Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Deseret Book / Seagull Book Update

Matthew Buckley, author of Chickens in the Headlights, emailed Deseret Book directly and received the following reply. I am posting it here with his permission:

Thank you for taking the time to inquire with us directly in this matter.

Deseret Book, as a publisher and wholesaler, has determined to no longer sell products to Seagull Book and Tape. Deseret Book and Seagull have a long-standing difference in views regarding how Deseret Book products should be merchandised, promoted, and treated.

Deseret Book products will continue to be available through thousands of other outlets including Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Costco, Smiths, Walgreens, Barnes and Noble, Borders, FYE Stores, Amazon.com, hundreds of independent LDS and general bookstores, Deseret Book stores, and Deseretbook.com.

Thank you again for your interest. We genuinely hope that this decision will not cause you personal concern or inconvenience.

-Keith Hunter
VP, Sales and Development


30 Comments:

At 7/12/2006 11:43 AM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Does anybody know how Seagull Book and Tape's prices compare to say, Wal-mart and Costco? Does Seagull sell for even less than those outlets? Or is it about the same?

The phrase that strikes me as curious is the "difference in views regarding how DB products should be merchandised, promoted, and treated'.

If you walk into a SBT they are going to be pushing Covenant material more than DB. However, if you walk into a DB, they have the same practice.

But if they are upset at how SBT are promoting their product, how is completely taking it out of their store going to help? Then instead of lower sales, they will get no sales?

The only interpretation I can come up with from that phrase I quoted earlier is that they don't like how Seagull is giving discounts, because they are selling enough books to actually compete with the DB stores. So it seems that it is a simple matter of trying to squash the competition.

Of course, maybe by using the phrase 'treated', they are implying SBT are abusing their products. Maybe taking them back into the alley and beating them up? Or belittling the product when they put it on the shelf? “You are a BAD book. A very bad book!”

 
At 7/12/2006 12:01 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Here's a very interesting quote, taken from another forum. It's refering to DB's branching out in several different directions (several imprints, Excel Entertainment, Mormon Handicraft, the bakery, etc.):

Branching out in that way would mean death for a normal bookstore, because brand extension is almost never a good idea--when you're "about" too many things, you're not really about anything anymore. In the case of Deseret Book, however, their primary product is mormon culture, and the actual products involved are secondary. You go to B&N because you want a book; you go to DB because you're a Mormon. That's the image they have always tried to foster, and that's their main marketing strategy.

What that means practically is that any competition at all is bad--their image relies on the fact that there is no competition at all. The very existence of Seagull is a sign that DB is not "the" mormon bookstore, merely "a" mormon bookstore. Normally this would not be a problem, but DB's marketing premise is very shaky. What they need to do is redefine what they do and who they are--they need to be about "quality" or "convenience" or "low prices" or something like that, because being about "mormonism" is impossible to sustain in a free market.

 
At 7/12/2006 12:51 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

So Wal-Mart treats DB better than Seagull? Surely that must be a first in the land of retail. The only Seagull I've been in in the last ten years was quite nice (unlike their website which is tacky-city). The books were easy to find and the employees didn't try to talk me out of that DB book.

Of course I can see how a bookstore atmosphere might not be as good to the brand as an endcap with batteries by the cash register and tabloids. Oh wait, no I can't.

Decidedly odd.

 
At 7/12/2006 1:01 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

Matthew, you are right. The key phrase in the Keith Hunter letter from Deseret Book is "Deseret Book and Seagull have a long-standing difference in views regarding how Deseret Book products should be merchandised, promoted, and treated."

What I want to know is what this difference of opinion is!

Seagull must know, and I assume the folks at Covenant (their sister-company) know. But they evidently haven't told this information to the authors -- those that they have told about this change.

I think this issue is the key to understanding and judging what is going on. All our speculation to date implies that Deseret Book is trying to somehow squeeze Seagull by doing this -- force Seagull's customers to shop at Deseret Book. If that is what DB is trying to do, then they are clearly wrong -- both because it won't work and because of what it does to the LDS book industry.

But, DB's motivations could be different than what we think. If Seagull is putting all Deseret Book titles on the bottom shelf in their stores, for example, then DB may simply be trying to get them to change. I'm not sure I like that way of going about things, but I would understand better and I think it would be legal.

Bottom line is, we need more information about exactly what DB's complaint about Seagull's merchandising is. Without that, I certainly can't say its all DB's fault.

