The two largest book publishers that target the LDS Church audience are rolling out new electronic products, timed in conjunction with the church's October general conference.
Deseret Book has launched its own Internet service, offering filtering and Web site tracking options, unlimited e-mail accounts, unlimited access and the promise of new features of interest to the LDS market.Bookcraft, which merged with Info-bases (now Infobase) last year, is expanding the availability of the 1998 release of Infobase Library by putting the searchable collection on the Web.
There are differences in the two companies' development plans. Deseret Book already has a virtual bookstore to complement its network of retail bookstores. Its electronic reference library, GospeLink, is slated for a Web debut in mid-October.
Bookcraft, which does not have its own brick-and-mortar retail channel, is showcasing its searchable library on the Web first and plans to enhance its network of resellers after that by helping them establish their own Web stores.
"There are about 60 independent resellers with online stores," said Paul D. Hansen, president of Infobase Inc. "Book-craft is hosting those stores" on the Web.
With both companies, the newest offerings represent only a single chapter in the developing commercial market that will cater to the worldwide LDS community. Both companies have plans to greatly expand their Internet offerings.
With such a specific target market, competing merchandisers are destined to have a lot of overlap in the products and services they offer via the Internet. Finding an "exclusive" is difficult but will help set the leaders apart, said Don Gull, Deseret Book's International Direct Sales vice president.
"The challenge for any Web site is how do you get people to come? Once they're there, how do you get them to stay?" Gull said.
Business swells during the church's twice-yearly general conference seasons at Salt Lake-area stores that sell books and other merchandise geared for LDS consumers. Deseret Book's biggest Web market is far from its traditional bookstores. "Japan is the biggest market and Singapore is second," Gull said. "We're doing a very nice (Web) business, and it's growing phenomenally fast."
On Sunday, Deseret Book launched (http://www.deseretonline.com), a portal site designed as a directory of Web resources of interest to LDS Church members around the globe. The site will also be the home page of Deseret Book's Internet service, which it is offering for $19.95 per month.
Bookcraft on Friday launches a redesigned Web site, (http://www.ldsworld.
com), showcasing 3,000 works from the Infobase Library - 2,300 of them being gospel-specific works and the other 700 a collection of world classics.