What Do We Mean by Non-Profit?

I heard the following story at Sam Wellers about some local LDS Church units and selling books. I don’t know when this happened or who it was — no doubt someone here knows the story better than I do, or knows of a similar story — but it strikes me as the kind of thing that happens sometimes among LDS Church members.

It seems some stake along the Wasatch Front did their stake history, and after selling copies to everyone in the stake who wanted one, had a lot of leftover copies. So they packed them up in someone’s pickup and came into Salt Lake to sell them to the various book dealers, knowing that people who lived in their stake were now located all over the Wasatch Front. When the dealer asked how much the books cost, the stake representative quoted the retail price.

“OK, so how much is my price,” asked the dealer.
“The same. I can’t sell them for less than full price,” replied the stake’s representative.
“OK, then I’ll mark them up so I can make a profit,” the dealer concluded, trying to be flexible.
“Oh, then I can’t sell them to you. We can’t have anyone making a profit off our book. It’s a non-profit project.”

Undoubtedly those books are still sitting in someone’s cellar in that stake.

I’m not sure exactly what those involved in this project thought would happen. Their view seems wildly unrealistic, but somehow shows the expectations that we often have — that building the kingdom of God means that we sacrifice by giving up all profit, even though this implies that we will live only off of air.

In my limited experience, when the Church says that it is non-profit, it means this mostly in the tax and legal sense — that it isn’t seeking to profit from the sale of goods or services, and that all funds it receives are used for the purposes outlined in the tax code. As an accounting and business student at BYU and at NYU, I learned how vague the idea of profit can be. Do we mean gross profit, or net? Is it a profit following the FASB rules, or following the tax law? Which of many optional policies have been applied?

But regardless of all the possible ways of looking at profit, the motivations of outside companies and individuals usually don’t define whether or not an organization is for-profit or non-profit. The Church is free to buy services from an individual who is earning a profit on those services, and it is also free to sell products to others who will try to make a profit on them.

BUT, motivations matter very much when it comes to how we in the Church look at issues like this. Let’s take a stake history as an example. I’m sure it seems like a straightforward project. I committee sits down and writes the history of the stake, arranges for a printer, the stake may or may not pay for the printing of the copies, the copies are sold to members of the stake, everyone is happy.

But what if the committee wants to be paid for their effort? Perhaps that’s wrong, but then the Church pays employees to write manuals all the time. Why is this different? What if the history is written by an outside company that specializes in writing histories like this, both inside and ouside of the Church? Or what if one of the members on the committee owns a small printing business and will print the books and charge the stake for printing them? Or even sell the books directly to members (the stake just advertises that the books are for sale)?

Is this all so complicated that stakes should stay away from projects like this?

I think what we have to remember is that both stakes and members of the Church want these things. They want stake histories and doctrinal treatises and romances and adventure stories and book of mormon action figures and LDS art.

I know they technically don’t NEED them (whatever need means in this context). Yes the scriptures and the materials provided by the Church should be enough. Yet somehow we members of the Church want other things, we want stories that inspire us and action figures that our little boys (or girls, but let’s be honest, boys in this case) can play with. Culture is like that. We have what we need, but somehow we still end up expressing ourselves, our beliefs and everything else that is important to us in ways that we don’t exactly need, but that we do want. And some of us even think that this desire to express ourselves is also a NEED.

With this expression comes a market–a way of distributing these expressions, these cultural goods to those who want them. The Church doesn’t distribute most of them, so we have bookstores and publishers and music labels and jewelry manufacturers and distributors.

And in every one of these cases, the problem of motivation again appears. Does LDS Author A write to earn money or to inspire, or both? Is LDS consumer B purchasing a book because it really improves his spiritual life? or because its presence on his bookshelf makes him look good?

Motivations are tricky, of course. Not only is it difficult to know what someone’s motivations are, it is also unlikely that anyone’s motiviation is limited to just one cause. The author of the stake history is probably trying to give fellow stake members a sense of the heritage of their stake, and also get a little notariety and pride from writing the history. Its likely impossible to identify all the motivations.

But while I think motivations are important, especially on a personal basis, there is another important influence on us: the structure of the market and culture we are part of–the institutions, businesses, and standard practices in the market and the assumptions that consumers make about that market.