 
At 7/12/2006 1:41 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Kent, I agree. Deseret Book will not clarify the statement, and say exactly what that difference in opinion is.

I'm sure that both publishers, DB and Covenant, wish that the stores would put their books at eye level, and on the displays and on the end caps. I think this is a critical problem with the LDS publishing world that the two big publishers own the two biggest book chains. I think there should be a separation between publisher and retailer. Let good books that are interesting and well written be put at eye level, not just because the publisher had a bunch back in the warehouse that they need to get rid of.

You can bet that an independent bookstore will get to know their customers, and push what they think will sell, not what the publisher wants them to sell (as is the case now with both DB and Seagull).

One thing I do find interesting... I am pretty sure that DB has a policy of matching prices at other bookstores. As of Aug 1., they will no longer have to meet Seagull's prices, because Seagull won't have prices! It's a very easy way to make more money, but the question is will the money gained by this move make up the money lost from the revenue that comes in from Seagull.

 
At 7/12/2006 3:08 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

Matthew, thanks for your kind words.

Your last paragraph is particularly interesting to me, and I just posted myself on this over at A Motley Vision. Basically, I argue that Deseret Book looses more money than Seagull looses. Offhand, I'd guess, with the fact that a good portion of sales will be lost altogether, that Deseret Book will come out the financial looser.

For what it is worth, I was also called by a Salt Lake Tribune business reporter an hour or so ago, so I expect an article on this, perhaps tomorrow. Unfortunately, the reporter didn't have any more information than we have (at least that she would tell me), so apparently both companies aren't disclosing exactly what the problem is.

 
At 7/12/2006 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting turn of events. I had heard that when Covenant authors do book signings at Deseret book, they are placed in the back of the store and treated horribly. I would have thought that companies that claim an association with the church would act more Christ-like.

 
At 7/12/2006 5:01 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Shortly after my first book came out I went into several Deseret Book stores, and offered to sign copies of my book. I was treated extremely well. The clerks were always very nice.

However, shortly after my book came out Deseret Book instituted a policy that no longer allowed authors to sign their books unless they had a scheduled event. This is somewhat understandable because once a book is signed, the store can't return it to the publisher for a refund. However many of the clerks I talked to said that if a book is signed, it is much easier to move.

Kent, I also got a call from a reporter, and I was surprised that Seagull is not talking with the newspaper. I agree that there are probably issues on both sides, but I still submit that this move is likely not good for anybody involved.

 
At 7/12/2006 7:01 PM, Anonymous Todd said...

You all seem to be overlooking one thing:

How much DB inventory does Seagull actually sell? Try this scenario on for size: Seagull sells only a few high profile DB books at a loss (loss-leader) to 1) get people in the store, and 2) make people think that anything they get at Deseret Book Store is available at Seagull for less, which may not the case. This is very clever marketing by Seagull, but if this is what's going on, it has now turned on them.

Just a tho't.

 
At 7/12/2006 7:10 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

That is an interesting question. How many DB titles does Seagull carry? Do they only carry a few? And what about the other way around. How many titles does DB carry of Covenants?

But if DB is mad at Seagull for not selling enough of their books, why would they want to take them all away? So they can't sell any of them?

And if Seagull is offering some books at a loss, is it working? If so, why doesn't DB do the same? That is one of the beauties of a free market. If one store does something, and it works, then other stores will have to follow suit to remain competitive. It is the great 'check', that keeps the customers from getting ripped off.

I'm not saying that DB is the evil empire, and Seagull is the poor innocent victim. However, whatever is going on, it appears to me that in the long run the customers will lose out.

 
At 7/12/2006 7:19 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Trib had a very breif article on the subject. I hope there is more to come...

http://chickenarmpits.blogspot.com/2006/07/salt-lake-tribune-article.html

 
At 7/12/2006 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting quote from the Trib article:

>>The decision stems from how Seagull has handled Deseret Book's titles, said Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of Deseret Book.
"We have a difference in view in how we market, merchandise and promote the Deseret Book product," he said. "As a premier brand, we provide all sorts of merchandising and marketing opportunities, such as posters and displays. They don't and haven't taken advantage of those (opportunities)."<<

So he's saying Seagull doesn't use DB's posters and displays? Does it really matter if they do or don't? I'm wondering if DB uses the posters and displays for Covenant's products. I know that when it comes to their catalogs DB places very few Covenant titles.

I'm really wondering if in the end DB's decision will make any difference anyway. I still feel it's an odd move for DB to make, but I can't see either DB or Seagull going under because of it.

