Canada Is Gearing Up for Frankfurt Book Fair 2020

An insight into the current state of the Canadian book market and its preparation for the 2020 Guest of Honour presentation at the Frankfurt Book Fair

By Giulia Trentacosti — Article first published in July 2017

As part of our Publishing Industry Insight Series, this month we are taking a closer look at Canada’s book industry, focusing especially on the country’s future participation as Guest of Honour at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair. The occasion will mark the first major international project jointly run by English-language and French-language stakeholders, and will also include representatives of the Indigenous peoples. The project is part of a wider strategy intended to increase the international visibility of Canadian publishers and authors, and aims mainly at expanding Canada’s export channels and rights sales. The appointed organizing committee, Canada FBM2020, is formed by representatives of both English-language and French-language publishing associations – Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) and Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL) – and relies on the support of a number of key industry organizations such export agencies Livres Canada Books and Québec Edition.

Some figures about publishing in Canada:
  • Ontario and Quebec are by far the most active regions, accounting for over 93.3% of annual revenues in 2014;
  • Consumer research shows that 52% of Canadians buy their books in brick-and mortar shops, while 45% buy them online;
  • The most popular format is the paperback (preferred by 55% of readers), followed by hardcovers (25%), e-books (17%) and lastly audiobooks (2%);
  • For 64% of Canadian publishers digital sales account for 1-10% of revenues, while for 18% of them e-books represent between 11-20% of revenues. For more detailed info on the state of the digital market see here;
  • The ration of foreign-owned multinationals compared to Canadian-owned companies is 30.2% to 69.8%.[Sources: Stat CanadaOntario Media Development Corporation & Book Net Canada]

Although, most of the largest publishing conglomerates (including Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Hachette) still retain operations in Canada, over the last decades the Canadian Government has been fostering the growth of Canadian-owned publishing companies, while also intervening to regulate foreign investments through the Investment Canada Act. This sort of “nationalist” policy has encouraged the growth of locally-owned companies, which are now estimated to be around 1,500 (3x more than 25 years ago) and which are responsible for approximately 80% of the national publishing output.

Frankfurt Book FairThe government’s effort to strengthen the national publishing sector is not limited to regulating foreign-ownership, but also to financially supporting and promoting local authors. At the federal level, publishers and authors have access to a variety of funding schemes, including the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as various others regional subsidies.

To find out more about Canada’s Guest of Honour presentation for the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair and about the general state of the publishing industry we interviewed Gillian Fizet, Executive Director of the Canada FBM2020 Committee.

Giulia: Canada is going to be the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2020. Can you anticipate something about the presentation? What are the main objectives of your participation?

Gillian: Since taking on the role of Executive Director of CANADA FBM2020, the non-profit entity tasked with managing, on behalf of the Canadian book industry, in French and in English, the Canada as Guest of Honour (GoH) program at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair, my interactions with members of the Canadian publishing industry have highlighted just how much this project excites and interests our colleagues. The support for the project is indeed widespread, coast to coast.

Our main objectives consist of raising Canada’s profile on the international publishing scene, increasing export sales into Germany and elsewhere in the lead up to 2020 and beyond (we’ve set a target of 200 titles to be translated into German by 2020), and providing publishers with the tools and resources required to enter the international market for the first time.

A number of activities are planned for the coming two years, including:

  • Development of a translation support program for translation of books to German, in partnership with our federal funding partners;
  • Design and production of translation Catalogue of Canadian-authored titles to launch in time for the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF);
  • Release of a Literary Profile of Canada, a marketing tool to inform and promote potential partners about Canada’s diverse publishing landscape, in time for FBF 2017;
  • Consultation sessions between publishers and German market consultant to educate Canadians on the German market and advise them on which titles to push forward;
  • Planning of a Fellowship of German editors to Canada;
  • Planning of a Fellowship of Canadian editors to Germany;
  • Organizing a delegation of Canadian authors to attend and participate in the goh program in 2020
  • Organizing a vibrant and dynamic program showcasing Canada’s literary and cultural talent throughout Germany in 2020
  • Professional development and networking opportunities for participating to strengthen business efforts and opportunities in the lead of to FBF 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair
Giulia: What would you say are the main challenges and the main opportunities for Canadian publishers at the moment?

Gillian: The changing Canadian retail landscape is a constant challenge for Canadian publishers. With the presence of fewer and fewer major chain book stores and the ongoing closure of independent booksellers, and not to mention the distribution of American and French titles into the Canadian marketplace, it’s a tough playing field for Canadian publishers. Changes to the copyright law in 2012 have also greatly impacted the industry, resulting in significant loss of licensing revenue for publishers selling into the educational market.

These challenges are encouraging more and more publishers to turn their efforts towards export initiatives — whether it’s establishing direct sales channels for the distribution of finished books into the U.S., U.K., France and other francophone regions in the world, or selling foreign rights. The eBook market continues to be robust and healthy, and many publishers are seeing opportunities in the audiobooks market.

Giulia: In what ways does the government support the industry?

Gillian: We do not have fixed book pricing in Canada. Except for one province, there is no provincial or territorial sales tax on books. Canadian-owned publishers have access to complimentary funding programs from various levels of government and arms-length agencies, who support operational, marketing, export, digital and professional activities.

Giulia: Are Canadian authors successful abroad in terms of rights sales?

Gillian: Books are the second largest Canadian cultural export behind film and video, and represent approximately 20% of all cultural goods exported. That said, it is widely agreed that there remains greater opportunity to increase the number of Canadian-authored works being sold abroad. Providing publishers with the tools and resources to build international business relationships, ensuring greater discoverability of Canadian books, and building market intelligence, are some of the key initiatives being taken on to expand rights sales of Canadian-authored titles.

Giulia: What about export to other French-speaking and English-speaking markets?

Gillian: For Canadian French-language publishers, France is the largest market and accounts for the majority of export sales. For English-language publishers, the U.S. is hands-down the largest market, and accounts for the majority of export sales, with the UK and Australia not far behind.

Giulia: What is the role of literary agents in Canada? Would you say that they have the same importance as in the US?

Gillian: Canadian literary agents are an important component of the English-language Canadian publishing industry. They not only play a role in discovering and representing home-grown Canadian-talent, but also contribute on the international rights front. Early this year, thirty-eight Canadian literary agents from 13 agencies announced the formation of the Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents (PACLA), whose aim is to advocate for authors, and also to provide professional development and standards of practice for agents. There are however, very few French-Canadian literary agents representing French-language authors.

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