Interview: LDS Archive Publishers

5.26.09 | | 10 comments

On the face of it, LDS Archive Publishers may not seem of much interest. Because it publishes mainly reprints, its not interested in new works–what LDS authors are usually selling. And because demand for reprints is relatively small, booksellers often aren’t willing to think too much about them. But in fact, publishing reprints is important, because it allows readers access to the basic works that helped create a market for LDS books in the first place. And, LDS Archive Publishers is also interesting for its involvement in a segment of the LDS market most of us never see: the homeschool market.

LDS Archive Publisher’s principle business is publishing reprints — new editions of long out-of-print titles. To my knowledge, it is the only company dedicated to the LDS market to fill this necessary, but low-demand, function.

In addition to reprints, LDS Archive Publishers has also published several volumes of works by friends and acquaintances of the owner, Dan Hunter (He says the company does not seek manuscripts from others). Himself an author, Hunter has written a series of 9 history textbooks from an LDS perspective for use in home school situations, published under the “Living History” imprint.

The company’s list of titles in print can be found on its website (http://www.archivepublishers.com).

Background Question:

1. Can you give us a little history of the company? It looks like it started in about 1996 or 1997 and you then purchased it in 2004. What led to its sale and why did you purchase it?

Answer: Archive Publishers was begun by Jack Monnett in 1997. Jack realized that there was a need to provide an inexpensive alternative for those who desired the old publications, yet could not afford the cost of purchase an original. As book titles came on line, Jack contacted LDS bookstores in Utah and across the country, offering them a source for these old books. He also began to attend LDS homeschool conventions, as homeschoolers are often interested in original sources.

In the meantime, I was writing my history books called the Living History series, which are history textbooks written in story form, with God and religion put back into history. I needed a publisher, so when I attended my first LDS homeschool convention in 1998 in preparation for offering my first book in 1999, I met Jack. He offered his services, thus a business agreement was entered into.

During the summer season of conventions during 2004, Jack told me that his wife’s health was not good, that he could not keep up on book production, and was looking to sell. He preferred to sell the company to someone who was involved in homeschooling, as he felt it was a valuable source for them. My wife and I have been homeschoolers since 1993, had used Jack’s books in our homeschool, and so we offered to buy the company. This transaction was completed on September 23, 2004. We have not only continued to provide these books to LDS bookstores and homeschoolers, but it also allowed me to continue to publish my history books.

Editorial Questions:

2. How many titles have you published? About how many new titles each year? How do you decide what titles to publish?

Answer: We have 110 titles at the present time (May 2009). Our goal is to prepare 6 titles each year, however, this year I was able to get 9 done. We debut them in August of each year as part of the LDS Booksellers convention. We decide on which titles to publish based on requests from the LDS book industry of those titles bookstore owners would like to see made available again, and titles of books which I have read that I think would be of value to the LDS buying public. I seek for books which are public domain, therefore 75 years old or older are the titles I am most interested in. If there is a title I wish to publish that is newer than that, I seek permission from the copyright owner.

3. I notice that you haven’t reprinted any of the many old LDS fiction titles. Why?

Answer: I personally have an interest in the historical, biographical, and doctrinal books of the past. I have more than enough work just to publish them. When I feel I have published a sufficient number of these old titles, I may venture into the LDS fiction books.

4. Do you or would you publish/reprint LDS works that might be considered controversial? How do you determine whether or not a work could be controversial?

Answer: I seek those titles who have authors who would be more recognizable to the buying public. If that author had a controversial book, I would consider it. I desire to strengthen the testimonies of the Saints, so it would need to a title that would support that idea, and not one to tear it down, or lead to contention.

Market Questions:

5. Where do you principally sell your books? Have you had much success getting your books into LDS bookstores? Do you get any crossover between the LDS homeschool audience and the rest of the LDS market?

Answer: I sell to about 75 LDS bookstores across the country, Canada, and England. I would love to be in all LDS bookstores, of which there are about 150, but some have limited space, others are not interested in stocking these old titles, but order from me upon request. Since the buying public comes into an LDS bookstore to buy current or recent titles, those stores who have limited space reserve that space for those types of books. It becomes a matter of inventory turn. Our books work well for both the LDS bookstore market and the LDS homeschool market. We sell many books at LDS homeschool conventions, and on our website. At present, the following states have homeschool convention which I attend: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Texas, Northeaster United States, and the East Coast. There are also many LDS private schools and LDS homeschool organizations around the country that purchase from us.