 
At 7/12/2006 9:39 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

How many Deseret Book titles are involved? The Tribune reporter I spoke with mentioned a figure of 140 or so titles (also mentioned in the article as 'authors' -- which erroneously assumes a different author for each title).

More shocking is the figures mentioned in the Ogden Standard-Examiner article today (not available online -- sent to me courtesy Russell Page). That article claims that 50% of Seagull's book selection (I believe this is number of titles in stock) and 30% of its audio selection are Deseret Book products.

If that is true, then the loss in sales for both companies could be huge -- of the level that sometimes put companies out of business.

 
At 7/12/2006 9:49 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

Posters?

I suspect its much more than just posters.

Its like Deseret Book is complaining that Seagull won't do any promotion or Merchandising of its titles.

Does anyone know? Is Deseret Book the pot calling the kettle black? Or does Seagull not do anything while Deseret Book promotes and Merchandises Covenant titles?

Still, Deseret Book has certainly gone to the extreme!

 
At 7/12/2006 10:30 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Of course Seagull promotes Covenant's books more than others (over all) and DB promotes it's own books. This should not be surprising since they are the most profitable.

But other than that, there is no comparison. I see top sellers like Dean Hughes, Gerald Lund, and Sherri Dew prominantly displayed in front stacks and endcaps in Seagull.

Find me one DB that displays a Covenant book in the front of the store. The authors who get the best placement are Chis H and Anita. But even they are back in the fiction secition.

And speaking of the fiction section, last year DB cut off about 3/4's of the non-DB fiction from their own stores. Your average DB devotes more space to cookbooks than adult LDS fiction.

If someone should be complaining about crummy traetment it is Covenant, Cedar Fort, Spring Creek, and Granite. But they can't complain because DB is the giant, and you don't tick off the giant.

 
At 7/12/2006 11:59 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

This is really getting to be sticky. If 50 percent of Seagull material really is DB products, then Seagull is in a world of hurt. They've just lost half of their sales.

Does the church own and financially back DB? If so, then DB doesn't necessarily need to turn a profit. Even if this does hurt sales, they could just live in the red until Seagull goes under.

 
At 7/13/2006 12:29 AM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

You're right, Matthew. But the Standard Examiner article says that 50% of the stock of books is Deseret Book titles. That's not necessarily the same as sales. If Deseret Book titles don't sell as frequently, then their sales are lower.

Also, Seagull sells other things in addition to books, and presumably, Deseret Book's materials are undoubtedly a lower proportion of their sales.

Still, I'd guess that the sales loss could be between 20% and 40%. Kind of hard to take.

Remember too, that a lot of these sales will be lost to Deseret Book also! But since Deseret Book is larger, the sales loss will be a smaller percentage of their total -- say 5% to 10%.

Doesn't make any sense in either case, IMO.

 
At 7/13/2006 8:06 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

The Salt Lake Tribune article is up:

http://www.sltrib.com/business/ci_4044563

 
At 7/13/2006 8:48 AM, Blogger John W. Redelfs said...

Anonymous wrote:
This is an interesting turn of events. I had heard that when Covenant authors do book signings at Deseret book, they are placed in the back of the store and treated horribly. I would have thought that companies that claim an association with the church would act more Christ-like.

JWR responds:
Obviously. Anyone named Anonymous would automatically assume that Deseret Book was guilty of some egregious behavior that was unchristlike. After all, Deseret Book is owned by that devil church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sheri Dew used to be a witch, don't you know? Sheesh.

 
At 7/13/2006 11:00 AM, Blogger FHL said...

JWR: I can see we are on the same page. What could possible be more Christ-like than putting your book-signers in the front of the store? (Perhaps washing their feet?)

Well, on the bright side, maybe Seagull can display more Covenant books now - more exposure for you guys!

 
At 7/13/2006 11:52 AM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

This is a repeat of my post on LDS-Fiction-Readers.
As for the Deseret/Seagull thing, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me for several reasons. The way Seagull displays Deseret Book material isn't a valid complaint or they would have discontinued sales to the big box stores a long time ago. I've seen Lund books dropped on bakery shelves, a display of Dew's books knocked off a table and scattered on the floor with people walking on them, a book about a recent president of the Church sitting next to a pile of extremely offensive main stream books. Believe me, LDS books, no matter who the publisher is, get little respect from warehouse stores. As for posters, banners, and such, I have seen Seagull stores display such for some of DB's big name books, but I've never seen anything more than a table poster for a Covenant book in a DB store, then only if the author was in the store doing a signing. Covenant author signings in DB stores in Utah have been pretty much been cut out and the cutting hasn't been graceful, with some cancelations occuring with only a day or two's notice. I am bothered by DB's elitist attitude concerning their materials. They do produce a fine product in most cases, but they do not produce a product superior to Covenant's or some I've been privileged to read by some of the smaller independants.

