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New study offers snapshot of Canadian publishers’ export activities

Smaller publishers are the most active exporters, study finds.

By JEAN-FRANÇOIS VENNE | JAN 07 2015

Sometimes, the best way to get answers to questions is to do the research yourself. As an editor working on developing international markets, Stéphane Labbé was frustrated by the lack of information on the export of Canadian books. “Since I had taken a new direction in my career to become a researcher, I decided to do the research myself as part of my doctorate in literature,” says the student researcher from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR).

He drew on the database kept by Livres Canada Books, a non-profit organization in Ottawa. He also obtained the support of the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres. The data, published for the first time, presents overall sales and exports in 2005 and from 2010 to 2014 for some 75 French-language publishers and 75 English-language publishers.

A snapshot, with a few surprises
While a second phase of the study will offer an exhaustive analysis of results in December 2015, the first phase was essentially intended to take a snapshot, and it includes a few surprises. For example, publishers of children’s literature make the majority of their sales internationally. Year after year, international sales account for between 48 and 59 percent. And while the markets that are the hungriest for Canadian fiction and non-fiction for adults are in the Americas and Europe, a significant share of children’s books and textbooks are shipped to Asia.

Exports account for around one third of overall sales for English-language publishers, compared with less than one quarter for French-language publishers. “Language barriers are slightly higher for French-language publishers,” says Mr. Labbé. For example, English textbooks sell well in Asia, where there is generally a better command of English than of French.”

Another surprise is that organizations whose annual sales are under $1.5 million are the most active exporters. From 2005 to 2014, these small publishing houses have seen growth overall, including in exports, while the big players’ sales are declining.

Books are hardly immune to the uncertainties facing all Canadian exports. The economic crisis in the U.S. and the downturn in France have had repercussions on sales. The rise in the Canadian dollar has also had a negative impact. This is why Mr. Labbé thinks it would be a good idea to do this sort of study periodically. “We could to track the evolution of these exports, which would be a great resource for those in the publishing industry and for researchers,” he says.

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