Meera Nair

good news

In Posts on April 23, 2018 at 6:29 am

Today marks World Book and Copyright Day. The United Nations explains the choice of date as “a symbolic date for world literature,” in part because 23 April 1616 marked the deaths of Miguel de Cervantes, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and William Shakespeare. The connection between title and titans seem at best, tenuous — World Writers Day might have been better? — but we may as well take the opportunity to celebrate the successes of Canadian writers and publishers.

In The Daily, issued by Statistics Canada on 23 March 2018, data for 2016 reveals that “The Canadian book publishers industry generated operating revenue of $1.6 billion in 2016, down 0.6% compared with 2014.”

That may not seem like cause for celebration. But it is easily good news, when placed in context: 2016 was a difficult year for the industry as a whole. In an article from Publisher’s Weekly, dated to 25 August 2017, Jim Milliot wr0te: “Although total revenue of the world’s 50 largest book publishers topped $50 billion in 2016, last year was not an easy one for global publishing giants. Less than half of the top 50 publishers posted revenue gains in 2016, with the balance reporting sales declines.”

In comparison then, the next sentence from Statistics Canada is even more gratifying: “Operating expenses decreased 1.4% to $1.5 billion, resulting in an operating profit margin of 10.2%.” In light of global trends, to have any profit margin at all may claim congratulations to that sector.

Reading further, the data continues on a positive theme:

Total sales amounted to $1.5 billion in 2016. Of total sales, Canadian book sales increased 0.5% from 2014 to $1.4 billion in 2016, while all other sales declined 7.9% to $108 million. Of the $1.4 billion in Canadian book sales generated in 2016, 53.8% was attributable to foreign controlled firms, while 46.2% was generated by Canadian controlled firms. Domestic sales accounted for 81.0% of Canadian book sales, while export sales made up the remaining 19.0%. Exports sales increased 11.8% in 2016 to $260.5 million. … Canadian authors accounted for 51.1% of total sales in 2016, up from 48.9% in 2014.

So Canadian book sales increased, under near parity of influence between publishing firms under foreign control and Canadian control. Given that through most of Canada’s existence, our reading and book-selling landscape was overwhelmingly dominated by foreign publishers and printers, this is good news indeed. Moreover, while only 19% of Canadian book sales went to export markets, the fact that those sales increased by nearly 12 % in the space of two years is positively noteworthy. Canadians (both writers and publishers) are making their mark on this world.

Yet, despite evidence of a resilient industry and successful writers, there are many who will continue to insist that because of fair dealing, the Canadian writing enterprise is suffering—that because Canadian educators may legitimately use some portions of published material without authorization, returns to Canadian publishers are compromised, which will lead to a decline in writing in Canada.

As I wrote in my last post, drawing from the work of one of Canada’s most respected authorities on Canadian Literature — Arrival: the Story of CanLit by Nick Mount — Canadian content is simply not being prescribed for curriculum as it used to be. A point I did not emphasize then, but bears mentioning now, is Mount’s enthusiasm regarding the proliferation of writers and books in Canada:

The country is producing many more writers and many more books than ever before, books by and about many different kinds of Canadians than ever before. It also has more readers—they’re just spread out now, among so many books, and so many more ways to read, that it’s hard to see them all (p.293).

According to Statistics Canada, domestic sales have declined by 1.9% since 2014. However, educational titles increased by 4.9%.  This is intriguing, given the publishing industry’s own investigation concerning the selection of resources for use in Canadian classrooms. A report titled Digital Trends and Initiatives in Education—The Changing Landscape for Canadian Content (produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers and released in March 2017) provides a comprehensive examination of the education sector’s approach to choosing resources, to the conclusion that openly licensed content has become a notable component of resources in both the post-secondary and K-12 sectors (p.24).

Michael Geist covered the report in some detail and observes: “… despite the ACP’s insistence in lobbying efforts that copyright is at the heart of publisher concerns, copyright and fair dealing are limited to a single reference with no discussion or analysis. … The report provides several recommendations, none of which involve copyright reform.”

The report’s authors express concern for: (i) the reduction in prescription of Canadian content in the K-12 sector; and (ii) the lack of guidance for teachers for evaluation of free or openly licensed content. They write:

… without clear direction, teachers may continue to use material that has not been appropriately vetted for use in an educational setting. This belief is not intended to diminish the role teachers play in selecting the right content for their students, but rather serves to highlight the fact that teachers do not all have the time nor the expertise to thoroughly evaluate or authenticate every piece of content accessed by themselves or their students (p.4).

I cannot speak to that concern—it is a matter of discussion best left to teachers. The report’s authors press the need for using good Canadian content in our schools–this is perhaps a good time to ask again, What is Canadian Content? In any case, it remains that in the hands of one who has diligently studied/explored a subject, and whose passion to communicate is evident, even a Twitter thread can form educational content. This past Sunday’s reading included a 12-part lesson by Joanne Hammond, describing the events leading to the establishment of reserves in British Columbia, replete with archival maps and images.

To return to the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, though it is repetition, Mount deserves to have the last word: “The country is producing many more writers and many more books than ever before.”

  1. Thanks again Meera for pulling together a sound argument that Canadian publishing is not in a “chicken little” situation despite how often certain members of the community may cry that it is. Keep up the good work.

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