Now I would like to say a few things in defense of Deseret Book. I like their stores, especially their newer ones. I like the atmosphere even though I'm aware the customer ultimately pays for that atmosphere. The managers and sales people are some of the kindest, most fun and knowledgable people I've been privileged to know. The Pocatello, Valley Fair, and Rexburg stores are particular favorites of mine. The DB marketing people I deal with as a reviewer are professional, kind, and helpful. Over the years I've gotten to know many Deseret Book authors whom I consider friends and I admire their work. I could also list the many positive experiences I have had with Seagull Book stores and their staffs and managers.

I'm troubled by Deseret Book's refusal to give specifics of their grievance against Seagull. I'm not naïve enough to think Seagull might not have stepped on their toes a time or two, I suspect they have, but to me, a member of the Church that owns Deseret Book which makes me a shareholder in the company, it seems out of step with Church ethics to pursue a course that ultimately could hurt me through hurting the company that provides a big chunk of my income. Especially when Deseret Book has made no attempt to explain their position beyond vague meaningless generalities. I truly hope it isn't merely a greedy attempt to stifle competition and promote themselves as the only acceptable vehicle for the dissemination of LDS literature, music, information, and film. I've long had a great deal of respect and admiration for both companies and I admire the efforts of both to provide an outlet for LDS artists, promote first class entertainment, and dispense doctrinal material. I truly hope that they will work out their differences with the honesty, class, and devotion to Church principals they are both noted for.

 
At 7/13/2006 12:57 PM, Anonymous LDS Author said...

Why this has happened is actually very simple: Deseret Book can no longer sustain the image they have tried to build. They can't offer expensive stores in high-priced centers, extra customer service, big inventories, and discount as well. There isn't enough margin for them. So, they have to find some way of hurting their "discount" competitor. Each of them promotes their own titles but overall margins, both retail and wholesale, favor Seagull. Overheads at Deseret Book are huge, some might say bloated. Seagull on the other hand operates a much more lean organization in terms of staff and they are nimble and smart.

Many are saying that Seagull won't survive. Not true. They are walking into a public realtions bonanza. All it will take is for Seagull to follow through with their news conference.

Imagine Seagull management at the podium, AP reporters ready to blast an anti-lds headline across the country, stating:

"Deseret Book and their owner, the LDS Church are trying to destroy our business, and why? Because we sell for less, always have, always will. We've always tried to look out for the cost-conscious shopper, the little guy. In spite of claims to the contrary, we believe this action by Deseret Book is a restraint of trade and we will vigorously pursue our legal options. In the mean time, customers know where to purchase LDS items at the lowest price: Seagull Book. And in order to continue to offer Deseret Book titles at a discount, Seagull Book is announcing today that we will begin purchasing Deseret Book titles through Costco, Wal-Mart and others. Yes, our margins will be hurt, but we will continue to offer a full line of LDS products to the customers who have supported us for years. We invite current Seagull customers and other to show your concern for this heavy-handed action by Deseret Book and visit one of our stores to sign a letter of complaint to Sheri Dew and the management of Deseret Book."

Deseret Book should be very nervous. This is going to be a fun fight to watch. LDSWWF. I can't wait.

I have published with Seagull and been close to publishing with Deseret Book so I'm just going to sign this LDS Author. The next few weeks should be very entertaining.

 
At 7/13/2006 1:54 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

LDS Author, I agree with a lot of what you are saying, however I think Seagull is in a tighter position than you describe. Remember who owns DB. It's not Sheri Dew. It's the Mormon Church. An attack (or a lawsuit) against DB is an attack against the church. That can get extremely tricky.

If they take an offensive stance, it might very well blow up in their face. Because most of the members of the church will not appreciate Seagull criticizing or taking legal action against the church. They have to move very carefully. They have a 'squeaky clean' image. If they get drawn into a fisticuffs with the church (even if it is through Deseret Book) it won't look good.

 
At 7/13/2006 1:57 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

Jennie Hansen, while I agree with a lot of your sentiment, I think we need to distinguish between the 'box stores' like Walmart and Costco, and LDS Bookstores like Seagull. I don't think you can compare how they act.

