Posts Tagged ‘bookstores’

Are Bookstores Providing Spiritual Help Essential Services?

Cornerstone Bookshop in Toronto is one of the retailers raising this question. They are located in the north end of Toronto, an area which was put into lockdown with Friday’s announcement by the Provincial Premier. From the Cornerstone Bookshop website:

In the document entitled, ‘Guidance on Essential Services and Functions in Canada During the COVID-19 Pandemic,’ it outlines that anyone who provides community mental health is permitted to keep its doors open. We provide spiritual help both in person and through the resources made available. The material we offer is also used by many spiritual leaders to educate, train and provide counsel for people dealing with anxiety, stress and fear. We also provide spiritual counsel on a day to day basis and recommend material that gives comfort, help and encouragement in difficult times.
For everyone’s  convenience, we are also offering curbside pick and delivery…

However, a Canadian Press news story by Tara Deschamps posted to CP24 on Saturday shows the publishing industry is fighting to have all bookstores considered essential.

Two of the Canadian literary industry’s biggest brands are calling on the Ontario government to designate bookstores as essential services – even as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

Retailer Indigo Books & Music Inc. and publisher Penguin Random House Canada both say bookstores should be allowed to remain open as COVID-19 restrictions are tightened because they provide resources that educate and contribute positively to communities coping with the pandemic…

…Penguin Random House Canada chief executive Kristin Cochrane echoed those statements in a letter she wrote to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, where she argued that the combination of low margins and high postal and distribution costs mean online sales are not a viable option for most bookstores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Online retailers alone do not have the supply chain capacity to service the book business in Ontario without severely underserving many readers and communities, as we saw during the first wave of the pandemic, when books were deprioritized,” she said.

“Nor can the books category be left in the hands of online retailers without serious impact on the reach of Canadian stories, authors, illustrators, and voices – and the long-standing vibrancy and diversity of our retail ecosystem.” …

continue reading here… 

The story also ran on Global News and the CBC.

A similar cry was heard across North America in the Spring when bookstores were shut down. Alex George opened a store in Missouri and wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Eighteen months ago, my business partner and I opened an independent bookshop in Columbia, Mo. The first few years of any business are difficult, especially in retail, and especially in the book industry, where margins are notoriously thin and your greatest competitor is the corporate incarnation of the Death Star…

…The order issued by my city contains 42 categories of business that are essential; enterprises permitted to stay open range from pharmacies to restaurants to hardware stores to dry cleaners — but bookshops are not on the list. North Carolina exempts bookstores “that sell educational material”…

…But bookshops should absolutely be deemed essential. Now more than ever, access to books is critical to our collective mental health. As our customers endure the coronavirus pandemic — and as many shelter in place — readers are finding solace, relief, entertainment, information, stimulation and escape inside the covers of books…

…Booksellers listen, and we guide. We put the right book into the right hands. This is a service we perform with joy. We perform it with gratitude and the utmost care. We can perform it, we’ve learned, even when our customers can’t browse our shelves. We can perform it safely.

The work we do is, in short, essential. All we ask is that we be permitted to do it, at a time when it is needed most

65 Years Ago: Post-War Bookstore

This is a picture from the website; the place to go should you wish to time travel to an era when the world was nothing but black-and-white.

This bookstore is from a collection of pictures of Dover Books in New York City.   To see the picture full size, click on the image.  (In original size, notice the religious books above the cards; and does the header say “Easter” cards?)

Here’s another shot of the same store.

Amazon Seeks Canadian Distribution Base

In what could prove to be the most significant story of the year for authors, publishers, distributors and retailers of all kinds of books, Amazon, which established a Canadian website in 2002, is now seeking to distribute its books from a Canadian warehouse.

This would appear to infringe on a longstanding Canadian position of “Cultural Sovereignty” designed to protect the book and music industry here.

Furthermore, if the government approves this, it would be somewhat powerless to stop Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-a-Million from establishing an overt retail presence in this country.

Years ago, when I worked for the company that later became known as The Master’s Collection, Pilgrim Records U.K. had a financial stake in Pilgrim Records Canada, which, when the government became aware of it, forced the company to jettison their British owner or shut down.   International companies trading here have had to establish Canadian identities, such as Random House of Canada or HarperCollins Canada.

Big box stores like Indigo and Chapters exist here because Barnes & Noble can’t travel north of the border; Chapter’s shopping-mall incarnation, Coles Bookstore, means that the company has a virtual monopoly when it comes to book retail chains.   Some have argued that breaking that monopoly would increase competition, but Coles has exclusive lease agreements with every major shopping mall in the nation, and one expects that Indigo or Chapters has negotiated similar security with the developers of big-box- and power-centres.