Huh? What does that mean? It means that we all have learned that these things we want–stake histories, LDS books, music and film, book of mormon action figures, etc.–are sold in certain places and in certain ways. We know that we find these products in LDS bookstores, and not in Christian stores or in general bookstores, for the most part. We know that we find out what is available by visiting the stores, or because we get certain catalogs in the mail (usually because we have purchased from a store in the past). The bookstores and publishers and manufacturers for these products know that certain kinds of products are sold in these stores, and others are not–that what is called LDS fiction is OK, but anything that might lead members to doubt or question is not. They also know that products are sold with a standard set of terms that make it so that they can profit from the sale.

These assumptions and institutions–the structure of the market–influence our motivations. We see another stake make and sell their stake history, so we assume that we can do the same with our stake–and maybe its OK to make a few dollars in the process, because it looks like that stake did also. We see an author or a publisher make a living off of selling Church-related books or music or other products, and its easy to think that we could do the same thing, or that the little book we’ve been working on might add a few dollars to our family income.

What is already being done, and what seems possible to do given the bookstores and other institutions in the market, now all seem legitimate–and the result is the latest piece of Mormon kitsch that might be offensive or silly to some of us, and cool or fun to others of us, and probably irrelevant to the majority of us.

Please understand that the above is descriptive, not proscriptive. I’m simply describing what does exist and how it works, not whether or not it should exist or how it should work. You might look at the market for LDS products and conclude that this is all an elaborate excuse for priestcraft–that the motivations behind creating and selling LDS products are illegitimate–our cultural expressions should be shared and distributed without any profit involved. Or, you might conclude, as I do, that this is a natural development from the desire to share our faith with one another, with some excesses on occasion.

Regardless, this market does exist, and it has an effect on our motivations and on the assumptions we make about how we live and share our religion. The good news is that the market and its structure can be changed. We’re not stuck with the institutions that we have now, nor with the assumptions made about what will sell and what won’t sell or about what Mormon consumers want. We’re not stuck with the assumption that speakers of other languages and members in other countries don’t purchase books and LDS products, or even with the assumption that Deseret Book is selling all LDS products or that its policies are what’s best for Church members.

All this can, and much of it should, be changed. We just need to be careful about our motivations and the motivations that the market structure influences in its employees, authors, musicians and producers, and even in its consumers.

42 comments for “What Do We Mean by Non-Profit?

  1. Mostly I think the correct reaction is simply not to spend money on those products, if one doesn’t agree that they should be marketed.

    I was personally acquainted with one of the people responsible for Book of Mormon action figures. When I repaired his computer out of friendship he gave me a pewter variant of three of the action figures as a token of thanks.

    They’re nice reproductions of sculpted art, and I could see that he wasn’t in the business of selling kitsch in order to profit unreasonably, though he certainly would have thought it nice to make enough money to support his family. During the time I knew him he also held jobs in retailing outside of that effort.

    I can’t begrudge him the use of the market economy to get his action figures into the hands of people who wanted them. There weren’t better tools to facilitate his ideas.

    At the same time, though, I couldn’t have imagined buying the plastic toys for my own kids, since the idea of plastic Nephi action figures made me uneasy, as though the idea of Nephi were cheapened by a reification in polymer. (Would we let our kids play with a Gordon B. Hinckley action figure?)

    Mostly I express my objections to such things by not buying them, and allow all men the same privilege, let them kitsch up with whatever they may, y’know?

  2. Rob, for me the issue isn’t so much whether the kitsch should be sold or not, but what the structure of the market and of the culture is. Is the structure doing what we want it to? Can everyone that wants Mormon cultural goods get them? Is the information flowing correctly? Do Mormons find out about what is available that interests them?

    In my view, the structure is rather deficient when I ask these questions.

  3. Nice thoughts, Kent. Yes, it is unfortunate if some folks think in terms of “profit = evil,” and then see “nonprofit” as avoiding economic sin. In fact, the preferred title for such economic enterprises is now “not-for-profit,” emphasizing that such entities should operate efficiently and that they can and often do earn an economic surplus (where revenues exceed expenses). The difference is that not-for-profits use that surplus to support expanded delivery of the goods and services they provide (and perhaps to inflate the salaries of the executives running the enterprise) rather than to return that economic profit to owners (as compensation for the time value of money and for bearing the risk of investing in the firm).

