Kate Edwards on the challenges of publishing
The Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) represents approximately 115 small and medium-sized English-language publishing houses owned and controlled by Canadians across the country. This group publishes about 80% of Canadian author titles in the book industry, regularly lobbies government and advocates for the industry as a whole. Kate Edwards, executive director of the organization since 2015, spoke with PW via email on how the organization has met the challenges of the past year.
What are the main challenges and priorities for the ACP this year?
Supply chain issues, paper and printing shortages, and shipping delays remain realities that publishers face on a daily basis. “Normal” activities have not resumed and recovery from a pandemic remains a high priority. It is always difficult for independent businesses to compete with the economies of scale that big houses enjoy, and the challenges of Covid-19 are, of course, universal. But the pandemic disruption has made these challenges more intense for the small and medium-sized businesses that the CPA represents.
The challenges of discoverability have also been heightened by the pandemic, and competition with large multinational corporations operating in Canada is increasingly fierce. ACP is closely monitoring the impending sale of Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann and estimates that a Penguin Random House-Simon & Schuster combination would control over 40% of the Canadian commercial market. As of September 2021, the Government of Canada had not announced its decision on this transaction under the revised Book Publishing and Distribution Policy of the Investment Canada Act.
The CPA adopted a new strategic plan in the spring, which also reinforces the association’s commitment to support our members in areas related to corporate social responsibility. Initiatives around environmental sustainability and equity, diversity and inclusion remain at the top of our collective agenda.
How have ACP members generally behaved during the pandemic?
Sales results for 2020 were much better than publishers expected at the start of the pandemic, but most businesses saw a decline again in 2020. Data collected by ACP shows our members have experienced a decline year-on-year national print sales of nearly 20%.
Although the decline was not as dramatic as initially expected, Canadian-owned publishers saw their sales revenues decline more than their multinational competitors. Overall, the Canadian book market rebounded well during the year; BookNet Canada’s sales tracked for the Canadian market in 2020 reflects an overall decline of 2.7% in units sold from 2019, although the same data set shows a decline of 15.5% among companies owned by companies. Canadian interests. This speaks to the challenges facing small and medium-sized businesses and the uneven pandemic recovery for Canadian businesses.
Have you had success with any special programs in the past year?
Until 2020, ACP offered an Emergency Business Advisory Program for companies seeking timely advice to help them navigate the Covid-19 crisis. A roster of experienced publishing consultants and industry veterans were recruited to support us in this initiative, which we were able to fund from existing program budgets. The program was launched quickly, ran until early 2021, and was of great help to those trying to determine what steps to take to maintain publishing operations during the crisis.
We have also been successful in bringing our biannual meetings and professional development seminars online. While not everyone enjoys the benefits of meeting in person (informal conversations, networking, social time with colleagues) with travel and financial barriers removed, we were able to deliver timely programming to many. more members than usual. For a national association, with members based in communities across Canada, this was a silver lining for the pandemic. Many companies were able to include more staff who otherwise might not have been able to attend the meeting in person.
How has government support maintained over the past year for ACP members? Do you anticipate more in the future?
Fortunately, government funding through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts has remained stable over the past year. The two agencies accelerated the release of grants to publishers at the start of the pandemic, which was incredibly valuable at a time of significant cash flow problems. Additional emergency funding has also been offered to help with the pandemic response, and recovery funding has been announced for 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. Publishers have also been able to take advantage of universal programs offered by the federal government, including wage and rental subsidies and emergency loans.
At the start of September, we are in the middle of a very close federal election race. If re-elected, the current Liberal government has committed additional funds for programs that support Canadian authors and publishers of books, in particular a 50% increase in funding through the Canada Book Fund, the Council of the Arts of Canada and the Public Lending Right Program. The Conservative Party is committed to reviewing book publishing policies. ACP will closely monitor the results of the September 20 elections and adapt future advocacy work accordingly.
Do you have one or two priority challenges to overcome in the coming months and in 2022?
In addition to the priorities already mentioned, copyright and fair remuneration for the use of published works remain a major concern. Arbitrary interpretations of fair dealing by the Canadian education sector since 2012 have caused significant market damage, with over C $ 150 million in licensing revenue alone exacerbated by an unknown loss in sales of primary books, being withdrawn from the Canadian publishing sector during this period. A decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the appeal of Access Copyright c. York University did not clarify the provisions of the law on fair use. Legislative reform is essential to create the conditions that encourage investment in future learning resources unique to Canada.
Covid-19 has highlighted long-standing weaknesses in the Copyright Act, while illustrating the importance of Canadian works to educators. Publishers have been inundated with demands for new digital uses and formats to support distance education, demonstrating the value of the content they create. The legal framework that should underpin our industry currently does not encourage publishers to invest in the digital content and infrastructure that today’s education system demands. Finding solutions to this challenge, ideally in partnership with the education sector and supported by copyright, is essential.
Return to main publication in Canada 2021
A version of this article appeared in the 9/27/2021 issue of Editors Weekly under the title: weather the storm