The purchase of Bookcraft Inc. by the parent company of Deseret Book six months ago created the King Kong of the LDS publishing world.
But authors and publishers of books targeted at LDS Church members say that, at least so far, they haven't been swatted down by the new behemoth at the top of the industry.In fact, the popularity of "values-based" fiction and non-fiction continues to grow, books keep showing up on the shelves of retail stores, and all involved seem to be looking forward to more friendly competition.
"We don't see the merger as being negative at all," said Joel Bikman, advertising manager at Covenant Communications, which published about 140 books and other items last year. "In fact, if anything, we anticipate an increase in manuscript submissions as a result of the merger. . . . There are a lot of smaller publishers, but since we're the largest independent publisher of LDS products, it's really Deseret Book and us."
Ron Millett, Deseret Book president and chief executive, would agree with Bikman's assessment that the merger is a positive move.
He said the last members of the Bookcraft publishing staff moved into their new offices at Deseret Book, 40 E. South Temple, just this week. None of the Bookcraft staffers lost jobs as a result of the merger, Millett said, and members of the integrated publishing team are starting to work together.
"Really, we have not encountered many difficulties along the way," he said. "The employees from both companies had similar goals and objectives. The merging of the two personalities and corporate cultures has been a very easy thing to accomplish."
Financial details of the Bookcraft acquisition were not released by Deseret Management Corp., a holding company for businesses affiliated with the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Deseret Book and the Deseret News.
The newly merged company announced in June that it would continue to publish under both the Deseret Book and Bookcraft imprints, or brands, with the former appearing on LDS doctrinal, historical and biographical titles and the latter on inspirational, self-help, youth and fiction books.
The company's Shadow Mountain imprint will continue to publish titles for the national market. And a new imprint, Eagle Gate Press, will feature specialty items like library editions, collections, art books and non-book products like bookmarks and jewelry.
Millett said most of the books produced by the combined company this year were already under contract before the merger, and projects that were started since the acquisition will not show up on store shelves until January. But he said retail customers probably will not notice much difference in the products even then, and authors should have plenty of opportunities to market their wares.
"With the four different imprints that we publish under, one author could conceivably have four different opportunities in a given year to publish with us," Millett said. "And even prior to the merger, there was an acceleration of people getting into the book-publishing business. . . . I don't think the opportunity for the potential author has diminished at all in this marketplace."
Dean Hughes, who just came out with the fourth novel in his popular "Children of the Promise" series for Deseret Book, said he was surprised when he first heard about the merger. But he said he did not worry much about its possible effects on him.
"I'll now be with (the) Bookcraft (imprint), because I do fiction, but the editors from Deseret Book moved over, so I'll be working with the same people," Hughes said. "Maybe if you were with Bookcraft, you'd feel it a little more than you would the other way around."
Hughes, who also is a Brigham Young University English professor, said he has published more than 20 books through Deseret Book over the years. He said the merger may reduce the total number of publishers available in the LDS market, but he thinks the same number of books will be published in the long-term.
"I have a feeling that what you will get from Deseret and Bookcraft is the best quality in the Mormon market, and they will do probably as many books as the two would have done," he said. "I think it will be a first-class publisher, but whether it will affect the overall market, I just don't know."
Gordon T. Allred, an English professor at Weber State University in Ogden, has had two books published through Deseret Book and about a dozen through Bookcraft. He said he also thinks the merger will be good overall for LDS authors.
"With these four divisions, I think probably it will bode well for the writer because of the diversity and the expertise involved," Allred said. "I think they've really marshalled their forces under what will probably be a very successful enterprise."
He said some authors may need to sell to smaller, independent LDS publishers, but that will not be a problem as long as the books still find space on store shelves.
Chad Daybell of Springville recently had his first LDS fiction effort, "An Errand for Emma," published by Cedar Fort Inc. of Springville. He said his biggest concern about the merger is how Deseret Book retail stores will display the products of other publishers.
"I think as long as they keep putting out quality books, people will buy them," he said.
Cedar Fort publisher Lyle Mortimer said his company produced 68 titles last year, and he does not think the merger will pose display problems. In fact, he said, he was "thrilled" when he heard about the merger.
"I felt there are going to be more authors looking for me," Mortimer said. "I've already got some Bookcraft authors coming to me."
But both Mortimer and Kim McKone, vice president of merchandise at Seagull Book and Tape in American Fork, said smaller, independent bookstores that specialize in LDS products could have some short-term supply difficulties.
McKone said Seagull, which operates 11 retail stores in Utah, two in California and one in Arizona, was disappointed that Deseret Book did not continue a co-op advertising relationship Seagull had with Bookcraft, especially for Gerald Lund's popular LDS fiction series, "The Work and the Glory."
She said she also is concerned that Deseret Book will give its own retail stores new books before shipping to competing stores.
Millett said Deseret Book products will continue to be available to customers who had accounts with it and Bookcraft before, and the company does not play favorites.
"What we do is we fill orders in the order in which they were entered into the computer from our order desk," Millett said. "So if XYZ Bookstore in Oregon, if their order is first to go in the system, they're the first order that is filled. . . . There absolutely is no truth to the statement that we ship first to Deseret Book retail. If we wanted to give preferential treatment, I suppose we could. But we do not."
Bikman of Covenant Communications, in American Fork, said Deseret Book remains his company's biggest vendor, and he thinks all bookstores will continue to carry any publisher's items, as long as they are good quality and will sell.
"As far as the retail end of it goes, we haven't seen any impact from the merger," he said. "Any time a company ups the ante, it always makes us better. . . . We've always felt we were at least as good an option as Deseret Book or Bookcraft."
Millett said that attitude of friendly competition has been present in the LDS publishing market for years, and he expects it to continue.
"As far as competition, I really don't see that it has changed any, pre-merger versus today," he said. "The nature of the business is there is some competitive nature to it, and that has to be there and will actually continue to be there.
"But most people in this business are in it because they like the product, they like the message of the product, . . . in addition to earning a living from the business itself."