Embracing the future: Deseret Book undergoes transition from frontier bookstore to digital innovator

Published: Monday, Dec. 10 2012 6:45 p.m. MST

From 2010 to 2011, e-books doubled in popularity, jumping from $869 million and 6 percent of entire Trade net revenues (which include all fiction and nonfiction for children, young adults and adult) to $2.074 billion and 15 percent of net revenues, according to BookStats, an annual study of U.S. publishers co-published by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.

"We have been going through a transformative change, there's no question," said Vlahos. "But it's not simply just e-books; it's a change in how books are created, delivered, how they're sold. It really is a sea change across the board that's been enabled by technology."

There were earlier models, but Amazon's Kindle exploded onto the market in 2007 and was quickly followed by the Kindle 2, Nook and iPad. And in 2011 for the first time, e-books delivered more revenue to publishers than any other individual print or electronic format in the adult fiction category, according to BookStats.

Eager to embrace such enthusiasm, Deseret Book introduced its free Bookshelf app in April 2011 as a way to organize and study an entire library of e-books.

It's already been downloaded more than 215,000 times, and an Internet-based version of Bookshelf is slated to come out in early 2013 for those without smartphones or tablets.

"(It makes my reading) not just fun brain candy, but more functional," says Deseret Book customer Matt Sheffield from Spokane, Wash., who uses the app to prepare for church talks or lessons.

It's nice, he says, because unlike other e-readers or apps, Bookshelf allows him to search through his entire library for a term or topic, then copy and paste sections from books into a note for later study.

Doctrinal books on Bookshelf also already have built-in hyperlinks to the included LDS scriptures, "the type of thing that Kindle will never do," said Ryan Miller, vice president of digital at Deseret Book. "It's fairly unique that as a publisher and retailer we go directly to our customers and offer them an e-reader that's relevant … to their specific needs."

Yet even customers without the Bookshelf app will notice an enhanced reading experience. Recent releases such as "Increase in Learning" and "Act in Doctrine" by Elder David A. Bednar and "For Times of Trouble" by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland include interactive DVDs. (The DVD becomes embedded links in the e-books.)

"Where it's appropriate, (we want to) make sure that the principles being (taught) in certain works have the best chance of getting applied," Miller said, "and that people have the best experience possible."

Making connections

During the Publishing Business Conference in New York City this spring, Laurel Christensen took careful notes as various speakers presented survival plans for publishers.

Partner with a retail chain. Begin planning and hosting events. Develop a film distribution plan and a record label.

"Holy cow," Christensen, vice president of product development, remembers thinking, "I work for that publisher. We already have the pieces in place to be a publisher that can survive in the 21st century."

But Deseret Book is not just a publisher. Nor is it just a retail chain.

"We're a content creation company," says Dew, "through an almost endless array of avenues and a variety of channels."

Its channels include Deseret Book Publishing (which includes Deseret Book, Shadow Mountain and Ensign Peak, Shadow Mountain Records as well as Zion's Mercantile), Deseret Book Digital, Excel Entertainment (which produced "17 Miracles"), Deseret Book Retail (with 38 stores in the Western U.S.), Time Out for Women, Covenant Communications, Seagull (with 25 bookstores in the western U.S.) and LDS Living Magazine.

Yet whether it's through a book, movie, event, magazine or song, the company's goal is to reach its customers in meaningful ways.

"People tend to forget how important the bookseller/consumer relationship is," said Andi Sporkin, chief communications officer for the Association of American Publishers.

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