    There’s a further question of what are legitimate expenses. I’m sure the stake paid the outfit that printed the books. Paying the author(s), distributors, and retailers is as legitimate an expense as paying the printer and wouldn’t turn the operation into a for-profit endeavor.

  4. Kent, I agree: the structure is not sufficient.

    I think of Ancestry.com and the kerfluffle over the Church choosing to no longer subscribe for the Family History Centers, and it occurs to me that an entity like that is hoarding data directly relevant to efforts to redeem the dead, behind a $150/year barrier.

    I take a marvelously dim view of that. Actually, it’s more of an angry ranting view. What the hell are these people doing charging an admission fee to data about *my* family, especially considering the efforts the Church made to prop them up with seed data?

    One impulse is to insist that those things, since they overlap with a vital Church effort, *ought to be free or close to free* to people doing Church work. Maybe that’s one reason why New FamilySearch was written in the first place.

    Or consider Ohana Software, and entities like it, who have no PAF-equivalent offering for Mac computers, for less than $50 (The Church’s past policy of PC-only is more irritating to me on that score.)

    But for some reason, the guy who sells his iPhone scriptures reader for $15 doesn’t bother me as much, I suppose because there are free alternatives and he keeps updating his software at no charge, and adding some prettydang compelling features.

    I think there’s a balance to strike, and I think you’re right that “market forces” don’t completely strike it.

  5. It is this attitude that profit=evil that makes it so difficult to be a professional writer/musician/artist in the Church. As a professional writer and sometimes musician, I have stayed far away from the LDS market, because I simply can’t make enough money there to sustain myself. For many years I performed with a piano trio in the Puget Sound area. We did a lot of background music for professional gatherings, business parties and wedding receptions, but very few LDS functions. As soon as we told someone that we charged for our services, we were told, “no thankyou.”

    Of course, I do often give away my services, both as a musician and as a writer, but I have to draw a line because this is my livelihood. I can’t afford to spend long hours on a writing project (such as a ward or stake history) without some gratuity. Every hour I give away is an hour’s wages lost. Part of the problem, particularly in the arts, is that people with no experience have no idea how much time it takes to produce an hour of good music, one illustration or fifty pages of text.

    This is why people complain about the cost of books. Even if you only charge for the physical production (i.e., paper, printing and design), a 350 page paperback (all black and white) will cost you $15 per copy for 500 copies. You have to print many thousands of copies to get the price down to where anyone would actually buy the book, and, with very few exceptions, the Mormon market simply won’t support sales in those kinds of numbers. Of course, that doesn’t even begin to compensate for the thousands of hours that an author put into writing that book. Depending on the complexity of the book and how much research has to be done, a book of that length could easily take 1500 hours to write.

    As for your initial example, the Church sells many things, such as scriptures, to retail establishments, which in turn mark up the price in order to make a profit (or at least pay their employees). Also, the Church itself, though a non-profit corporation, owns businesses which are for-profit, such as Deseret Book.

  6. Rob (#5),
    I don’t understand why you think Ancestry should not charge for the vast amount of information they provide at your fingertips? Granted, all of that information is “public” and available to anyone who wants to go looking for it from original sources. But as a researcher myself, I can tell you that it will cost you far more in expenses than what Ancestry will charge you for having it all in one place on your desktop, where you can make copies of it for further use. (I have never received copies of records from any public entity for which I was NOT charged a fee.)

  7. “You have to print many thousands of copies to get the price down to where anyone would actually buy the book, and, with very few exceptions, the Mormon market simply won’t support sales in those kinds of numbers.”

    This isn’t true anymore. Lulu will print individual copies for you; I just checked the numbers and they’d charge 11.50 for your 350 page b-and-w book. No set up fees.

    Which I think suggests that there will be an entirely new business model for LDS books soon. Should be interesting.

  8. Not really on topic, but I can’t imagine caring about the history of my stake enough to spend money buying a book about it.

  9. I’m pretty sure I’ve worked for members of that stake … they’re the ones who don’t want to pay for the historical or genealogical research they contracted for because they plan on using it for temple work or articles for the Ensign. I hope the next one who pulls that is a grocer (I want lots of free food for my food storage) or a car dealer (I want a free SUV to get to my church meetings) or a doctor (I want free medical treatment because my body is a temple) or an interior designer (I want my home to be a temple — for free, of course) or an electronics dealer (I want a better — free — TV to watch conference on, and a free laser printer to use in my church history work and a free state-of-the-art sound system to play free Tabernacle Choir recordings on) or a vet (because, hey, my cat was created by God, too, you know).

