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The LDS Church's Deseret Book chain no longer will supply Seagull Book & Tape with works written by about 140 influential LDS authors - a decision that could cripple the smaller, privately held competitor.
Deseret Book and Seagull each operate a chain of LDS-oriented bookstores, in addition to publishing their own titles by Mormon authors. Even though they compete in publishing and retailing, the two companies have carried each other's line of books for years.
But effective at the end of the month, Deseret Book said it will stop selling its popular line of books in Seagull stores - even though it means that the church will sell fewer books by LDS authors and leaders like President Gordon B. Hinckley. 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 Wednesday. "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]."
Deseret Book will continue indefinitely to stock books published by Seagull through its Covenant business unit, Simpson said.
It is unclear how much of Seagull's sales are in Deseret Book titles, although it could be as high as 50 percent. The titles also help draw customers into Seagull stores who also buy other products.
"Seagull Book is hopeful and is still working with management at Deseret Book to get them to reconsider their decision," said spokesman David Politis.
Asked why Deseret Book has not cut off other retailers such as Costco, Smith's, Border's and Wal-Mart, some of which do little promotion of their books, Simpson of Deseret Book reiterated that the company made "a business decision based on what we would like to see done with our product." He said the company has discontinued supply to other retailers but declined to elaborate.
Deseret Book is a unit of Deseret Management Corp., which is wholly owned by the LDS Church. Its books are sold through hundreds of retailers. Seagull, formed in 1987, is privately owned by the Kofford family. It was founded by V. Lewis Kofford, who remains president and CEO and majority owner.
Seagull has 20 stores in Utah and locations in California, Idaho and Arizona. Deseret Book also has 20 stores in Utah, in addition to multiple locations in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and California, and one store each in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado.
In recent days, Deseret Book's decision to shut out Seagull has filled numerous blogs online with chatter from people involved in LDS book publishing who have questioned the motives of Deseret Book and the LDS Church.
LDS author Marion Jensen, who has had one book published by Seagull's Covenant unit and who has shopped at both companies' stores, believes the decision will hurt Seagull.
"It could put the company out of business."
He believes Deseret Book might have grown tired of competing against Seagull, known for selling books and other related merchandise at a discount. Deseret Book has been forced in recent years to price-match items to compete.
"Seagull has forced Deseret Book to meet their price. If they can run Seagull out of business, they can charge whatever they want."
In defense of Deseret Book, Jensen said Seagull probably did not promote Deseret Book's titles as well as it could. But he doesn't think Deseret Book does much to promote Covenant's titles, either.
Kent Larsen, a small LDS book publisher in New York City, said he's disappointed by Deseret Book's decision because it means that his books will be available in fewer outlets. He would like to see LDS books available in more outlets, especially outside Utah.
Larsen, who has worked in mainstream publishing for more than two decades, questions whether Deseret Book is violating antitrust laws with its new policy, given the company's stronghold in LDS book publishing and retailing.
Salt Lake City antitrust attorney Dan Berman doubts that any case could be made.
"It doesn't sound like an antitrust claim, even if Deseret Books doesn't want to sell to Seagull anymore to avoid price-cutting," he said. "Deseret Book has a right to sell to whomever they want."
If Deseret Book had a monopoly, there might be a claim, he said.
"But they don't have that. There are so many competitors in the publishing and bookstore business that I don't see how there would be a violation of antitrust laws."
Ultimately, few in the LDS book publishing or retailing industry seem surprised with the rift between the two companies.
"There's been a long-standing rocky relationship between Seagull and Deseret Book," said Ron Priddis, managing director of LDS publisher Signature Books. "It's been a long-running feud."
Deseret Book Co.
* Ownership: Run by Deseret Management Corp., which is wholly owned by the LDS Church.
* Founded: 1866
* Number of stores: 20 stores in Utah, six in Idaho, five in Nevada, four in Arizona, three in California and one store each in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado.
Seagull Book & Tape
* Ownership: Privately owned by the Kofford family. It was founded by V. Lewis Kofford, who remains president and CEO and majority owner.
* Founded: 1987
* Number of stores: 20 in Utah, two each in California and Idaho and one in Arizona.