Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Selling in Canada

We’re spanning the globe this week. Today, we look at Canada via an article in the Globe and Mail. On the surface, things appear good in our neighbor to the North.
Canadian book sales are up, according to BookNet, which tracks them in approximately 75 per cent of our market. In New York and London, lists and imprints have been trimmed or eliminated and there have been layoffs, but Canadian publishers are not cutting back their lists and staff.
Dig deeper, though, and you find that while book sales are up in Canada, the books that are selling are primarily American-authored books.
Canadian bookstore and library shelves are filled by approximately 80-per-cent foreign-authored and -published books. These are promoted by U.S. television programs and magazines such as 60 Minutes and People, which have, respectively, more viewers in Canada than The Fifth Estate and more readers than Maclean's. Canadian books occupy some 20 per cent of shelf space.
It’s not all caused by American TV and print ads, though.
Even without the benefit of the U.S. taste-setting machinery, certain popular American authors sell 6,000 to 8,000 copies a week in the first months of their release here; the average Canadian book will sell no more than 1,500 copies in its short and brutal life.
The real problem, according to some, is the pervasiveness of the American culture in Canada.
It's the simple fact that our English-language media is dominated by U.S. and British culture.
When the work of Edgar Allen Poe is taught in schools, students learn to read American Gothic horror. As adults, they have a taste for Stephen King, Poe's heir.
It is natural to think of the United States and England as producing better writers than Canada not because that's true (it isn't), but because it's taught and reinforced every day by media that don't review Canadian books in significant numbers, don't interview Canadian authors and prefer the easy bad-news aspects of a story to serious investigation.


  1. Well Helen I can tell you, speaking from Botswana, it isn't any better here. People buy foreign writers, primarily American and UK. The only hope for us Batswana writers is the school market or getting a book deal overseas. At the big bookstores here, Batswana writers get delegated to the far corner behind the huge display of Alexander McCall Smith, the spider webs and the mouse poop. If we sell five books it means our readers deserve medals for bravery.

    I'm shocked at that 1500 copies sold by Canadian writers- that's sad. We only have a population of 1.6 million and do I know a writer here who sold more than that outside the school market so maybe that is a bit of a bright spot. She has an interesting marketing plan though.

  2. Thank you so much Lauri for telling us your experiences in Botswana. It often feels as though we here in the US are isolated and have no idea what goes on in the book world beyond our borders! I could perhaps see this happening in
    Canada since we border each other. But Botswana?

  3. I know you didn't write the article, Helen, but I have to disagree about Stephen King being the heir of Poe... I always thought of H.P. Lovecraft as Poe's heir. Interesting in its own way that now British and American culture dominates the libraries of Canada. Think of how many centuries French and most especially British culture dominated American libraries in the same way. Even the university I went to focused far more on British Literary curriculum than it did American Lit. Great food for thought, as always.

  4. Helen,

    All the Canadian writers I've interviewed have been published by U.S. publishers and have done well in their own country. I'd certainly like to hear about the Botswana writer's interesting marketing plan. :)


  5. You've got a point, Jenny. In college, we read the British greats in class. There were more British authors, poets and playwrights taught than American ones.

  6. That's good to hear, Jean.

    Perhaps if more attention is given to the Canadian authors by Canadian readers snd reviewers and media, a lot more Canadian authors will have big sales.

  7. I looked up Canadian authors just for my own information. Found some excellent writers on the list such as Margaret Atwood and Saul Bellows. Now I wonder if Americans read more books by Canadian authors than the Canadians do?

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  8. Interesting question, Jane. I wonder what the sales figures are in America for Canadian authors? I imagine Atwood and Bellows have very good numbers.

  9. The writing friend I'm talking about self publishes children's books in a certain niche. She write about Setswana legends and pulls them out to create longer stories. When she launches her books (she is currently on book three) she turns the book into a play, with music and dance performed by out-of-school, unemployed youth (of which we have many). She works in the safari industry and has all her books in the gift shops up north in the tourist areas. She regularly sells more than 2000 books which is a fantastic best seller here. Many foreign tourists take her books home and that has led to other interesting link-ups. Her name by the way is Bontekanye Botumile- a marketing whiz.

    Lauri Kubuitsile blogs at

  10. It may be a problem for Canada that American authors are so popular there, but not a problem for American authors. Now, to figure out a way for them to carry my books....

    Morgan Mandel

  11. Lauri, I believe the route Botumile is taking is similar to the route CJ Box has taken. His books were carried in Yellowstone National Park where they were bought by tourists (it's where I first noticed him and now my husband and I are avid readers and wait for the next in the series). He's now well known and in all the bookstores. (He didn't do the plays, though.)

  12. Morgan, let us know when you figure it out!


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