Monday, September 3, 2012


Looking For a Bookstore

In my quest to find markets to sell my new book, The Walker on the Cape, I found less than I imagined, much less. Or fewer, really. Bookstores that is. Oh yes I did find Chapters, Indigo, Coles and several minor variations thereof, but independent booksellers and their bookstores are disappearing far more quickly from the landscape of Canadian towns and cities than I imagined. In fact in many places they are non-existent. In my home town of St. John's for example there are absolutely zero independent book stores left.

To me that's shocking news. That a culturally vibrant city of about 150,000 people has no book store but Chapters/Indigo to buy their books. But actually that's not true. They have many more outlets to buy books including drug stores, Canadian Tire and several big box chains. And of course on line. It's hard to get exact numbers on where Canadians are buying their books but a lot of them are not bothering to line up anymore, they just go online and get their books from or Amazon.

The art of buying and selling books has changed dramatically in the past ten or fifteen years in Canada and around the world and according to the Canadian Booksellers Association about 400 independent bookstores have ceased operation in this period. Many people blame Chapters for this phenomenon and while they are part of the change process they are not necessarily the root cause of the problems.

I actually like most of what Chapters does, especially the re-creation of a library type atmosphere and the ability to browse through thousands of books. Some people even enjoy reading the magazines for free, just don't tell Heather. I don't like a lot of things they do such as only dealing with big publishing companies, charging for anything extra they do to promote the books and some really regressive return policies that will kill even more publishing houses in the short and long term. On balance having a nation-wide distribution system is good for everyone involved.

But I what I really love is the intimacy and warmth of independent and local bookstores. In Ottawa where I live we are fortunate to have a couple of still standing and successful independent bookstore models. Books on Beechwood has been around for over a decade and Jean Barton has achieved her goal of a "good neighbourhood bookstore." It is located on a busy corner and has a coffee shop conveniently located next store. A great place to spend an hour or two browsing and buying and then enjoying your books.

The other model is of course Collected Works on Wellington Street and as anyone who has been there knows it feels more like your living room than a bookstore. It has its own coffee and treats which is always inviting and it is strongly supportive or and supported by the local community. Alas we no longer have the great Prime Crime mystery bookstore but we have enough to show that there is still hope for book buyers and sellers in the Ottawa area.

When it comes right down to it Canada needs big and small bookstores and readers who will support both. Even readers who will only read electronic books or only buy books on-line. Diversity is good as long as we can continue to generate new readers for the products that are being created.

The bottom line is all of this is that it is still (thankfully) possible to write, buy and sell a book in Canada with or without the assistance of major Canadian or international corporations. And the fact that some of us still have a thriving independent book scene is a good and healthy sign for our community. I just wish every community in Canada was so fortunate.

Mike Martin was born in St. John's, Newfoundland and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a longtime freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand. He is the author of "Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People and has written a number of short stories that have published in various publications including Canadian Stories and Downhome magazine. The Walker on the Cape is his first full fiction book and the premiere of the Winston Windflower mystery series. It is available in Ottawa at Books on Beechwood and Collected Works, and at Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto.

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