The box stores purchase differently from bookstores (in fact, they may not even purchase directly -- many Deseret Book titles are available through both a national distributor, located in Florida, and through both major US wholesalers, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. The books you see in Walmart or Costco could have been purchased that way. This is also a bit of a solution for Seagull -- they can purchase some Deseret Book titles through Ingram or Baker & Taylor. However, not all Deseret Book titles are available that way. The "most LDS" of their titles are NOT available this way.)

So, because they purchase and operate differently, its really not possible for Deseret Book to expect a lot of marketing effort from these stores.

The real question is whether or not Deseret Book is holding or will hold ALL LDS Bookstores to the same standard that it is apparently now holding Seagull. If they are not, then this whole affair is clearly unethical, and may be an attempt to stifle competition.

 
At 7/14/2006 3:33 PM, Anonymous Darin said...

Anyone who expects more details on the DB - Seagull decision is going to be waiting a while.

I'd guess that for DB to take this action, they have pretty good reasons and that they've done their homework and explored other solutions. Getting into spilling all the details to the press wouldn't really server either party.

I suspect that at this point both companies could easily be flinging mud in both directions. The fact that they aren't is probably just an indication of class on both sides.

Although I guess I'm sort of passively interested in knowing more of the details, since when was it the right of the public to be privy to the business decisions of a private company?

 
At 7/14/2006 10:25 PM, Anonymous Krystal said...

I can't see any way this could turn into something positive, unless DB changes their minds. Any business move that seriously hurts their comptetition does not sound like something that the church would, or should, support. The explanation DB provided is vague and certainly leads one to believe they are just trying to cut out the competition. Jennie Hansen's point of how other stores display DB products is valid. If a store sells books, what does it matter how they're promoted?

 
At 7/15/2006 2:15 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe this comparison doesn’t work. But it seems to me that Seagull could sue. Here’s why:

Last year, 1-800-Contacts, frustrated that some contact lens companies wouldn’t sell to them, went to court—and won. A law was passed that said that contact lens companies must sell (or distribute) to everyone in Utah, or no one.

Is it legal for Deseret Book to refuse to sell to Seagull?

Funny, though—at the time, my husband and I were outraged that the law passed. (He is an optometrist.) We felt that contact lens companies should be able to refuse to sell to 1-800-Contacts (presumably, one of their reasons for not wanting to be distributed by 1-800 was concern for the health of the consumer). However, in this case, I wish that Deseret Book would be forced to sell to Seagull.

Wait, no, I don’t. In truth, I think a company should be able to refuse to sell to someone who doesn’t meet their criteria for distribution of their product. I just wish Deseret Book would sell to Seagull willingly. I wish they had higher motives than turning a profit—like promoting the future of Mormon letters. But, the fact that they don’t doesn’t make them immoral or dishonest IMO.

But, Seagull might be able to use the law that helped 1-800-Contacts.

 
At 7/15/2006 5:14 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

Darlene, isn't the big question to your suggestion whether or not an active LDS Church member, who wanted to stay active, would ever file a lawsuit against the Church or a company owned by the Church?

And if they did file such a lawsuit, would they continue it after an interview with their Stake President?

Regardless of whether such a lawsuit could be successful, I suspect it will never be filed in the first place -- its too easy for a Church member to believe that their membership in the Church would be at stake.

 
At 7/17/2006 11:19 AM, Blogger Tracy Hall said...

I and my ilk are the real problem that both DB and Seagull face. I seldom buy a book anymore and almost never buy LDS titles. I get all the spiritual sustenance I need free on the Internet. (I do own the scriptures and subscribe to the Ensign, but more often than not I read them on the Internet, too.) And then there' the whole bloggernacle, and ldsmag.com. Have you read any of the essays by H. Wallace Goddard? Solid gold!

DB and Seagull are both the victims of prophecy:

"Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price."

2 Nephi 9:50


My uninspired guess is that DB is already losing money, will lose even more through this foolish policy vs. Seagull, and will soon go the way of ZCMI.

Tracy Hall
hthalljr'gmail'com

 
At 3/21/2009 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tried to get books on tape & regular books from DB several times that were not on the shelves. When asking for reasons as to why they were not available I was given some lame answer. I called Sheri Drew's office and was really put off with the arrogant response. I vowed then to never buy from DB & I fully suport SB&T. This has been the case for several years and will continue to be the case in the future. I will use the internet before I buy from DB.

 

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