If there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s the Canadian book publishing industry! After reading an article in The Globe and Mail tonight by Anna Porter titled Time to Lead: The shaky state of Canadian book publishing, I was compelled to express my own opinions in this regard…
RE: “What kind of government policies do we need to keep our vital publishing houses functioning? The old model no longer works.”
I agree that the old model of book publishing no longer works. When restrictive government grants are involved, the potential growth of any publishing company will be stunted.
Around 15 years ago, I worked for a small Canadian literary publisher. As much as I loved the work, I had to leave after three years as I was only earning $1,000 per month in full-time wages (yes, that figure is correct … only $12,000 per year for full-time work). Obviously, it became increasingly difficult to support myself and my son on this menial income. In order to improve my standard of living, my only choice was to change industries, never mind jobs.
I worked in the fulfillment area for that company, and my marketing counterparts and I would often discuss ways we could generate more income for the press. I once approached my directors and recommended we start charging fees for certain things, and I was immediately shut down. “We can’t do that. We’ll lose our grant money if we do.” I even recall a conversation with a colleague about how we could significantly increase our book sales … only to learn that there was a fine line we didn’t want to cross in this regard, too … too many book sales may equate to too much profit which may also jeopardize our ability to qualify for the next grant.
Ridiculous! When government tries to control the way you earn your money and how much money you’re entitled to earn, it stunts your growth potential exponentially! It is killing the industry.
The publishing industry is thriving in the United States for reasons other than population as the author of this article mentions. It is thriving there because they are a “forward thinking” society that is open to all kinds of different book publishing business models and all kinds of different books. In Canada, our publishers are severely limited by genre (“literary” prejudice) and this antiquated notion that the grant operated “traditional” business model is the only way to go. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Here is another thing that is killing the industry: book returns. This is another antiquated business practice. How many other industries would survive if they did business this way, allowing their wholesalers/retailers to return their goods to them damaged and for a full refund at their sole discretion? This is senseless! Perhaps, it made sense at one point in time. But that time has passed. It is long gone.
Years later, rather than waiting around for the government to change their policies, I started my own for-profit Canadian book publishing company. Yes, authors pay for the publication of their books through our “supported self-publishing” business model; however, in return, they retain 100% copyright ownership of their books AND their artwork. We mark all our books NON-returnable. We utilize the Internet and social media to sell our eBooks and paperbacks online. And, most importantly, our income potential (along with our authors’) is uncapped by anyone but ourselves and our own efforts … unlike it is in the “traditional” grant-operated trade/literary book publishing sector. This allows for GROWTH! And this is the type of choice Canada’s book publishing industry needs! This is the kind of choice our authors deserve!
RE: “Fortunately, there are people in this country who value what they contribute to our lives above what they take out of the economy. (That, I hope, answers the question a distinguished lawyer once asked me: If that’s all you make in a year, why don’t you change professions?)”
This always makes me chuckle. Why is it considered so noble to be a “starving artist” in Canada’s literary world? Why can’t Canadian authors have that valued sense of contribution coupled with significant profit potential? I say THEY CAN! THEY SHOULD! That’s why I started my company. And I hope to have a strong influence on changing the way this country views book publishing in the years to come. The author of this article and I definitely agree on one thing—it’s time for a change.
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