Today’s Globe and Mail spells out the issues involved in Amazon story: (These are selected paragraphs only in a very thorough and recommended story…)

Canada’s booksellers are urging Ottawa to block from building a distribution network in Canada, raising the stakes in a showdown over government restrictions on foreign control of the cultural industry.

The Canadian Booksellers Association says it wants Heritage Minister James Moore to reject Amazon’s plan to open a new business in Canada, which industry insiders say is aimed at boosting the company’s competitiveness and giving it more control of its book distribution here.

The booksellers association warned the Heritage Minister that allowing Amazon to operate here would contravene the Investment Canada Act, which requires that foreign investments in the book sector be compatible with national cultural policies and “of net benefit to Canada and the Canadian-controlled sector.”

The rising tension between Canadian booksellers and Amazon underlines the paradox in federal policy that allows Amazon to run a virtual business – – as long as it does not have a physical presence in the country.

For consumers, Amazon’s proposed new business could be a benefit if the e-tailer were to pass on operational savings to customers. The “fulfillment centre” it wants to launch is believed to be part of Amazon’s move to cut costs by moving shipping in-house. Currently, Amazon has a distribution deal with a Canada Post subsidiary.

In regulatory terms, the business is significant. If Canadian Heritage allows Amazon to proceed, critics claim Ottawa will set a dangerous precedent, opening the door to foreign ownership in a Canadian cultural industry.

If Amazon’s proposal is denied, the government will find itself in the difficult position of simultaneously saying Amazon’s business runs counter to Canadian cultural regulations, while allowing to continue functioning with few restrictions.

Either way, Ottawa’s final decision – coupled with its recent plan to possibly open the Canadian telecommunications sector to more foreign ownership – may herald a fundamental reshaping of Canadian foreign ownership and cultural protection regulation.

Though Canadian rules prevent book retailers from being foreign owned, some foreign companies are key in book retailing. U.S. chains such as Costco Wholesale play a big role in Canadian book merchandising, sidestepping the ownership rules since they aren’t squarely focused on book retailing.

Continue reading here…

Reuters Canada news service also reports on the story:

Efforts to pry open the culturally sensitive Canadian media industry to more foreign ownership took a new turn Monday when sought federal approval to start a new business in Canada.

The application to Heritage Canada, if approved by the Ottawa, would see the U.S. online retailer establish its own fulfillment business here after using Canada Post for product delivery since 2002 to serve a Canadian version of its U.S. website…

…Beyond book-selling, Canada also regulates foreign investment in the phone and broadcasting sectors, both of which face changing foreign ownership rules and landscapes as well. The conservative government last week signaled it would look to open the floodgates to more foreign investment in these areas.

In an earlier story in The Globe and Mail, the same reporters, Omar El Ekkad and Marina Strauss, provided this additional background:

“It’s full of contradictions,” said Carolyn Wood, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers. “It does highlight how the meaning of national borders is changing in a digital world.”

Ms. Wood said is subject to no restrictions. “It is essentially only a domain name,” she said. “There are no offices or warehouses. … They aren’t subject to any restrictions in terms of carrying Canadian content or anything else.”

When Amazon launched the Canadian version of its website in 2002, Canadian Heritage conducted a review of Ultimately, however, the department concluded that the Investment Canada Act didn’t apply to the website – thus allowing Amazon to enter the highly regulated Canadian bookselling industry. Canadian retail chain Indigo and the Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA) took the case to court, but to no avail.

The key argument that the Canadian Heritage review rested on was the fact that Amazon had no employees or offices in Canada. It currently has a Canada Post subsidiary handle its shipping in Canada, but that relationship was deemed a contractual relationship.

But the proposed establishment of Amazon Fulfillment Services Canada Inc. changes all that. Even though the new company likely has almost no impact on’s relationship with Canadian customers or the way the website’s front end operates, it does represent a physical business in Canada – that technicality prompted Canadian Heritage to revisit the 2002 issue.

Additional coverage in The Bookseller here and here.

Meanwhile, Amazon in the U.S. has other problems on its hands today, dealing with the issue of the vast number of websites and blogs that are part of its affiliate program.   These bloggers and online sellers provide additional presence and visibility for the company and sometimes the alternative sites create the illusion of competition, when in fact all Google searches lead back to Amazon.

The issue concerns affiliates in the state of Colorado and the collection of state sales tax on products Amazon ships in from out of state.   Rhode Island and North Carolina also have strict online sales tax laws, and affiliates there had to be cut of as well.   Read more about that issue in this Yahoo News report.