    But no, that kind of client always seems to be a CES employee, and I already have all of that I can use.

  10. Catherine (#7) — That’s the tension, though, isn’t it? A recognition of the actual time and treasure involved in the work might serve to mollify me, but their decision not to let the FHC’s have access any more is souring.

    The prevailing ethic from the Church appears these days to be to not ask members for additional money over and above the tithe and the fast offering, in order to accomplish its basic aims. Family history is one of those.

    As long as the basic work of family history is possible without Ancestry.com, fine. But if (for example) they’re holding the one or two critical pieces of information we can’t find to accomplish the Church work behind a fee, *and I can’t even tell if they do or don’t without paying the fee*, part of me wants to say that that is simply unconscionable.

    There’s a qualitative difference there, in my opinion, between that and Janice Kapp Perry’s catchy-kitschy-tune songbooks.

  11. I’m no fan nor supporter of Ancestry.com, especially when they leech off the Church’s efforts and expense in microfilming records by having their workers scanning reel after reel of our films and preventing ordinary people — me — from having any access at all to the film scanners.

    But Rob, Ancestry.com doesn’t “hold the one or two critical pieces of information we can’t find to accomplish the Church work behind a fee.” They own no records themselves, only what they have electronically created from records available either from the FHL or through other document or copyright holders. Everything they have, YOU can find yourself, if you’re as skilled as they are at ferreting out useful records.

    What you’re really complaining about, if you’ll be honest with yourself, is that they charge a fee for the *convenient* searching of those records. That search is only convenient because they have invested in the conversion of paper or microfilm to electronic format. Much as I dislike them, I have to admit that they have a right to be paid for their work in creating and making available that convenience.

    If you and I don’t want to pay for that work through them, we’re both free to duplicate that work by slogging through the old-fashioned records ourselves. We have a right to the public and published records; we don’t have any legitimate right to demand free use of the value added by Ancestry.com.

  12. (12, cont’d) And that, I think, while a different example from Kent’s in the OP, is very much in the same vein as his thought. Sometimes we confuse the source of a product, thinking that what is private entrepreneurial business is somehow a function of the gospel, church-sponsored, and that it should be freely available to us all. It isn’t. When gospel-themed *but wholly voluntary and self-sponsored* work is done and is offered outside the worship channels, the worker is worthy of his hire, if the product is something worth having. There is no reason to consider it priestcraft when writers and teachers and performers and artists and genealogists are exchanging their skills and materials — outside of church callings — for monetary support, any more than it is priestcraft when furniture builders and brick masons and heating contractors exchanging their skills and materials for monetary support when they build and furnish chapels and temples.

    Someone on another blog complained this week that as a ward organist she is expected to provide her Sunday services for free, while she is banned from getting tax advice and plumber’s expertise and medical care (or whatever her personal needs were) from other ward members, for free. She confuses the market. Her calling as ward organist is analogous to the professional mechanic’s calling to be a merit badge counselor, or the professional genealogist’s calling to teach a family history Sunday School class. Her musical skills only become a commodity for sale on the same level as that free tax advice and plumber’s expertise when she steps outside her ward calling and offers her musical skills in the market as an organ teacher or recital accompanist.

    I hope you don’t consider this a threadjack, Kent. It’s the same principle, even if the examples are not necessarily the cultural goods and artistic expressions that are the focus of your post.

  13. I’m told that Ancestry.com has started trying to get original repositories of information to sign exclusive use agreements, specifically barring those repositories from letting the Church scan the same records.

    If that’s true, it’s disgusting. But otherwise, I say vive l’capitalism.

  14. Julie (#8),
    You’re right. Digital print-on-demand services do make small print runs infinitely more affordable, and we are already seeing the influence of that on the LDS market in new companies like Zarahemla Press. However, that 11.50 does not include the cost of a book designer to prepare press-ready files (about $3000 for a 350-page book). And, while digital printing is a boon to the book market, and most publishers are using it in one way or another, it is a long way from matching the quality of an offset press or full-color lithography [from the admittedly biased viewpoint of someone who grew up in the printing industry].

