Independent bookstores across Canada are reporting a very positive 2015, with many stores citing double-digit growth in the year. PW spoke to a number of indie bookstores across the country who cited boosts from the "buy local" movement, and said André Alexis’s Giller Prize winner, Fifteen Dogs, was one of their bestselling titles of the year.
Cathy Jesson, president of Black Bond Books with 11 locations across British Columbia, said sales were up 15% for the last quarter of 2015. In addition to Fifteen Dogs, her stores did very well with adult coloring books.
Munro’s Books in Victoria, B.C. was up by 3-4% last year, with strong sales from Fifteen Dogs, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and adult coloring books. Co-owner Ian Cochran believes the success many Canadian indies are seeing is due in part to being seen with a new sense of respect by publishers
“We went through a period where publishers really didn’t seem to care very much about us, because they had their other sources—they had Chapters-Indigo, they had Amazon, they had Costco—and that was where they were putting their energy,” Cochran explained. “But I think they’re finding there are a lot of titles they can’t get into those outlets, and independent stores are the only places that are going to stock these titles.”
Despite all the positivity, many stores said the delayed shipping times from HarperCollins’ new distributor R.R. Donnelley, in Indiana, remains a problem. Although wait times have improved marginally over the past few months, booksellers remain disappointed with the unpredictability of deliveries.
“When you’re competing with Amazon, who say they can get books in people's hands in ridiculous amounts of time, and we’re trying to source books from HarperCollins, it’s very difficult,” said Jesson. “It was hard to take, at times.”
Cochran at Munro's Books had the same problem, as did Another Story in Toronto. “I still don’t think they have that sorted out,” Cochran said. With the current situation, Cochran continued, "you really can’t rely on delivery from HarperCollins.”
Audrey’s Books in Edmonton, Alberta saw a “marginally better” 2015 than the previous year, according to co-owner Steve Budnarchuk. The fact that e-book sales have tapered off in Canada is, Badnarchuk said, reassuring. “That’s very satisfying to us, because we never expected [print books] would be abandoned altogether, but we thought we might be much more of a niche market than we are.”
Toronto bookstores Type Books and Another Story reported very strong sales, up 20% over 2014 at the latter. The jump was thanks, in part, to the store's agreement to become the official vendor for a number of local school boards.
Words Worth Books in nearby Waterloo, Ont., saw slightly lower sales for 2015 due to ongoing construction throughout the year. However, once the construction ended, co-owner David Worsley said November and December sales were up. “We’re hearing nothing but positive things from Canadian indies up here. I think most bookstores are feeling wind in their sails for the first time in about 10 years.”
Sales are also on the rise at Bookmark (with locations in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown, PE.I.). In addition to Fifteen Dogs and The Reason You Walk, Bookmark co-owner Dan MacDonald said some of his store's bestsellers included Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian, Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, and local titles like Emma FitzGerald’s art book Hand Drawn Halifax.
“The buy local movement is growing here, and the weaker Canadian dollar has brought more American tourists to [the area]." Believing that there's a renewed interest in buying physical books, MacDonald was upbeat about the future. “I think independent bookstores are making a comeback.”