Posts Tagged ‘Canadian publishing’

How IVP is Losing the Canadian Market

I’ve repeatedly used this space to make the case for Canada to be considered part of the foreign book market and not an annex to the U.S. consumer market. In Christian publishing we have many key publishers lined up on both sides of this equation: Baker, B&H, Thomas Nelson, and Zondervan providing customers here with International Trade Paper Editions (ITPEs) and imprints such as FaithWords, Howard, Waterbrook following the lead of their U.S. parents and refusing to do so.

Years ago, I had an opportunity to spend 45 minutes in phone conversation with an executive at Hachette in New York and made the case to experiment with a single Joyce Meyer title and compare the sales results in Canada to the combined sales of the first edition hardcover and the Trade Paper Conversion (TPC) a year later. They declined.

But with InterVarsity Press, aka IVP, Canadian retailers and consumers alike are presented with a new challenge: A ministry-centered, non-profit publisher who has historically published in paperback now issuing its wares solely in clothbound, without even the thought of a TPC after one year.

As someone who worked for IVP in Canada in both their Leslie Street and Dennison Avenue locations, it’s hard for me to watch this publisher losing sales in stores such as yours and mine, but the bottom line is that the Canadian customer is a hybrid of the American consumer and the British consumer, but ultimately far more price conscious than any of them.

When Tish Harrison’s Liturgy of the Ordinary became the unwitting target of a book counterfeiting scheme I thought that the special-edition hardcover was a nice gesture on IVP’s part, only to realize that the paperback was off the market for the foreseeable future. Her new Prayer in the Night is also hardback only. (Author royalties are based, in theory, on US MSRP, though deals with volume sellers are often structured differently.)

I was looking forward to getting behind Philip Yancey’s 2019 update of Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (originally Zondervan) but at $33.50 CDN, couldn’t discount it to where my core customers would opt in.

With backlist, I made the mistake of promising my customers that James K.A. Smith’s books, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community would eventually appear in softcover, but it never happened. Church members found it easier to simply drop out of a book group planning their next study title than to pay the money, especially since the group was doing two of Smith’s three titles in the series.

The first book in the series was released last September in an anniversary edition at $42. Yikes! Americans must have lots and lots of money to spend on books. Either that or there is a strategy involving setting MSRPs ridiculously high so that deals can be made with certain online vendors (one of which shall remain nameless) in order to offer deep discounts through their channels.

True, Os Guinness’ re-issue of Dust of Death is a paperback, but as part of the IVP Signature Collection it’s still around $32 CDN.

And don’t expect a deal on Sharon Garlough Brown’s 4-book series. It’s also paperback but already at the top of the pricing pile for Christian fiction already with no discount at all for the box set, which clocks in at a hefty $97 CDN.

I also had to disappoint a customer this week who was looking for Eugene Peterson’s classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It’s another $32 CDN hardcover, though some relief has been promised for late May, 2021.

There are a number of IVP titles forthcoming in paperback. It’s not like they’ve abandoned the format altogether. But don’t ever look for IVP Super-Savers, don’t look for a budget line or pocket editions (in North America at least), and don’t look for deeper discounts from Anchor Distributing. It never happens with IVP as it does with Baker, Zondervan, FaithWords, Rose Publishing, Charisma, Barbour, Good Books, or Hendrickson; just to name the publishers featured this month.

Finally, if you’re in my line of work, don’t look for review copies. I paid for Gordon T. Smith’s book and Michael Card’s latest out of my own pocket, and wanted to read Misreading Scripture but ended up returning it to the store when the money ran out. 

So for retailers and reviewers there isn’t a win. I’m not implying that IVP simply is pocketing huge volumes of cash. If things haven’t changed since I was there, IVP staff workers receive free copies of new titles. (I still have my copies of Dust of Death by Guinness, Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Golden Cow by John White and many others.)

First Edition hardcover books have a certain prestige to them, but Christian customers here in Canada don’t want them. (In 25 years, I’ve had only two customers who weren’t church librarians express a preference for them.) Even when remainders end up at less than the paperback price, they don’t have the same status with Canadian customers who pass on them more times than not.

Bottom line: It’s time for IVP to adopt a Canada-included ITPE paradigm before they lose the Canadian support base they currently enjoy.



Canadian Author Anthology Wins Award

The Christian Small Publishers Associaton has recognized That’s Life Communications‘ various authors title, A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider, which topped the Gift Book category.

You can read a complete list of winners in all twelve categories.

Many of the winners are part of The Word Guild, an association of Canadian Christian authors.

Key Porter Layoffs Underscore Canadian Publishing Challenges

Canada is a country which lives perpetually in the cultural shadow of its southern neighbor.   Yes, you could add political shadow, or economic shadow to that, but at the level experienced by the common man — movies, television and a book or two — our entertainment agenda is set by execs in New York,  Nashville or Los Angeles; not Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.

Fortunately for the publishing sector, there are homegrown opportunities which come along as the result of being part of the Canadian conduit for that U.S. culture.     So we see that HarperCollins Canada has its own Canadian imprint as does Penguin Canada.

But what happens if much of the revenue generated by that distribution is removed, as it was with H. B. Fenn a couple of years ago when it lost 35% of its revenues after Hachette Book Group decided to run their own distribution cross-border?

What happens is what happened this week:  The Canadian publishing imprint suffers the consequences.    So while Key Porter Books is not a name known to most readers of this Christian book blog, the layoff of two-thirds of its staff and the closing of its Toronto office is an example of how indigenous publishing here in the Great White North can’t survive without either a boost from government, or from association with the larger, American industry.

Still, it raises the question of similar alliances in the Christian publishing industry.    We have three dominant players right now,  David C. Cook, Foundation Distributing, and Augsburg Fortress Canada.   While each of these is committed to the ideal of promoting Canadian writers, and each goes out of its way to highlight Canadian authors appearing on the frontlists of their U.S. distributed publishers; it’s hard to imagine any of them being able to do much more; although Augsburg’s longtime association with Castle Quay Books must be noted.

Distribution is occasionally an option through DCC and FDI if you’ve got finished product; but undertaking to have an acquisitions department, editors, and Canadian product marketing people; not to mention bearing the costs of initial print runs is simply not likely.    Realistically, if the book is that good that it justifies the investment; it’s going to surface with an American imprint.

(No wonder then that, when working in the offices of a major Canadian music distributor, I was encouraged to respond to all inquiries with, “Secure your U.S. deal first, and then the product will fall into our hands naturally.”)

Word Alive, a small western-Canada distributor is making inroads with its Word Alive Press division, but its distribution tends to be limited to books which are Charismatic/Pentecostal in doctrine.   Some of its committments to those titles are no greater than that of a self-publisher, and a few of the titles fail to appear on the company’s primary trade website.  Generally, the more a company focuses on Canadian titles, the greater the odds that it doesn’t have much in U.S.-originated product to really sell.

But the examples of Penguin Canada and HarperCollins Canada serve as a reminder that if companies distributing U.S. lines don’t get involved with Canadian authors, who will?   Is this a case of noblesse oblige?   On the other hand, if too many of those U.S. publishers suddenly seek alternative Canadian distribution, as in the Hachette case, the bottom may fall out of the Canadian imprint’s editorial department, as happened with Key Porter.

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.