OK, so there’s 12 million LDS Church members, 3.5 million speak Spanish and nearly 1 million speak Portuguese — so 1/3 of the LDS books published are in Spanish and nearly 1/10th are in Portuguese, right?
No? Oh, we should base this on active members because that’s who will purchase books.
So, of the 5+ million active LDS Church members, nearly 1 million speak Spanish and 200,000 speak Portuguese — so 20% of LDS books are in Spanish and 4% are in Portuguese.
Not right? Oh, many members can’t afford books, so lets factor in income levels.
OK, so the income of active North American LDS Church members totals say $115 trillion, and that of active Spanish-speaking members is say $3.7 trillion and Portuguese speakers totals $740 billion — so LDS books in Spanish are 3% of those published, and LDS books in Portuguese are 0.6%, right?
Still not right?
In fact, there are more than 5,000 titles in print (excluding LDS Church Distribution titles) for the LDS market, which, under the above rough, “back-of-the-envelope” calculation, should mean some 150 titles in Spanish and 30 in Portuguese. I’ll bet other languages would also, theoretically, have something in print. But my research shows perhaps 50 titles in Spanish and less than 10 in Portuguese.
Why aren’t there more titles in Spanish and Portuguese, and other languages?
Of course the answer is because no one except the Church is publishing LDS titles in Spanish and Portuguese. Why?
I don’t mean to deny the complexities of the situation. It isn’t a simple situation. But I don’t believe in any lack of demand on the part of members outside the US. Instead, I think many of the assumptions made by publishers make the situation more difficult. Add to this the historical situation, and we have a classic ‘Chicken and Egg’ situation that needs to be overcome.
The basic difficulty is more of distribution than anything else. In the Portuguese-speaking world, for example, there is just one LDS bookstore. Outside of the US, there are perhaps a handful of bookstores serving Spanish-speaking members. So if you publish a book in Spanish or Portuguese, who buys it? Where will Church members purchase the book? On the Internet? What about the fact that Internet usage is much lower in Latin America? And if books in Spanish or Portuguese have been published, how do Church members find out about these books?
Part of the difficulty is that some minimum number of books must be published each year for a bookseller (regardless of what kind of store or service it is) to survive. Right now we may get 4 new Spanish-language books each year. That means that on average a customer doesn’t need to visit a store more than once every three months to keep up with what the new titles are. And to have one copy of everything, they only have to purchase 4 books a year. A bookseller will have to have a lot of customers to survive that way.
Ideally, a bookstore wants their customers to visit monthly or perhaps even more often. That means at least 12 new titles a year. Without that, the bookstore simply can’t get enough sales to survive.
Publishers, for their part, have a somewhat different issue — they can’t make money if they can’t sell enough copies. With today’s print-on-demand capabilities, this doesn’t have to be as many copies as it used to be, but they do have to believe that enough copies of a book can be sold to make a profit. And if the book involves translation, then the number of copies that must be sold is much, much higher.
Of course I do believe that the ‘chicken-and-egg’ difficulty will be overcome. I believe it will start in the US, where Spanish-speakers have higher disposible incomes and easier access to LDS bookstores than in foreign countries. Most LDS booksellers I’ve spoken with recently claim they are crying for Spanish-language titles. But publishers haven’t yet recognized enough of a US market for Spanish-language materials. And when a Spanish-speaking member bothers to go into an LDS bookstore, they usually only find the same titles they’ve seen before, because the market is only producing 4 new titles a year.
If publishers find they can sell enough books in Spanish in the US market, they will be willing to publish for that market, and their books will soon find their way into Mexico and other Latin American markets. That will lead to local bookstores and eventually local LDS publishers.
Obviously, publishers can do the most to overcome the problem, simply by publishing in Spanish. As a publisher, I’m trying to do my part to overcome it. I’m actively looking for authors and manuscripts in Spanish and Portuguese, and I have a handful of possibilities so far. Authors and translators can also help by providing works in these languages, although original works are simply cheaper than translations, unless the translator works for free.
Even consumers can help, if they can read in Spanish or Portuguese. Just asking what the LDS bookseller has in foreign languages can influence them to look for more, and purchasing what they have is even better. Was your mission language in one of these languages? Why not read something in your mission language?
Like many issues in the development of a market for LDS books, this one is related to growth. And growth in Spanish and Portuguese-language countries has been brisk. Eventually this problem will be solved. To me it seems like it should have been solved already.
Let’s get this problem solved soon.