After several years dominated by multinational publisher consolidations and bookseller closures, 2015 was, in retrospect, relatively calm. The number of shuttered retailers declined, with some indies even reporting a better-than- average year. This may have something to do with the fact that, for the most part, discussions have returned to the merits of a book’s content rather than its physical format. The growing number of “hybrid readers” – those who effortlessly switch between digital and print editions — means there’s no longer a need to strictly identify with either camp.
While 2015 produced a fine crop of books and several anticipated titles from seasoned CanLit veterans, no single blockbuster emerged from the bunch. Another sign of an industry in recovery? It’s too early to say for certain, but there are many reasons to say goodbye to 2015 with a sense of optimism.
Box-office life on Mars
20th century Fox released its adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel The Martian in October, two years after it was discovered by Canadian audiobook producer Podium Publishing. The film, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, took in an out-of-this-world $54 million (U.S.) at the box office its opening weekend.
Inspire fails to inspire
In February, organizers of Inspire, the Toronto-based book fair launched in 2014, announced the event would not return for a second year, citing an inability “to secure a timely commitment from exhibitors regarding their participation.” Billed as the largest consumer-oriented book fair ever to take place in English Canada, with 300 hours of programming over three and a half days – and appearances by Anne Rice and William Gibson – Inspire was met with skepticism from many independent publishers, and saw a lower-than-expected visitor turnout.
I’d like to buy the world a book
On may 2, writers across the country (including Kyo Maclear and Naomi Klein, above) got behind the counters of independent bookstores to sell their favourite titles during the inaugural Canadian Authors for Indies Day. The idea, modelled after a similar initiative in the U.S., might seem warm and fuzzy, but it worked: industry watchdog BookNet Canada reported that participating stores saw an 18.5 per cent increase
in units sold over the day.
For every door that closes, another opens. At least that was the case this year. Canadian book retail continued to shrink in 2015 – with the loss of Montreal’s Babar en Ville and the Silver Snail’s Ottawa shop, not to mention Vancouver’s flagship Chapters, which the chain says it plans to reopen in a new location – but also showed signs of hope. Black Bond, a B.C.–based independent bookstore chain opened its 11th location, while the Toronto Reference Library welcomed Page & Panel, a pop-up comic shop turned permanent fixture (pictured).
Checking out the TPL
The Toronto Public Library cemented its place as the world’s largest neighbourhood library system this year when it finally added its 100th branch after years of hovering at the 99 mark. Its flagship Toronto Reference Library also continued to get notice for its impressive Appel Salon programming – this year saw sold-out 1,000-strong turnouts for Judy Blume (below), Jonathan Franzen, Lena Dunham, and Margaret Atwood.
In January, Simon Brault, Canada Council for the Arts director and CEO, freaked out artists, publishers, and arts administrators by announcing that the agency’s 147 discipline-specific grants would be streamlined into six new programs. While details won’t be released until early 2016, Brault told Q&Q the new system will offer authors in particular more flexibility and “clarity of purpose.”
Gables on cable
Production began this summer on a new Anne of Green Gables TV movie, slated to air in 2016. Ella Ballentine (above) will play the lead role, made famous by Megan Follows in the 1985 CBC adaptation.
The National Post helped stem the August social media lull when it pulled a Margaret Atwood–penned opinion piece that both poked fun at and levied some serious accusations against then Prime Minister Stephen Harper from its website. The paper quickly reposted the article in a slightly edited form, claiming it had been overzealously posted before “the people upstairs” had reviewed it. But Atwood wasn’t buying it. She took to Twitter and accused the Post of censorship, later telling The Globe and Mail, “I thought they had a sense of fun.”
Hill keeps order
The Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for his writing representing black history and his charitable efforts to help girls and women in Africa. His long-awaited follow-up novel, The Illegal, was released in September.
