Chapters-Indigo versus Canadian publishers: a battle looms over the fate of CanLit

Chapters-Indigo versus Canadian publishers: a battle looms over the fate of CanLit

(Image: Alfred Ng, from the Flickr pool)

The publishing industry in this country has long maintained a precarious equilibrium thanks to a bewildering but effective set of regulations designed to protect Canadian books. If Chapters-Indigo gets its way, though, all that could change. At the moment, federal rules prevent foreign publishers from setting up shop in Canada but allow just the right amount of foreign investment to keep the whole shebang afloat. This year, those regulations are being reviewed, and experts worry that Stephen Harper doesn’t feel that books deserve the same “strategic resource” protection afforded to potash. 

An in-depth feature in last Friday’s Globe highlights concerns within the industry that the balance may be tipped in favour of big booksellers and publishers, to the detriment of CanLit. The most contentious issue is distribution rights. Major publishers in Canada depend on revenues from big-name foreign titles to pay for less profitable Canadian work. Chapters-Indigo objects, arguing that these rules give Canadian publishers an unfair advantage. The chain is pushing the feds to allow it to purchase titles directly from the States. Canadian publishers warn that such a move could devastate the industry.

Also at issue is bookstore ownership. Currently, booksellers must be Canadian-controlled, but the Indigo empire is pushing to have those regulations opened up to allow foreign investment. Concerns that this would damage the viability of Canadian independent booksellers—who arguably work the hardest promoting CanLit—are hard to ignore.

The feds are expected to announce a decision within the year. Stay tuned.

• Publishers worry that Ottawa will allow more access to foreign firms [Globe and Mail]