Every minute, a title is added—5150 rue des Ormes, I Hate Hockey, L’envers de l’assiette, À fleur de peau; every hour, a new author is categorized—Patrick Senécal, François Barcelo, Laure Waridel, Martine Latulippe; every day, a new publisher signs on—Alire, Baraka Books, Écosociété, Québec Amérique. The clock never stops ticking, the megabytes fill the cybernetic void. The e-book warehouse club is jumping.
Welcome to L’Entrepôt du livre numérique (vitrine.entrepotnumerique.com), a digital, state-of-the-art warehouse that stretches as far as the finger can scroll. L’Entrepôt du livre numérique (literally, the Digital Book Warehouse) is a brave new world where e-books are available in .pdf and .epub formats. It provides Quebec content to local online booksellers as well as corporate players.
Ginette Péloquin, an e-book specialist at the ANEL, says that the creation of L’Entrepôt du livre numérique came out of publishers’ common desire to be ahead of the digital book revolution curve.
Working within a small French-speaking population lost in a swarm of North American English and Spanish and other languages (in North American, the ratio is 50:1 against French speakers), French-language entrepreneurs simply cannot afford to ignore the coming changes. It’s a question of economic survival or “a business opportunity,” says Marc Boutet, president and CEO of De Marque, the company that engineered L’Entrepôt du livre numérique. “We’ve always considered the whole of the French-speaking countries as a business opportunity.”
Boutet, 37 years old, is a self-taught homegrown computer prodigy. A child of the information revolution, he has been at the helm of De Marque for the past 22 years. At the tender age of 15, he became one of Canada’s youngest businessmen to receive an entrepreneurship award. Considered to be one of the builders of the Canadian multimedia industry, Boutet met with ANEL’s publishers and immediately saw a cultural and business opportunity.
“Since 2008, when the members of the ANEL first decided to create this common platform,” says Boutet, “we have published nearly 10,000 e-books and sold 185,000 publications. Between C$100,000 and C$200,000 worth of e-books are sold every month. Right now, we are seeing spectacular growth that is three to four times what it was last year.”
“It’s very exciting,” says Martin Balthazar, v-p at Groupe Ville-Marie, part of the Quebecor Media communications group. “The only thing missing in the Québec market is the user-friendly, one-click shopping that Apple or Amazon provides.”
Québec may not have that online boutique experience yet, but thanks to De Marque and the innovating publishers of the ANEL, the Québec market has one of the most trusted digital warehouses for e-books on the planet. “What makes L’Entrepôt du livre numérique so desirable as a platform is its extreme reliability, with hundreds of parameters—anything from the author’s name to international rights acquisitions—that need to be catalogued for each e-book. Last year, we had a 99.9993% reliability,” Boutet proudly says. “In Italy, they analyzed 21 technologies from all over the world, benchmarking them in extensive tests, and they chose us.”
According to Ginette Péloquin, “Québec is definitely at the forefront of e-book warehousing technologies. France’s Eden and Italy’s Edigita are clones of the Québec model. And there is even interest coming from the United States, where e-book technologies abound.”
The chorus of voices sounding off from associations, publishers, writers, and tech companies all seem to converge in Québec. There is a sense that even if they are competitors vying for a share in what could best be described as a niche market of just nine million French-language consumers (Québec and French-speaking Canada), these key players all know that they are in the same boat and on the same page, pun intended.
Quebecor Media may well be Québec’s largest print producer and supplier, owning some of the biggest publishers, distributors, and book retailers, but its attitude toward the market is not one you would expect from a communications multinational. “In 2015, it is estimated that one out of every two books sold or borrowed in the United States will be digital,” says Balthazar at Groupe Ville-Marie, part of Quebecor. “We aren’t following this course in Québec because we aren’t ready to deal exclusively with the major players that would have a multiplying effect on sales. In Québec we have a very complex market and we must protect the key players of our book supply chain.”
Indeed, Québec took dramatic steps in 1979 by passing Bill 51, which ensured local ownership of each part of the book supply chain (publishers, distributors, retailers). Again, there is a sense that Québec publishers have built something special over the past 30 years, that the strategy for developing e-books doesn’t emanate from a corporate boardroom; rather, it comes from the shared vision of wanting to shape the culture as well as the economy and to retain a certain Québec flair. Péloquin from the ANEL notes that when L’Entrepôt du livre numérique came about, publishers sought public funding from the SODEC and the Canada Book Fund from Canadian Heritage in order to capitalize the project. “The SODEC supports the book supply chain as a whole,” says François Macerola, president of the SODEC. “It is an ecosystem whose balance must be preserved for paper books as well as e-books. The SODEC offers financial aid programs and also developed a special fund for the digitalization of.”
Many pundits believe that this public-private innovation established within Québec’s traditional book and e-book markets stems from the French-language barrier that isolates these publishers. “There is a kind of protectionism here,” says Martin Balthazar. “Québecers know they will benefit by choosing a model that corresponds to their smaller reality.”
“Paradoxically, by instigating mechanisms that protect our industry, we opened ourselves up to the world,” says Péloquin.