  15. It’s certainly possible, JimD, since electronic rights are one of the separate rights that publishers/copyright holders maintain. (Check the copyright statement on just about any paper book published in the last 20 years that spells out its claims beyond a bare “c2009”, and you’ll probably see “electronic rights” mentioned specifically.) The Church cannot put excerpts from the published DUP books, for example, on its Pioneer Overland Travel database, because the DUP has sold electronic rights to Ancestry.com. The Church can and does, of course, cite the DUP publications and even suggest repositories where those books may be consulted.

    That’s inconvenient for many people; I don’t know that it sinks to the level of disgusting. Rather, it puts us in the position of pre-internet days when we actually have to visit a library or write to a librarian with a request to consult the book for us. That isn’t at all the same as preventing us from accessing that information, just charging for convenience that we are beginning to take for granted.

    (Thanks, Catherine.)

    That’s the last I’ll butt in on your discussion, Kent. I promise.

  16. I have been our Stake Technology clerk for years. You would not believe the number of members who believe that my calling is to fix all of the computers in the stake. I get calls when their Internet goes down, when they get a virus, when they lose their only PAF database that they have been working on for 20 years and have no backup copies of….

  17. Ardis, you’re appallingly incorrect about the motivation behind my comment, almost as though you hadn’t actually read it. Shall we cease to question one another’s integrity now, or after I take umbrage?

    In any case, if my explorations today are indicative, Ancestry.com is no easier or more convenient to use than http://new.familysearch.org. Thus, there is no added convenience for the purpose of Temple work.

    (I have a separate objection, in that I disagree with monthly fees that high, but it’s easy to vote that disagreement by not subscribing.)

    Re #14: I agree, if true, but let’s prove it true before deciding it’s disgusting. I think it possible, considering some of the animosity that some groups offer towards the idea of vicarious proxy work, that Ancestry.com could get ahold of records that would never be offered to the Church as an institution. In such a case the feeling would be properly directed at others.

  18. Ardis (#10), a family member who works in graphic design had a representative of a small city in Utah request her to hand over the files of a pamphlet her firm had worked on a few years ago so he could “just do a couple of small updates” himself to save having to pay them to do it; after all, it’s for the common good and tax dollars are tight these days. I guess with the ubiquity of Microsoft Word, everybody thinks they’re a desktop publisher. Too bad the layout was done in QuarkXPress.

  19. CatherineWO (6) wrote:

    As a professional writer and sometimes musician, I have stayed far away from the LDS market, because I simply can’t make enough money there to sustain myself.

    Catherine, to me this is sad. Why isn’t the LDS market better developed so that you have opportunities? BUT, I think the problem is not just the attitude of members, who sometimes seem to think that fellow LDS Church members will give them their services for free. The problem is also that there aren’t enough publications and musical venues where LDS writers can sell LDS-oriented work. And those that do exist are often have very narrow ideas of what is acceptable — LDS art must be the same, realistic style that we see on the cover of the Ensign; other styles “won’t sell”–which alienates large portions of the LDS audience, who then don’t go into LDS stores because the works all fit the same narrow idea of what is acceptable.

    We need to work on this market and cultural structure. We need to change the attitudes of consumers, stores and producers, and we need to create new venues for distributing these cultural goods. The structure needs to be improved.

  20. Julie (8), I claim to be something of an expert on digital printing, since I’ve put about 50 titles in print and use digital printing as the mainstay of my business.

    I know Lulu’s no setup fee is attractive, but financially, it is only cheaper if you are printing less than about 25 copies. I can’t imagine many situtations where using Lulu is really the best decision. Drop me a note if you want additional information on better alternatives.

    BUT, I should add that your point has some validity, but also some problems. Digital printing is certainly bringing new publishers to the LDS market. I agree that this is a wonderful, good development, and I expect that it may eventually revolutionize the market.

    Unfortunately, this revolution has its downside also. The current LDS market players (except for consumers) doesn’t really buy books from small publishers (the prime users of digital printing)–they simply don’t make it to LDS stores, and LDS stores generally aren’t interested in knowing about them, IMO. The stores buy from the publishers that show up at the LDSBA convention, and the small publishers there usually have a very difficult time getting attention from the stores.

