canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Report from BookExpo 2007

by Janine Armin

Around 340 publishers and 2500 retailers attended BookExpo Canada in Toronto from June 8-11, 2007, where independent booksellers’ struggle to maintain business in a digitized era was the focus at seminars.

In conjunction with the expo, the Canadian Bookseller’s Association presented its annual industry-nominated Libris awards: Stephen King received a lifetime achievement award, Ami Mackay won author of the year and her novel The Birth House was picked for best book. David Suzuki returned to the public eye winning best non-fiction book for his autobiography. Best publisher and best small press went to the obvious two: Anansi and Coach House, respectively. Anansi got an extra boon, with Lynn Henry taking home the best editor award.

In a conference on digitization and the future of Canadian Bookselling, Michael Tamblyn, CEO of BookNet Canada, suggested ways to get customers into stores. In 1998, the big stores offered more inventory, after which the online surge pushed stores out of business. Though counterintuitive, Tamblyn urged bookstores to resist competing with Amazon, as the experience of delay only frustrates readers.

Tamblyn spoke on ways for bookstores to circumvent attraction to e-books, asking booksellers to act ‘not as stockkeeper[s], but as curator[s].’ The saving grace of the independents is the creation of ‘physical environments people want to be in,’ he said. For now, e-book technology is still riddled with kinks; ‘not all frontlist is available… and a lot of it has to do with how e-book publishers perceive their audience,’ and if reading devices are switched, books need to be re-purchased.

So what will save the bookstores? American Bookseller’s Association president Avin Domnitz would have said handselling, if he had been able to make it to his seminar on the topic. ‘Handselling is the first line of defense,’ said Tamblyn.

Other presenters remarked on perks for employees to sell books, like free readers’ copies.

Events help too. Booked!, a reading series accompanying the expo, featured notables like Jean Chrétien, Naomi Klein and Christopher HItchens. Top booksellers got together to discuss creating Killer Events. Tisha Siemens of Words Worth Books talked about her One Book One Community Project, which solicits funds from the publisher of one book, and promotes it with excursions throughout the community of the writer.

As for next year, event coordinator Dahlia De Rushe says they’re still in the process of getting feedback from publishers and retailers. Hopefully the information will be used to arm booksellers against any further alienating maneuvers that seem to accompany so many advancements in book technology.

Janine Armin’s work appears in Bookforum and The Globe and Mail.







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