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More Canada

Increasing Canadians’ awareness and reading of Canadian books

March 13, 201913 March 2019

Arts participation

The More Canada Think Tank

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Based on a review of existing research and “think tank sessions on Canadian books and Canadian publishing” between December 2017 and September 2018, this report concludes that there is a paradox related to Canadian English-language books: “despite the presence of a burgeoning writing community and a stable, successful publishing industry, there is a steady decline in the reading and purchasing of Canadian-authored books by the Canadian public.”

The report includes a summary of existing research into Canada’s English-language publishing industry, Canadians’ reading and book-buying habits, public library practices, as well as universities’ and school boards’ use of books. In addition, several sessions were conducted with industry stakeholders to discuss current trends and practices in “key channels of awareness”: independent bookstores, school classrooms and libraries, public libraries, university libraries, classrooms, and bookstores, as well as media organizations such as CBC Radio and book reviewing publications.

The report finds that the most recent statistics on leisure reading of Canadian books date back to 2005, when Canadian-authored books accounted for 12% of books read. In terms of book purchases, Canadian-authored books decreased from 27% of purchases in 2005 to 13% in 2018.

Three key reasons are believed to have influenced the decline:

  • Digital infrastructure that fails to meet Canadian needs
    • E.g., much of the digital infrastructure used in the book industry is created in the United States or the United Kingdom and has “inbuilt biases that invariably favour non-Canadian content or that stand in the way of allowing higher priority, visibility, or accessibility to Canadian-authored books”.
  • An absence of Canadian book-friendly cultural policies and measures
    • E.g., “The individuals who work in schools and libraries are often personally very committed and supportive of Canadian books and writing, but the organizations and institutions they work for have not entrenched that commitment in policies and priorities.”
  • Lack of appropriate structures and practices for Canadian books
    • E.g., “The structures currently in place treat Canadian-authored materials the same as all others. Due to the numbers involved, Canadian books become a smaller and smaller presence in the stream of new books appearing in all distribution channels, and they become harder to notice.”

The report makes numerous recommendations to address these issues, including:

  • Promoting independent bookstores as important sites for discovering Canadian authors and books
  • Bringing more Canadian books into Canadian schools
  • Developing a new digital infrastructure that is made in Canada and more responsive to Canadian books

The authors conclude that “Canada needs to rebuild the awareness, distribution, and readership components of the supply chain that carries books from writers to publishers to bookstores and libraries to readers.”

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