    Meanwhile, digitally-printed books get their best distribution into online stores, especially Amazon.com, which lists EVERYTHING that it can get, even if it doesn’t stock every book. Their systems are automated so that when you place an order on Amazon.com, the order is transmitted to the digital printer, which prints it on demand and ships directly to you, the consumer. Any book Amazon can do this with, it will add to its catalog.

    We don’t have the equivalent in the LDS market. No retailer lists every LDS book available, and no retailer has their ordering set up well enough that they can have the printer ship directly to their customer.

    This means that a lot of LDS books are being sold through Amazon.com and other online retailers, where they get less promotion and display, less cross selling, etc. This makes the LDS-specific market weaker, because sales aren’t happening through LDS-specific retailers, which, in turn, could hurt LDS publishers and, conceivably, reduce the number of titles produced.

    Its paradoxical, but the traditional LDS stores and publishers are actually making things worse!!

  21. Ardis (17), you are welcome to add such comments any time you like. I think they are very germane to this discussion. Such things as services and electronic rights and even Ancestry.com are all part of the structure I’m talking about.

    If we improve the structure, many of these issues will be reduced or perhaps even go away completely.

  22. Ranbato (18), just to make your comment clear, you are talking about their expectation that you work on their personal computers, not those used by the ward clerks in the stake.

    When I was in the same calling, I was expected to resolve all situations with ward computers, but not those of anyone’s personal computers. It sounds like people in your stake are expecting more than is reasonable.

  23. This reminds me of a case I read in the Salt Lake High Council archives. An attorney in Salt Lake was asked by the Ogden City Council to come up there and prosecute the riff-raff that had come in with the railroads. He then presented a bill for his ser vices to the city council, which told him that he had been performing a service to the Church (there was a lot of identity back then between municipal government and local judges and bishoprics). The attorney brought an action in the Salt Lake High council against the Ogden City Council for his fee. For some unexplained reason, Brigham Young was sitting in that day with the High Council, and he offered his opinion that, since attorneys depend for their livelihood on the time they give in performing legal work, he should be paid for the service, since he could have been paid for his time if he had chosen to do something else (and of course there was no agreement ahead of time that he was donating his services, and the Ogden city Council had no authority to issue a call to someone outside their ward and stake). The Salt Lake High council voted to adopt President Young’s advice.

    I am pretty sure that Kirton McConkie and other law firms used by the Church are paid for their services, which include clearing the title of land being purchased for new meetinghouses and temples, and fulfilling zoning and land use requirements.

    The Church gets significant donations of services from us, both in part time work and in full-time missions, including work in our areas of professional expertise such as agriculture, public health, social services, and education. At the same time, it does pay salaries to both general authorities and to mission presidents (though I am sure there is no prohibition on someone who is financially independent donating it back). The Church recognizes that people need to support themselves and their families. It uses donated funds to pay professional building contractors to construct temples and meetinghouses, even though there were times in the past when both were totally volunteer projects. Clearly, profit and income are not evil per se in the eyes of the GAs.

  24. A brief historical note: when I was in high school (1967-71), our ward 70s group sold Church-related books on an ongoing basis as a missionary fund raiser. If I recall correctly, they were usually sold at a small discount from list price (on the order of 10% or so). I honestly don’t remember if they collected sales tax. :-) I also don’t know if other wards did the same thing, or this was just something our ward 70s came up with.

    I can visualize but can’t remember the name of our ward 70s group leader back then. He and I became good friends, probably due the number of books I bought from him (including complete sets of “History of the Church” and “Comprehensive History”); besides that, I was probably the only teenager buying books from him. He would let me know when something new or interesting came in; he kept all the books in a closet in the ward building, and when I had some extra cash, I would browse through it during the break between priesthood and Sunday school. ..bruce..

  25. gee can i have your service for free cause we are both lds?
    big party
    person says to doctor can you give a physical for free?
    Sure says Doc, take off your clothes right now
    met danish member years ago who said when she lived in Denmark that they began to dread the summers which brought the americian lds tourists who would show up at sac meeting and expected to be housed for free–no notice given–just feed and house us
    we had a working person who moved to our unit some years ago and expected the local men to built a house

  26. bfwebster (26), I think that was commonly what was done. I remember similar closets in both my ward and stake buildings when I was growing up, although I don’t know that it was done by the Seventy’s quorum.

    I think they were eliminated by the mid 1970s (about the time I remember that they weren’t there any more), I assume as part of the changes that President Kimball instituted.