The F word
His reign as Toronto’s buffoon mayor may be over, but the analysis of Rob Ford’s time in power continues. On Oct. 27, Random House Canada released The Only Average Guy, a book by Toronto city councillor John Filion, about his time with Ford. Not to be outdone, New York–based Skyhorse Publishing moved up the release of its Ford title – by Mark Towhey (the mayor’s former chief of staff) and journalist Johanna Schneller – to the same date.
Canada Post honoured Alice Munro with a tribute stamp in July, featuring a photo taken by Munro’s daughter Sheila and a sample of the author’s handwriting.
In April, Random House Canada announced it had acquired world rights to The Marriott Cell by Mohamed Fahmy, the imprisoned Cairo bureau chief of Al Jazeera English. Originally slated for fall, the book was delayed when Fahmy was sentenced to three years on terrorism charges, for which he was later pardoned.
Can a hashtag make a difference? Not necessarily. When Canadian Public Libraries for Fair Ebook Pricing – a coalition of libraries and library associations – took to social media demanding #FairEbookPrices, it wound up tweeting into the wind. Despite a small outcry from those shocked to learn of the consumer vs. institutional price gap, there was nary a tweet from publishers, with the exception of ECW Press, which supported the campaign.
HarperCollins Canada left many mid- to small-sized indie publishers scrambling to find a new distributor late last year when it announced it was closing its Canadian warehouse. Enter UTP Distribution, which picked up former HCC clients such as House of Anansi Press, Douglas & McIntyre, and Greystone Books. In May, UTP sweetened the deal by allowing client publishers the option to cover freight costs for their customers.
In January, National Post columnist Barbara Kay wrote a screed against Raziel Reid’s YA novel When Everything Feels like the Movies, which won the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s literature, calling the book’s graphic language and gay themes “values-void.” A petition to revoke Reid’s award backfired, sales increased, the book become a CBC Canada Reads finalist, and the University of British Columbia creative-writing program hired Reid (above) as an adjunct professor. In a press release, program chair Stephen Galloway wrote, “We would like to thank Barbara Kay and everyone who petitioned the Canada Council for the Arts to censor [Reid’s] work for the recommendation.”
Indigo, the “cultural department store,” renovated six locations this year to accommodate more home décor and kids’ merchandise – including the lucrative American Doll line. But it also rededicated more space to books, supporting thousands of new titles. At Indigo’s AGM, chair and CEO Heather Reisman sounded optimistic, even as she announced that the company would be increasing the number of titles it discounts monthly to 100 from 40.
Where Word on the Street has an unfitting name
The Toronto edition of the Word on the Street outdoor book fair abandoned its central Queen’s Park location after 11 years and moved to the city’s much-maligned Harbourfront area. The new location proved generally to be successful, maintaining last year’s attendance numbers.
PRH packs up
Penguin Random House Canada boxed up decades of publishing history to move into its new combined 53,500-square-foot home in June. The modern, airy three-floor office houses 210 employees, representing 18 imprints. “We intentionally designed the space to be open concept, partly for cost savings, and also to encourage collaboration. Everyone, including our CEO, Brad Martin, works in an open work station,” says Tracey Turriff, PRH Canada’s senior vice-president of corporate communications.
Books turned into other media in 2015
- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti (play, as All Our Happy Days Are Stupid)
- I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (U.K. play)
- The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (CBC mini-series)
- This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (documentary)
- Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life by Trevor Cole (play)
- The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (musical)
- Room by Emma Donoghue (film)
- Palookaville (and other stories) by Seth (documentary, as Seth’s Dominion)
Writers with options
• James Grainger (Harmless acquired by Atom Egoyan)
• Deborah Ellis (The Breadwinner to be produced as an animated film, executive produced by Angelina Jolie)
• Kathleen Winter (Annabel acquired by Deepa Mehta)
- Coach House Books (50)
- Brick Books (40)
- Literary Press Group (40)
- Drawn & Quarterly (25)
- Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (15)
- Quill & Quire (80)