Thursday, 31 May 2018

We Want More Canadian Books!

Melody (Lyu) Chang at Waverly Park on Saturday getting a free book.
(Cover slightly altered) 
     In Canada the cost of putting a Canadian children’s book author’s work into the hands of a Canadian child is anywhere between fifty to seventy dollars per book. This is the result of a bizarre situation that has developed over the years creating a reality that few know exist or seem willing to deal with. It would cost us much less to simply give Canadian children books for free.
     Regarding books, the two most important groups of people are the books’ creators and the books’ readers. Everyone else is a middleman who are either helping us to connect or getting in our way. 
    Publishers and funding agencies will argue that they are doing their best with the current situation, but it is one that pays their salaries. If their primary job is to aid both the creative people and their audience they would be open to what needs to be changed.
     Last October I spoke on the phone with Gail Winskill of Pajama Press. Gail had written an email to me apologizing on behalf of Canadian publishers for the treatment of many authors and illustrators after she had read my blog post about the troubles I had with my former publisher. Gail was sick in bed when I called and we had a conversation about the reality of the industry in Canada. 
     Pajama Press used to regularly sell in Canada seven thousand copies of a new book. Today they sell only about seven hundred in Canada and typically five thousand copies in the U.S. “If it weren’t for the Americans,” said Gail, “I’d be sunk.”
    In other words, our funding agencies are subsidizing Canadian books sold to Americans, which increases the cost of producing a book for every book a Canadian child receives. 
     Fifteen years ago a Canadian publisher could be guaranteed to sell a few thousand books to school libraries across the country. Librarians were instrumental in ordering Canadian children’s books for their schools. The federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper gutted school librarians and consolidated other libraries across the country with the argument that digital technology was changing everything. 
     Sadly, Doug Ford has already talked about closing more libraries. This despite books making a huge comeback. The love of e-readers and the zeal in digitizing everything has waned dramatically. Turns out that print is still a superior technology in many ways.
    Canadian money also vacates the country when books are printed in China or the United States. The paper for a book printed in Canada often comes from elsewhere, primarily the United States, and the cost jumps due to the exchange rate.
     Cost of shipping in Canada is prohibitive. Books make a grand circuitous route from the printer in China to a warehouse in Canada. Books are then shipped to Indigo across the country and back again to the warehouse for books that don’t sell. Publishers pay for their books’ return adding up to thirty-five percent of the retail cost of a book. Storage fees are paid and an incredible number of books that don’t sell are simply destroyed. There’s a cost for that too. 
Related Article: Con-Artists in the Canadian Publishing World
     The list of troubles goes on. Here’s one solution: cut out the publisher. 
     Select through a jury process an author like me and give me one hundred and thirty thousand dollars, all to print ten hardcover books, three thousand copies of each. This could be done over a five year period. 
     Of those ten books I will give a thousand copies of each to children for free. The rest of the books I will sell wherever I like to earn my money. That’s a total of ten thousand books given away to children for free costing the funding agency, or private company, only thirteen dollars per hardcover book. Find a way to get Canadian printing companies to compete for this money and the printing costs will drop and the money will be spent in Canada.With a little imagination we could get hundreds of thousands of Canadian children reading books by thousands of Canadian writers and illustrators and save ton of money in the process.

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