Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘Statistics Canada’

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.”

But can you take peanut butter?

In Posts on September 11, 2010 at 1:16 pm

A new academic year is underway, but for D. it is more than just a change of grade. A new school, a new routine, and renewed exploration into the all important question: Can you take peanut butter to school?

For years I’ve laboured over lunch menus, thinking of tasty-and-healthy entrees that lent themselves to a packed lunch. Yet on numerous occasions we still relied on the ease of PB & J. But last year that was not an option as an allergy alert required that PB be banned from that classroom. I understood only too well; D. is at risk for anaphylaxis from other sources. In her case I’m just grateful that she has to eat the offending item before disaster can strike. How parents whose children react to airborn input ever find peace of mind, I don’t know…

In any case, the revived attention to peanut butter brought to mind U.S. Patent Number 6,004,596 for a “Sealed Crustless Sandwich.” The patent details are online (complete with sketches). Here are a few highlights:

… The sandwich includes a lower bread portion, an upper bread portion, an upper filling and a lower filling between the lower and upper bread portions, a center filling sealed between the upper and lower fillings, and a crimped edge along an outer perimeter of the bread portions for sealing the fillings there between. The upper and lower fillings are preferably comprised of peanut butter and the center filling is comprised of at least jelly…

Field of the Invention:
… some individuals do not enjoy the outer crust associated with the conventional slices of bread …Hence there is a need for a convenient sandwich which does not have an outer crust and is not prone to waste of the edible outer crust portions….

Description of Prior Art [meaning the other sandwich patents]
… While these sandwiches may be suitable for the particular purpose to which they address, they are not as suitable for providing a convenient sandwich without an outer crust which can be stored for long periods of time without a central filling from leaking outwardly….

This patent was applied for in 1997, issued in 1999, and canceled in 2007.

James Boyle describes these events in his work, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (2008), available for purchase, or, for free download here. He addresses the assumptions made of intellectual property, that by providing property rights to intellectual work, creativity will ensue.

In mathematics, when confronting a blanket proposition, the task is usually to “prove” or “disprove.” I am always tempted to reach for “disprove,” knowing that all I need is one counter-example. Boyle describes the absurdity of Patent #6,004,596 (p.xi) coupled with the aggressive behaviour of its owner (p.249-250) and it becomes evident that for the patent-owner this was not about creativity but an unashamed effort to undermine the competition.

It would be nice to simply add QED and pronounce this debate over.

But life is not as neat as mathematics. Statistics Canada recently posted the outcome of the 2008 Survey of Intellectual Property Commercialization in the Higher Education Sector. The survey is described as tracking “the progress of innovation in this area.”

That language is troubling, as if innovation is such that it can only be measured by the numbers of patents and copyrights established each year. With that convoluted logic, universities may hasten to increase their claims on IP, as evidence of their level of innovation. But is this wise either for the overall operation of a university or for the pursuit of creativity?

Looking more closely at the Statistics Canada analysis it shows that the cost of managing the IP infrastructure rose by approximately 20% in one year – $41.9 million in 2007 to $51.1 million in 2008. In part, this can be attributed to an increased need for staff; the number of full-time equivalent personnel involved increased from 285 in 2007 to 321 in 2008. [327, if you look at Table 5-1; I can’t explain the difference in reported numbers.]

However, for 2008, the income derived from IP was $53.2 million, which is just $1.9 million more than the costs associated to managing the IP operations. Based on the 125 institutions that responded to the survey, this breaks down to an average gain of $15,200 per institution.

Interestingly enough, the analysis does seem to draw the distinction between achievements in research, and an IP claim in research. It states that “In 2008, the number of new inventions disclosed to educational institutions increased by almost 20% to 1,613,” and that, “The number of patents issued to Canadian universities and teaching hospitals declined by a third between 2007 and 2008 to 346.” So it could be inferred that creativity is underway, even if IP claims are decreasing.

Something else that struck me as interesting is the reporting on copyright: “there were 361 new IP disclosures for copyrights in 2008.” Looking at Table 11-1, the previous copyright holdings appear to be only 19. Does that mean it was a blockbuster year for university presses?

Results such as these do not paint a clear picture of what is actually happening on university campuses and so it is difficult to make any accurate statements or predictions. However, even with an optimistic assessment that the current IP holdings will generate future profits, and that the cost of IP management does not rise, there is still a long way to go before Canadian higher education can claim that the costs of securing IP are offset by the expense. Table 3-1 is perhaps the most revealing; it shows that intellectual property revenue only accounts for 31% of the costs of operational expenditures. In 2008, the institutions carried the lion’s share of cost (43% by base funding plus 6% accounted for by one-time allocations.) Whereas external sources put in only 20%. Granted, rewards do not come without risk, but if this was a private sector business plan, I wonder which bank would be willing to provide financing? (And I do have some experience in this area…)

Universities already promote commercialization of research through partnerships with industry as a means of funding research and securing future income. This raises the uncomfortable question of how publicly funded basic research should be capitalized upon. And there are no easy answers there. But if the agenda is to focus on matters of IP capture, a measure of realism must be included. Boyle invokes (and later describes in detail) the risks associated to the idealized view of IP as a means to encourage creativity:

[IP] is not merely supposed to produce incentives for innovation by rewarding creators, though that is vital. Intellectual property is also supposed to create a feedback mechanism that dictates the contours of information and innovation production … The system that was supposed to harness the genius of both the market and democracy sometimes subverts both. Worse, it does so inefficiently, locking up vast swaths of culture in order to confer a benefit on a tiny minority of works (p.7-9).