    About that same time (1974), the Church consolidated the Church magazines and eliminated advertising in them.

    Both these changes had a significant effect on the distribution of LDS books and products. No longer was there a dependable chain of bookstores in every stake, and no longer was there a place to advertise where it was possible to reach nearly every active member. Both of these had huge impacts on the structure I’m talking about — and we still don’t have the mostly universal distribution of books and of advertising information that these institutions gave us.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I’m NOT suggesting that the changes were wrong or bad. BUT, they did have a huge impact on the structure of Mormon culture.

  27. Oh, I haven’t thought of the Seventies book project for years! The chapel in Kansas City in the early ’70s used one of the trophy display cases in the foyer (chapels built in the ’50s and ’60s often had built-in trophy cases because of the MIA sports program) for the Seventies to display their current offerings.

    Maybe the last vestige of that system was the Seventies’ Mission Bookstore on State Street in Orem that was still running as an independent dealer, with some or all of its profits destined for the missionary program, into the early ’90s, long after there were no more local seventies quorums.

    Most applicable to Kent’s post was that the Seventies Mission Bookstore was an independent publisher for a whiile. They mostly produced stuff like Shirley Sealey’s Beyond This Moment — dreadful stuff, but you had to have been there (this was even pre-Saturday’s Warrior) to appreciate the fascination we had with seeing Mormon characters in fiction when there hadn’t been anything like that in something like forty years). The Seventies also published some of Lyndon Cook’s early work.

    So yeah, Kent, the 70s’ distribution system and its publications were significant examples of the kind of network or coverage you’ve been talking about. I’m glad bruce reminded us of the 70s.

  28. The little ward where I grew up in Iowa did not have one of those closets. Which is a little odd as our seventies group was rather elderly and selling the occasional book to support the work would have been a way for them to be useful. The nearest LDS bookstore that I knew of was in Sinclair, Wyoming. We would pick up a book there sometimes when we stopped to visit cousins on our way to visit other family in Idaho.

  29. I remember that the Cincinnati Stake Center building had a closet/classroom area which held books, this would have been as late as 1999 (10 years ago). There was no Deseret Book or anything like it for several hundreds of miles (the closest was a private bookstore a few blocks from the Chicago Temple.)

    People would place mail orders with Deseret Book and the Distribution Center together in order to save on shipping, and the books would be stored in that closet for them to pick up.

    Is that a remnant of these 70’s bookstore things?

  30. Rob, that sounds more like a cooperative local effort (sort of like how some of the wards I’ve lived in would pool their resources to send someone with a pickup truck to Utah to come back with a load of peaches or pears for canning; each family ordered and paid for the number of bushels they wanted and a share of the gas before the pickup left home) than the 70s system, if only because your members were ordering directly through Deseret Book and likely paying full cost for the books themselves, whereas the 70s had some kind of a deal (I don’t know exactly what) that allowed substantial savings on books, not just shipping. Maybe the cooperation occurred to someone, though, who remembered the 70s book sales.

    I like hearing about cooperative efforts. We don’t really do enough of that anymore, IMO.

  31. Rob, I agree with Ardis, that this was likely a cooperative effort, or perhaps even a ward sponsored effort.

    When I moved here to New York City there was a closet-style bookstore that was owned by the ward (I was the ward clerk, and we paid the bills). But the bookstore was eventually shut down when local leaders actually read the instructions from Salt Lake that advised against such bookstores.

    I assume that the common early 1970s bookstores were shuttered on advice from Salt Lake. BUT, I’m also sure that it took multiple memos and instructions over a number of years to get wards and stakes to get the message.

  32. Raymond said:

    I am pretty sure that Kirton McConkie and other law firms used by the Church are paid for their services, which include clearing the title of land being purchased for new meetinghouses and temples, and fulfilling zoning and land use requirements.

    Having acted as local counsel for the church on a number of real estate transactions, I can confirm that the church does pay for legal services, but there is continuing encouragement to keep fees low. They would suggest that, since the church was a not-for-profit organization, I should consider a discount from my normal billing rate. I was tempted to tell them that they were getting a 10% rebate anyway, so forget it.

    I think the real estate division’s real interest was in making my business non-profit.

