With revolutionary changes in the publishing world, the 143-year-old Deseret Book Co. has remained constant in one important respect, according to President Henry B. Eyring.
"As I consider how much the world has changed in my lifetime, I realize that this great institution has survived and prospered in even stronger and greater currents of change," President Eyring said in remarks May 8, just prior to dedicating the corporate office building in downtown Salt Lake City for the Church-owned commercial publishing and merchandising company.
"You have kept a focus," said President Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. "It has been on offering the truth of the word of God to all who would receive it. It is for that remarkable accomplishment I wish to commend you."
He added, "It has not been easy. Every missionary will tell you that it is hard to present truth and goodness to people when it requires their personal sacrifice. You have accepted the challenge to do that in such a way that your revenue exceeds your costs."
President Eyring spoke of the company's founding in 1866 as George Q Cannon & Sons. He suggested that President Cannon, who was a counselor in the First Presidency to Brigham Young "is looking down on us with a bemused smile."
"It began with an eight-page Juvenile Instructor," President Eyring said, "which he could not distribute at first because of the lack of paper. The twists and turns since that beginning to the present day have so much drama that should you try to put it in a novel, your editor would surely tell you to cut most of it, because it would not seem credible.
"It has been owned by individuals, it has been part of the Deseret Sunday School Union, part of the Deseret News. It is now part of the Deseret Management Corp.
"It has sold books, published books, distributed motion pictures, motion picture projectors, distributed sacrament trays, sold beautiful sets of scriptures and provided the curriculum of the Church."
In opening remarks, company president and CEO Sheri Dew said, "Deseret Book Co. was organized literally decades before many of the major publishers that you would know: Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Random House, Prentice Hall, Knopf. We are decades and decades ahead of them, ahead of Borders, ahead of Barnes & Noble. There aren't many publishers or retailers still in existence that were organized before we were."
She added, "But it's not because we're old that we're significant. … It is who we are and whose we are; whom we belong to."
She noted that the first company chairman was Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve who wrote the classic Jesus the Christ.
"Other wonderful prophets, seers and revelators have led us through the years: Elder Marvin J. Ashton, Elder M. Russell Ballard, Elder Melvin J. Ballard," she said.
"There is a remarkable history associated with this company, including some of the things that we have published. Everything from Jesus the Christ and The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith to a biography of every president of the Church in this dispensation and, in some cases, multiple biographies."
Robert H. Garff, board chairman from 1996 until recently, said of the company's history, "The constancy among the great change of the last century has been the deep roots of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
He said Deseret Book today is the third-largest Christian bookstore chain in the United States and has the largest content library for commercial consumption in the Church.
Mark H. Willes, current chairman of the board for Deseret Book and president of Deseret Management Corp., spoke of the need to keep the company profitable by making changes, experimenting and consolidating.
"As we do that, the one thing we will never compromise is the basic mission of producing wonderful books" and other products, he said. "One of the things I love about Deseret Book is that you have never been confused about your mission. You have never been confused about what you need to do, which is to project the voice of the Church."
The company's corporate offices were moved to 57 W. South Temple, just south of Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, as the building housing its flagship store and offices was slated for demolition to make way for the City Creek development currently under construction.
Deseret Book today is an international enterprise that includes two publishing companies, two retail chains with a total of 63 stores between them, two Internet stores, a music production company, a film distribution company and an international series of seminars for women.