I remember when the only CTR rings were the ones they gave us in primary. If you wanted to read one of maybe a dozen books on gospel doctrine you asked a member of the Seventies Quorum to sell you a copy from the locked cabinet at the church. I recall traveling 45 miles to the Cheyenne Stake Center to listen to a rock group called “Alma and the Sons of Mosiah” singing songs about the gospel and testimony and you could buy one of their cassettes. As I prepared for my mission two pants suits were not available in Colorado so I had two suits and two coordinated slacks. I waited till I went to the MTC to buy my pocket missionary library and compact scriptures and other supplies. Saturday's Warrior was all the rage among Utah missionaries but few had heard of it until our stake performed it at the Lincoln Center. I don't think it was out yet on VHS. When our children were born I remember searching in vain for a picture book to teach my young children the gospel among the few shelves of LDS books at the LDS owned college bookstore. Soon after my parents purchased that bookstore to employ my younger siblings, I became aware of LDS bookstores springing up in nearby communities in the backrooms of small businesses and homes. I also became aware of the LDS Booksellers Association which was just beginning to expand to include hundreds of stores and suppliers. Soon after the amount and variety of products available grew. Let us hope that current trends do not cause there to be fewer products available because only the well known best sellers can be found.
What services do LDS bookstores (Deseret Book, Seagull Book and independents) provide that Amazon, Barnes and Nobel etc do not?
They provide a method for you to find products that better meet your needs and are selected to be appropriate for your values. When you browse LDS stores or websites you can find categories of products that are familiar to you such as CTR, primary, baptism, priesthood, young women, church history, temple, general authority and many other LDS terms. When you go to other sites you will have to spend more time searching and sort through many inappropriate items to find what you want. Maybe even products that appear to be in line with gospel principles but are not. You should be able to purchase everything you want in one place instead of having to search multiple sites and pay multiple shipping charges. If you don't find everything in one place ask by phone or e-mail. (If they don't publish their phone or e-mail why would you give them you credit card number?)
With many sites having tens of thousands of products they don't list everything they have in stock or can get.
When you shop at a LDS bookstore you can be assured that you more of your money goes to keep the LDS bookstore open, promote LDS authors and artists, the programs of the church, including missionaries, and maybe even your local economy. I'm pretty sure Amazon does not pay tithing, income tax or sales tax to your state and local government.
Deseret Book and many independent LDS bookstores, and LDS publishers belong to the LDS Booksellers association, an organization committed to the advancement of the LDS book industry. They are commuted to a code of ethics. Look for the LDSBA logo on each of their websites.
All LDS bookstores including Deseret Book purchase Church Distribution products for the same price as you do forcing them to mark them up to cover expenses, a price you pay for convenience.
How are independent LDS bookstores different from Deseret Book?
Deseret Book is owned by the church, they are not franchises, nor locally owned. Their warehouses and their shipments originate in Salt Lake City. They charge sales taxes in any state that they have a store. They don't usually special order or ship from their stores.
Deseret Book is the major supplier as well as competitor to independent bookstores. Deseret Book owns Seagull Books.
Deseret Book chose to locate their stores in markets with the best chance of success, Independent bookstores have chosen to locate in many markets Deseret Book will not because they are local people
serving their local community. Recently Deseret Book and some independent bookstores have closed stores in markets that weren't profitable even when they were close to a temple and far from competition, such a Chicago, Atlanta, Billings, Anchorage, even Los Angeles.
Independent bookstores are privately and often locally owned, occasionally by a publisher or manufacturer of LDS products. They are not affiliated with the LDS church or Deseret Book except through the LDS Booksellers Association so a coupon or gift card from one may not be accepted at the other. An LDS bookstore may be supporting a missionary in the field or saving up for later mission or temple service.
Independent bookstores often offer services that individual Deseret Bookstores do not. Some of these include shipping products from their stores for you, scripture imprinting, gift wrapping, video rental and used books. Independent bookstores also can help you find "out of print" or hard to find items using their resources as part of network of independent bookstores who are communicating with each other on a daily basis through e-mail and other means. Independent bookstores offer a wider assortment of products beyond what is in just on hand in their stores because they deal with a larger number of vendors than Deseret Book. Each store has a different selection because they select which items to stock and which to purchase only as requested.
The volume and variety a store carries is a function of its sales. If you would like to see them increase their selection you need to support them and ask them to order for you what they don't have in stock. Some stores may carry locally produced items, or items of local interest, books by other authors, candy, modest, white or missionary clothing, jewelry, preparedness products, artwork or other gift items not available from other stores including Deseret Book.
Deseret Book selects which vendors and products it will stock in it's warehouse and offer in it's stores and website. Deseret Book sells many of it's products to independent bookstores but chooses to
reserve some as "exclusive" only available from Deseret Book. Many products independent bookstores purchase direct from publishers other than Deseret Book.
Your local LDS Bookstore allows you to see and touch the products before you buy them, to have personal knowledgeable help in finding what will meet your needs and to provide feedback on what products you would like to see in their store. They also contribute to your local economy and the local church programs and can be a resource to bring LDS entertainment to your area.
LDS Bookstores ( including Deseret Books ) need your support to remain viable, not just regular purchases but also your feedback, encouragement, and referring your friends and neighbors to tell them about the products and service that they provide. If you live over a half hour from the nearest LDS bookstore, but close to other saints and close enough to visit the store regularly ask them if their is a way you can help bring the LDS bookstore experience to your neighbors. I am sure they would be delighted to have your help and your insight.