6. Are you represented by distributors or sales representatives?

Answer: No

7. I know you have exhibited at the LDSBA in the past. Do you plan to continue attending the LDSBA? Are there other Mormon-related conventions you attend? LDS homeschooling conventions?

Answer: I do plan to continue attending the LDSBA. It is a good way to rub shoulders with the retail market to learn what things they would like to offer to their customers that I might be able to fulfill. I guess I answered the other questions about homeschooling in number 5.

8. How do you promote your books to LDS consumers? How do customers find out about your books? Is this different from how the LDS homeschool audience finds out about your textbooks?

Answer: I make a personal phone call to each of my 75 bookstore accounts every 2 months. They, of course, are welcome to call in or fax an order to us at any time. We do not have any minimum quantity or dollar amount requirements, which is appealing to the bookstore buyers. I have not marketed Archive publishers in the print media or LDS websites as of yet, but that is under consideration. A lot of our business is by word of mouth, as many visitors to our website at www.archivepublishers.com tell us about how they found us. Others find us by doing searches on the Internet for a particular title. LDS homeschoolers find us the same way, although homeschool conventions have been the most successful for us.

9. What formats do you produce your titles in? Have you considered ebooks? books in other languages?

Answer: At present we publish only in English. I have not had an interest in ebooks, yet I might get into that at a future date. I personally am one who likes to have a book in hand, so that is my focus. We are looking into having some of our titles translated into Spanish and offering them to the Spanish Saints in Central and South America as well as in the United States.

Question about the Future

10. What is the future of the LDS market, and what needs to happen for it to reach that potential? Does the market for LDS homeschool products have a different future?

Answer: The LDS market is going through some tough times right now with the economy as it is. Some stores have had to close their doors, and some homeschool conventions have had to cancel conventions. Our immediate plans are to weather the storm, continue adding more titles to our collection, and attend those conventions and bookstores that remain. We believe when things turn around, there will be more conventions and bookstores available to us. We feel there is a need in the Spanish market to make these titles available. I would even be interested in taking my entire collection and having a book show at LDS bookstores to help draw people into that store, and expose my books to the buying public. To make these things happen will require money, which is limited to us. That is probably our biggest need. But we do with what we have and continue to press on. I have a lot of fun offering these books to the bookstore and homeschoolers. It does my heart good when people realize these books are available again, and at a cost that is reasonable.

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10 comments: “Interview: LDS Archive Publishers

  1. Kent Larsen Post author

    Interviewer’s comment:
    I’m rather familiar with the reprint model of publishing, since I use it myself. I think it is a very important function, but one that is facing increasing competition with the rise of print-on-demand and Google books. The combination of these two has led to a number of companies nationally that simply reprint old titles as fast as they can process the images from Google books and other sources. This is why we have so many recent editions of classics like Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon. LDS Archive Publishers is certainly vulnerable to this competition.

    I should point out that the response in question #2, which implies that public domain is anything over 75 years old, is not correct. Determining when a work is in the public domain is more complicated than that, and there are both more recent works in the public domain, and works older than 75 years old that are still covered by copyright. If you are considering reprinting an old work, either research the copyright law very well before you proceed or contact a qualified attorney.

    One of the weaknesses I see in LDS Archive Publishers is that they haven’t yet manage to get distribution to the broader national market. Their books only appear in Amazon.com because a bookstore is reselling them there–they aren’t using the national distributors. Nor have they been successful in getting their books on to Deseretbook.com and Seagullbooks.com, but I admit that those are quite tough to arrange.

    I think Dan’s statements about the future are particularly interesting. I’m not as certain as he is that there will be growth in LDS stores in the future — the trend for the past decade has actually been towards fewer stores. But it is certainly possible that there could be an increase in conventions — those oriented towards the public might be possible. And his idea of traveling to bookstores to put on presentations for the public might also be interesting–kind of the publisher equivalent of an author tour.

    I look forward to reading about what others see in this interview.

  2. William Morris

    I wonder if the future of the reprints market is in critical and fine editions. On the other hand, the academic market for most of the titles that might qualify for such treatment just isn’t that large.

