Facing financial and other pressures, the Canadian Booksellers Association voted October 18 to become a division of the Retail Council of Canada, which CBA has been affiliated with since 2009. Although some members such as Heather Kuipers, owner of Ella Minnow. the Toronto children’s bookstore, were interested in exploring other alternatives, there wasn’t enough time. Nobody wanted the booksellers’ association to disappear, Kuipers said, so the vote to merge was overwhelming.
Details of how CBA will dismantle its board and then operate within the retail council are still being discussed with members, said CBA president Mark Leslie Lefebvre, but he outlined initial plans to PW. CBA’s members will be part of the retail council’s MyStore, an initiative launching in January that will represent independent retailers selling various products. Booksellers will have a representative on the MyStore board. Lefebvre added that each retailer has a vote within the RCC, which means that one independent bookstore will have the same vote as a big department store chain.
The CBA will have an afterlife within the council, likely in the form of something like a steering committee, which can work on issues and programs specific to booksellers, said Lefebvre. He noted that the CBA’s approximately 300 members will now be able to add their voice to that of about 300 other booksellers who were already part of RCC, but not members of CBA, making it the largest group of booksellers in Canada.
In recent years, Lefebvre said, the board had been so busy with organizational issues, including “a membership that was not as vigorous as it used to be,” that it had not been able to focus on its priorities. He said the CBA likely would have ceased to exist two years ago if it hadn’t made the move to be an affiliate of the retail council. Joining RCC will allow the bookseller representatives to “get back to doing what we do best: fighting for members and working with publisher partners, rather than worrying about the state of operations,” he said.
Lefebvre mentioned the CBA’s “Independents Matter” national campaign to promote shopping locally at independently owned stores as an example of the kind of work he wants to devote more attention to. He added that it’s the kind of campaign that might benefit from connections with other RCC members—independent bookstores and coffee shops could do cross-promotions, for example.
One flaw in CBA’s affiliation with RCC in the past has been that RCC has always held its annual national conference at the same time as BookExpo America. That meant that when CBA combined its national conference with RCC’s for the first time in June 2012, both publisher and bookseller attendance was low. Lefebvre said that the RCC is accommodating booksellers by changing the date of its conference.
It remains to be seen if booksellers who left CBA because they were unhappy with the decision to affiliate with RCC will return to the organization. “We’re quite fragmented right now,” said Lee Trentadue, owner of Galiano Island Books in British Columbia. Trentadue was the CBA’s vice president and had been elected president, but she resigned before taking the position about a year ago. While Trentadue is still a member of CBA, one of the major reasons she said she resigned from the board was her concern about the CBA’s affiliation with the retail council.
“There’s been a lot of dissatisfaction among the booksellers that I know about the association so far working with RCC,” she said. “They haven’t seen any improvement at all in terms of successful lobbying with government on really important issues to do with Canadian culture and Canadian bookselling. There’s been no strong voice.” Booksellers were particularly unhappy when the federal government agreed to allow Amazon, as a foreign-owned company, to set up physical distribution centers in Canada.
Kuipers said she shares some of Trentadue’s concerns, but that maintaining a network of indie booksellers was too important. “To me, being collegial and being with my fellow booksellers is really important, so if it seems clear that people want to do that, I’m willing to give it a try,” she said.