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books out, smelly candles in

I just spoke with someone in the publishing business about the discouraging state of Canadian fiction. Not the writing, but the business side. I’m not sure what has happened in the rest of the world, but: Chapters/Indigo has reduced space for books from 70% to 60%. The rest is candles and calendars and crap of one kind or another. And what they cut was mostly fiction – anything literary, and especially anything new from “unproved” writers, has much less shelf space. There are precious few independent booksellers left in Canada, so as Chapters/Indigo goes, so goes Canadian publishing.

The result is that publishers aren’t taking many new writers. The big presses have kicked out their smaller performers; who are now getting picked up by the mid-range presses, meaning that mid-range presses aren’t taking new young writers any more, and small presses are swamped with manuscripts from both published and unpublished writers…with nowhere to sell their books.

All of which makes me think that something is badly broken in the publishing business. People still want to write; people still want to read. But there’s little room left in the mainstream book business for anything but top sellers. And smelly candles, of course.

The book business needs a shake-up, I think.


  1. mir mir 2008-08-07

    A pox on smelly candles!

    It never occurred to me that the mega-bookstores are making the transition from places for bookish people to go and buy books, to places for lifestyle development – but you are right. How sad.

    We should start a tiny bookstore that only sells books, and call it ‘bookstore’ and be incredibly mean to anyone who comes in asking for anything but books.

    Like to the extent of chasing them out by pelting them with old penguin pocket classics.

  2. Hugh Hugh 2008-08-08

    every time i go into those stores, i think, where are all the books? it’s almost all crap now.

    it was crazy when they first started opening, i thought: “surely there are not enough book buyers to pay for all this retail floorspace…” but in the mean time they forced all the independent book sellers out of the market, and then it turns out, no there are not enough book buyers to pay for all that floorspace.

    but the fault lies with us book buyers and book lovers. if we’re so excited about book stores that sell books, then, as you suggest, we ought to build such stores and frequent them.

  3. Alexandre Alexandre 2008-08-08

    Isn’t the same set of changes happening in many “Arts & Entertainment” industries? Movie studios spending more and more to produce risk-free blockbusters, record companies betting on a few heavily-marketed names, videogame franchises…
    At the same time, there’s a move toward independent art, user-created content, playfulness, no-budget productions, open access, creative commons, slam poetry, garage bands, podcasts…
    Kind of a two-culture model. The commercial world of entertainment industries (making money off arts and artists) vs. people empowering themselves through creation.
    You can bet on which side I tend to sit. But I also like to observe the other side. They’ll burn themselves with those candles.

  4. choz choz 2008-08-10

    Eh, “Pétoche” (, c’est drôlement chouette de sympa de garder le MESSAGE que je dois faire passer à cette GROSSE TACHE qui vit, là-haut, sous les combles, LE MANIAQUE DE L’ÉLECTRICITÉ, qui aboie quand on lui parle et se tient toujours au garde à vous prêt à obéir, le MESSAGE étant : ” ELLE… A DIT : “CALTEZ, VOLAILLES !” .
    Merci pour ce fabuleux espace démocratique du chien (premier couplet)

  5. mike mike 2008-08-11

    “pelting them with old penguin pocket classics”

    how dare you do anything with old penguin pocket classics but attend to them tenderly at that late stage in their life, when they are hoping to uplift and enlighten just one or two more readers before they go to the great big recycling bin in the sky!? you shall be the first one we turn on and banish when we create our little elitist group! ;-)

  6. mike2 mike2 2008-08-12

    Does the world really need new novels?

    Can’t we just say: “no more required we’ll make do with the ones we already have?”

    I haven’t read a novel in years.

    Maybe I’m to blame.

  7. Alexandre Alexandre 2008-08-12

    @mike2 Before you get flamed… I actually think you’re on to something. After all, the novel didn’t exist from times immemorial. It was born in a specific context, radically different from ours.

  8. mir mir 2008-08-12

    Mike2 I’d flame you but I really don’t have time for people who diss books.

    Okay actually I do:

    Even if quasi-narrative 3d adventures are the next generation of story-telling. Until you can find me a game that is as emotionally compelling, imaginative and inspiring as let’s say..

    White Teeth, Midnights Children, The Color Purple, 100 years of Solitude, The War with Mr Wiizzle, The Secret Garden, The Confusion, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Anastasia the Spy, Nana, Anna Karenina etc… Okay I’ll stop now.

    I get annoyed with people who say they don’t read in the same breath that they say reading is not relevant – I don’t do a lot of things, (fly fishing and golf spring to mind) that doesn’t make them irrelevant.

  9. Alexandre Alexandre 2008-08-12

    Erm… Mir, did Mike2 diss books or say something about novels?
    Storytelling comes in many shapes and forms, from oral genres like epics, urban legends, folktales, and jokes to interactive genres like the ones you mention.

  10. hugh hugh 2008-08-13

    @alexandre: yes, same old story. selling sausages. which sausage sells the most, then make more of that. luckily the internet came along to shake up the system, but it seems to have yet to have a big impact on books.

    @mike2: *i* want more new novels, that’s enough for me. you don’t need new novels, which is great for you. as for the world, who knows? what would it mean to know the answer to your question, anyway?

  11. mir mir 2008-08-14

    You are right Alexandre, I wasn’t being clear, the critique was of novels not books, and my defense was of the novel not of books in general.

    I also should have said “people who don’t read novels or fiction not just read.

    Let’s start again:

    Yes storytelling comes in many forms. The novel as a form of storytelling is not in my opinion anywhere close to extinction, I dislike it when people say, ” I don’t do A, therefore A is irrelevant.

    I just tried watching the movie “House of the Spirits” based on the novel by Isabelle Allende, and to me it was not an acceptable adaptation. When I see a movie butcher a novel, I don’t think in terms of one medium being better, or replacing the other, I think of the inherent strengths of each.

    So I don’t think suggesting that novels are a historical artifact is correct either.

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