Heidi Waechtler: Local publishers are entering a new chapter

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      By Heidi Waechtler

      COVID-19 has forced us all to reassess, reinvent, and innovate. It’s impacted jobs, our economy, and our daily routines.

      This is also true for British Columbia’s book publishing sector.

      While the popular perception is that people are home reading more than ever, the reality is more complex. Publishing companies owned and operated by British Columbians are small-to-medium enterprises that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Bricks and mortar retailers were closed to browsing for some time, schools that usually purchase locally produced books were shut, and consumers’ purchasing and reading habits changed while we all grappled with this new COVID-19 reality.

      While online ordering and library checkouts increased, our industry is still feeling the after-effects of the economic restart, and as a result, we are projecting an average revenue loss of 50% this year.

      B.C.’s book publishers have shown resilience, adapting quickly to the new reality. They have optimized their websites for online orders and offered discounts, partnered with local booksellers to replace in-store author events—critical to building word of mouth about new releases—with online readings, and offered more flexible usage terms to educators and librarians for the use of BC books in remote learning environments.

      To increase the diversity of the industry itself, the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. has recently established a new undergraduate award in collaboration with Simon Fraser University’s publishing program to support the training of emerging Indigenous publishers. The award is named for the late Dr. Greg Younging, the former publisher at Theytus Books who helped publishers understand how tobe culturally aware when working with Indigenous authors and subject matter.

      And this industry’s resilience and adaptability is more important than ever. Book publishers are a critical driver of British Columbia’s creative economy—our GDP impact is $76.3 million and we support close to 2,000 jobs, including freelancers—and we will be a vital part of the province’s economic restart plan.

      When it comes to book publishing, British Columbia punches above our weight.

      In fact, we’re the second largest English-language publishing region in Canada—more than 48 publishers are headquartered across the province, from Theytus Books, North America’s oldest Indigenous publisher, located in Penticton, to Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, who specialize in books for young people. Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press works to amplify the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) authors, and readers are seeking out their titles to educate themselves and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Harbour Publishing, located in Madeira Park on the Sunshine Coast, focuses on telling our region’s stories, which reflect our identities as British Columbians and help to locate us in the world.

      British Columbia has a reputation for literary excellence: many well-known authors resides here, and our publishers have produced international bestsellers, such as Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse (Douglas & McIntyre), Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books), and Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour (Arsenal Pulp Press). Their titles have won numerous prizes including the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and have been among the contenders in CBC Canada Reads competition.

      And with Canada set to be the Guest of Honour country at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade fair for books, in 2021, our authors will be in the spotlight on the world stage; more than 200 Canadian books have been translated into German from Canadian authors as part of the Guest of Honour initiative.

      Our trade association is working with local publishers to ensure they have the resources they need to come back stronger than ever; we’re encouraging readers to explore local authors and stories through our #ReadLocalBC campaign, and support their community’s independent bookstores.

      We’ve also shown our unwavering support for the work libraries and librarians do for our communities, including their service to those from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. 

      Buying and reading B.C.-published books is one way we can support the local economy  while learning more about our region. Rocky Mountain Books publisher Don Gorman has created a map of independent bookstores across Canada that makes it easy to discover your next local read!

      Our industry’s economic recovery is going to take time, and we’re going to need British Columbians’ support if we’re going to thrive again.

      We’re looking forward to being part of our province’s economic rebound.