tries to meet customer demand for secular books, selling dozens of best-selling books by a variety of popular writers.
The size and power of Deseret Book instill fear in many owners of Mormon bookstores, several of whom expressed anger at having to compete with a church-owned business.
"Are you a member of the church?" asked one Utah store owner who complained that it is hard to compete against Deseret Book. "You have to be careful about these things, you know."
Another bookseller told The Arizona Republic that Deseret Book can target the best areas for retail expansion based on patterns of its wholesale business.
"This whole problem could be corrected if Deseret Book sold off its retail operation," said another bookseller who asked for anonymity.
But Bill Daniels, owner of the House of Books in Sacramento and president of a Mormon stake, said such talk is unrealistic.
"Deseret Book is owned by a profit-oriented holding company," he said. "It's a fact, and it's not going to change."
Asked whether Deseret Book has a store in Sacramento, he responded, "No, knock on wood."