    —-

    I agree that the publisher equivalent of an author tour could be interesting — at the very least consumers would have a wider range of titles to check out, and they could offer works that the bookstore doesn’t normally carry. I’m not sure what’s in it for the bookstore, though.

  3. Kent Larsen Post author

    William, there is a kind of spectrum in reprint editions, from the very basic, just print images of the pages (very quick and easy — no changes are made in the text, nothing added or subtracted), to the high-end fine and critical editions you mention. There certainly is a future in the high-end, but that is not the only way to get a good return on a reprint.

    But, I don’t think you can ignore the middle and low end either. The low end gives readers exactly what was published before at the lowest price. It can be done quickly–in as little as a day of pre-press work–and therefore cheaply. But if no one else has done the book, and the need for the book is high enough, it is possible to get 2 or even 3 times the list price of a new title of the same size and page count. These can be quite lucrative. Of course, with competition, prices often come down to the same prices of new titles–which still can yield a decent, if unremarkable, income.

    The middle range usually means that the book has been typeset instead of having images of pages, and often uses additional material (say an introduction, or perhaps related public domain material from another source) to “add value” to the book. This doesn’t usually add much to the price, but can help sales when it is percieved as better than the old edition or a somewhat “new” book.

    The high end also doesn’t really give you the ability to charge a lot more, but critical editions often draw large library and academic sales that a simple reprint can’t achieve. Fine editions are another animal themselves, because they are more like works of art than books. They also draw a different audience than a simple reprint.

    The odd thing here is that while there is some minor increase in price as you move from the low end to the high end (all other things equal), the volume often increases also, provided that the title has a broad enough interest or is “important” enough from an academic perspective.

    I think to get the most out of these titles, you really need to have some knowledge of them and of their place in history and their genre or subject. Either that, or you need to do what the latest crop of reprinters do and use some indication of popularity (like how many times the Google Book version is accessed) and reprint indiscriminately anything that meets your criteria. I’ve run across half a dozen outfits that do this.

  4. Kent Larsen Post author

    Th, I understand the sentiment, but I don’t see it happening, at least not any time soon.

    Ask 25 randomly selected people you know that are your age whether they think they will ever give up reading books on paper during their life time. You will find at least a significant minority (and probably a majority today) who expect to read a significant portion of the books they read on paper throughout their lives.

    It is true that ebooks will capture a significant portion of the market, but just like the fact that horses are still used for transportation, books will still be used for reading into the foreseeable future. Ebooks will also be much cheaper than printed books, but in the western world, at least, the difference is simply not enough to make everyone drop printed books altogether.

    I don’t want to make this thread about the future of ebooks (which is bright, and important — Archive Publishers is simply wrong NOT to pursue ebooks), but it won’t “gut” the reprint market. For several decades at least we will still see these books in print, and, as long as no ebook reader catches the imagination of the public (the Kindle has NOT — its purchasers are by and large over 50 years of age) the number of reprint editions will continue to grow.

    While it is coming closer, it is not yet the day of the ebook.

  5. Th.

    .

    It won’t be here till I own one. Isn’t that the general rule of thumb? And last year at this time I was only interested in it as a novelty. Now the only thing keeping me out is affordability and the fact that the best one on the market is the Amazon Monster.

    Talking with people, I think we’re giving up our hold on paper with incredible rapidity. The demise of newspapers is accelerating this move.

    But I’m not trying to threadjack. So I’ll stop there.

  6. William Morris

    Yeah. Nice try, but I would imagine that most AMV readers know enough to ignore this solicitation.

  7. Dan Hunter

    Hi Kent:

    Thank you for printing our interview we had a few weeks ago. I appreciate your willness to provide this service to your readers. I might mention that the name of the business was changed to simply “Archive Publishers” several years ago. The LDS Church contacted the then owner, Jack Monnett, and asked that the “LDS” portion of the business name be removed so as not to confuse the reader to thinking that the business was sponsored or supported by the LDS Church.

  8. Dan Hunter

    Hi William Morris

    My hope for taking my inventory to a bookstore is to draw traffic to them with the hope of increasing their sales, obviously in my own products, but also in the current inventory that have of other works. That is one of the purposes of the author signing that many bookstores do. It is an effort to draw traffic to the store. I would also share a percentage of the proceeds of any sales to the store because they are offering me advertising and floor space for the “show”.

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