In 2016, a group of independent Canadian trade publishers – Errol Sharpe of Fernwood Publishing, Jeff Miller of Irwin Law, Steve Izma of Between the Lines, and James Lorimer of James Lorimer & Co – started working on a collaborative project to address the drastic decline we had experienced in revenues from universities using our books in courses. We decided to work on a market innovation: a digital platform where professors could search for chapters in books to use for student reading and then arrange for copies of these chapters to be purchased by bookstores for resale to students in a coursepack format. Our project amounted to building a new piece of digital infrastructure to support the awareness, promotion, and sale of Canadian-authored books to a specific group of readers.
As publishers, we have been noticing for some time that something is wrong with the state of books in Canada. We have experienced the declining impact of new books we publish: fewer people seem to know about them, and fewer people read them. Because we all have had decades of experience in publishing, going back to the tremendous burst of writing and publishing that happened in the 1960s and 1970s, we were applying a long perspective to the experience of the past few years.
We all had ideas about why this decline has been happening, but our understanding was anecdotal and specific to our personal experience and individual publishing houses. We felt that the problem was one that required a new approach, and we decided to initiate a volunteer think tank to address it. A steering committee of three publishers – Jeff Miller, James Lorimer, and Philip Cercone (of McGill-Queen’s University Press) – took on the task of organizing this think tank initiative.
As a group, we wanted to get a much deeper understanding of the market and the infrastructures that operate in the book trade in English Canada today. We decided to focus on some key channels for awareness and reading: independent bookstores, school classrooms and libraries; public libraries; university libraries, classrooms and bookstores; and awareness channels – specifically CBC Radio, CBC Digital, and the major professional book reviewing publications. The group of eight volunteer publishers spent a day together with three or four experienced professionals drawn from each of these sectors. We undertook a detailed exploration of the current operation of these channels, focusing on how they handle Canadian-authored books. We also sought ideas for interventions that could effectively generate higher levels of awareness and reading of Canadian books.
The More Canada Report aimed to share the understanding that emerged from our background experience, the research documents we compiled, and the discussions of the think tank sessions regarding the operation of each of these distribution and awareness channels.
The More Canada report was offered as a first step toward action in every sector of the book supply chain, to new projects, the development of new infrastructure, new initiatives, and new government policies and programs. Since then, the More Canada think tank has continued to foster discussion of important issues faced by the English-Canadian book chain, ranging from industry succession to COVID-19. We continue to produce discussion papers and promote sector-wide solutions, all with the aim of boosting Canadian purchase and awareness of Canadian books.