The Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) represents approximately 115 small-to-medium-size Canadian-owned and -controlled English-language book publishers across the country. This group publishes some 80% of the Canadian-authored titles in the book sector and routinely lobbies government and serves as an advocate for the industry overall. Kate Edwards, who has served as the organization’s executive director since 2015, spoke with PW via email about the way the organization has addressed the challenges of this past year.
What are the major issues and priorities for the ACP this year?
Supply chain issues, paper and printing shortages, and shipping delays remain realities publishers are navigating daily. “Normal” business has not resumed and pandemic recovery remains a high priority. It’s always challenging for independent companies to compete with the economies of scale enjoyed by larger houses, and the challenges related to Covid-19 are, of course, universal. But pandemic disruption has made these challenges more intense for the small- and medium-size companies ACP represents.
Challenges around discoverability have also been heightened through the pandemic, and competition with large multinational houses operating in Canada is becoming ever more fierce. ACP is watching the pending sale of Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann carefully, and estimates that a combined Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster would control more than 40% of the Canadian trade market. As of September 2021, the government of Canada has not announced its decision regarding this transaction under the Investment Canada Act’s Revised Policy in Book Publishing and Distribution.
ACP adopted a new strategic plan in the spring, which also reinforces the association’s commitment to supporting our members in areas related to social corporate responsibility. Initiatives around environmental sustainability and equity, diversity, and inclusion remain high on our collective agenda.
How have the ACP members fared overall during the pandemic?
2020 sales results were much better than publishers had forecast in the pandemic’s earliest days, but most companies still experienced a decline in 2020. Data collected by ACP shows that our members experienced a decline in year-over-year domestic print sales of close to 20%.
Though the decline was not as dramatic as originally anticipated, Canadian-owned publishers saw a greater decline in sales revenue than their multinational competitors. Overall, the Canadian book market rebounded nicely through the year; BookNet Canada’s tracked sales for the Canadian market in 2020 reflect an overall decline of 2.7% in units sold compared to 2019, though the same data set shows a decline of 15.5% among Canadian-owned companies. This speaks to the challenges small- and mid-sized companies are experiencing, and the unevenness of pandemic recovery for Canadian companies.
Have you seen success with any special programs in the past year?
Through 2020 ACP offered an emergency business consulting program for companies seeking timely advice to help 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 through existing program budgets. The program launched quickly, ran through early 2021, and was a great help to those trying to figure out what steps to take to keep publishing operations going through the crisis.
We were also successful in shifting our semiannual meetings and professional development seminars online. Though everyone misses the benefits of gathering in-person—informal conversations, networking, social time with colleagues—with travel and financial barriers removed we were able to offer timely programming to a much larger number of members than usual. For a national association, with members based in communities across Canada, this was a silver lining of the pandemic. Many companies were able to include more staff who might not otherwise be able to attend the in-person.
How has government support held up over the past year for ACP members? Do you anticipate more in the future?
Thankfully government funding through the Canada Book Fund and Canada Council for the Arts has been stable in the last year. Both agencies expedited the release of grants to publishers in the early days of the pandemic, which was incredibly valuable at a time of significant cash flow challenges. Additional emergency funding was also offered to assist with pandemic response, and recovery funding has been announced for 2021–2022 and 2022–2023. Publishers were also able to draw on universal programs offered by the federal government, including wage and rent subsidies, and emergency loans.
As of early September, we are in the midst of a very close federal election race. If reelected, the current Liberal government has committed additional funding to programs that support Canadian authors and book publishers, specifically an increase in funding through the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Public Lending Right Program by 50%. The Conservative party has committed to a review of book publishing policies. ACP will be watching the results of the September 20 election carefully and tailoring future advocacy work accordingly.
Do you have one or two priority challenges you want to address in the coming few months and into 2022?
In addition to the priorities already mentioned, copyright and fair remuneration for use of published works remains a key concern. The Canadian education sector’s arbitrary interpretations of fair dealing since 2012 have resulted in significant market damage, with more than C$150 million in licensing revenue alone, exacerbated by an unknown loss of primary book sales, being removed from the Canadian publishing sector during this time. A decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in the appeal of Access Copyright v. York University has not brought clarity to the act’s fair dealing provisions. Legislative reform is essential to creating the conditions that encourage investment in future Canadian-specific learning resources.
Covid-19 has further exposed longstanding weaknesses in the Copyright Act, while illustrating the importance of Canadian works to educators. Publishers were flooded with requests for new digital uses and formats to support distance learning, demonstrating the value of the content they create. The legal framework that should underpin our industry does not currently encourage publishers to invest in the digital content and infrastructure today’s education system demands. Finding solutions to this challenge, ideally in partnership with the education sector and bolstered by copyright, is critical.