  33. Ardis #17, my understanding was that the prohibition negotiated by Ancestry.com would also apply to simply microfilming the records for use at the FHL or storage in Granite Mountain.

    I think that goes beyond restoring us to the days when library use prevailed. It takes us to a paradigm where libraries themselves are “the competition”.

  34. That may be, JimD — I haven’t heard any of the rumors and certainly don’t want to be seen as defending Ancestry.com beyond what I do know. I am *not* a fan of their business practices, and I resent not only that they have stolen several of my own databases from an online site but also refuse to remove my contact information from their republication of my data. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear from some Ancestry customer rudely demanding that I send “everything you have on the X family” or answer inane questions. (Although I’m tempted to write back and say, “Of course I know the name of so-and-so’s parents — but I knew that was the precise bit of data you would want, so I removed it from my database before I put it online. Nyah-nyah.”) I’m not in the business of keeping Ancestry’s customers happy.

  35. (25) At the same time, it does pay salaries to both general authorities and to mission presidents (though I am sure there is no prohibition on someone who is financially independent donating it back).

    I would prefer call this a “stipend” to cover expenses, not a “salary”. From family members who have served as mission presidents, they were barely breaking even.

  36. Ardis –

    Couldn’t you reply by stating that Ancestry.com has stolen your information and cite your fee for research? Nothing wrong with publicly badmouthing them to their customers…

    Or perhaps you should publish some original research with errors, put a notice that there are errors, but that you’ll tell them where the errors are, for a fee…

  37. Ardis, that’s the problem in a nutshell: Ancestry.com has captured previously public databases and made them available only to subscribers, and that they’re a for-profit corporation enticing me to build my family tree under their terms.

    I don’t like their terms, which is just grist for the mill, on top of the fact that I don’t like it that people making and selling conveniences which have a direct impact on how a person might accomplish one of the basic missions of the Church, especially since Ancestry.com has a huge market outside of the Church’s efforts.

    Plus, they’ve got to be aware that there are FHC consultants who subscribe personally, who just type in their account information right on the FHC computers, for anyone who wants to use them. There have to be; the human impulse to help is stronger with those people than the impulse to completely follow a complex contract they probably didn’t read.

    (And I have to wonder, considering the basic similarity between Ancestry.com and New FamilySearch, whether there isn’t some kind of synergy in place anyway; perhaps they’re helping the Church with technical consulting that I’m not aware of?

    Hoarding the databases is still unconscionable, though…)

    The offering of art or other IP to Church members, such as the action figures, or even books which interpret the Gospel, are not directly congruent to the basic missions of the Church, and thus free to be marketed to whichever Mormons want to buy them. Most of the time, I don’t want to buy them, since I actually like looking in the scriptures in an attitude of fasting and prayer etc etc, and puzzling these things out for myself.

    I’m not going to claim that that’s a morally superior position; the scriptures immediately refute that.

  38. Ardis, that’s the problem in a nutshell: Ancestry.com has captured previously public databases and made them available only to subscribers, and that they’re a for-profit corporation enticing me to build my family tree under their terms.

    No. This is incorrect.

    My databases are still available on the sites where I uploaded them, for free, to all comers. That ancestry.com is enriching their own product for their own customers at my expense does not at all restrict anyone from freely accessing my data at the free sites where I maintain those databases. There is no “hoarding” involved.

    If ancestry.com has purchased previously available materials and made them subscription only, I’m not aware of it. So far as I know, everything they have added to their treasury remains as available as it ever was, in books, on free websites, at county courthouses, on microfilm, wherever it existed before ancestry.com copied it.

    I don’t want to have to defend them beyond what I know, but I don’t want to be part of a mischaracterization, either.

  39. Oh OK, then I stand corrected, sorry. It would be nice, though, if they’d listen to you about your own databases. You would be well within your rights to assert copyright and negotiate terms with them.

  40. Now we’re on exactly the same page, Rob! :)

    (After my first few phone calls and emails were unsuccessful at finding anybody who was more responsible than a doorknob, I decided it wasn’t worth doing more — that resignation on the part of protestors seems to be part of ancestry’s unethical business strategy, but what the heck. After all, I’ve put the databases out where anybody can see them, so I don’t mind that ancestry customers see them too. I resent the demands of their customers for assistance, but I get a perverse pleasure out of deleting those demands unanswered, so I suppose I just about break even. I know. I’m weird.)

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