BookNet Canada’s First ‘State of Independent Bookselling’ Report: Print Revenue Up

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Citing 37 percent of revenue from frontlist titles, 63 independent bookstores with 80 locations respond to BookNet Canada’s new report.

Queen Street East’s Acadia Book Store in Toronto. Image – iStockphoto: Peter Spiro

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Non-Book Merchandise: 16 Percent of Revenue
For partisans of print and brick-and-mortar bookstores, the nonprofit industry research agency BookNet Canada has happy news today (September 9) reporting that between 2017 and 2018, 65 percent of independent booksellers surveyed say they saw increased revenue from sales of new print books.

What’s more, 28 percent of booksellers responding to BookNet’s study said they’d seen increased revenue from remaindered books in the same time period, with 20 percent citing rising revenue from used books.

These top-line observations come from a new study from BookNet called What’s in Store: The State of Independent Bookselling in Canada 2018. A first in the Canadian market, the survey also indicates that non-book products—part of the trend in many bookstores to diversify inventory—were responsible for only 16 percent of store merchandise revenue.

It’s worth noting that BookNet Canada focuses its research primarily on the country’s English-language book market. While the report does not specify the exact location surveyed bookstores, 78 percent are either in Ontario or British Columbia, and the report’s conclusions are likely to represent bookselling in English Canada.

Frontlist titles came in for an average 37 percent of revenue among the responding stores. New backlist titles drove an average 31 percent of revenue.

“When asked about the time, money, and effort spent on books by Canadian authors or featuring Canadian content,” the BookNet staff writes in its media messaging, “almost nine out of 10 booksellers reported a positive ROI, while 50 percent of those surveyed shared that they increased their Canadian inventory between 1 and 10 percent between 2017 and 2018.”

This is a case in which a report from BookNet is available free of charge, and it can be read online in an Issuu format or downloaded as a PDF here.

Stores surveyed are privately owned, owner-operated, and/or part of a small regional chain. They also have a significant portion of their stores dedicated to the display and/or sale of books. Stores owned by a larger or national chain were excluded.

It’s important to note the size of this first study of its kind: There were 63 responding bookstore companies and—because some have more than one location, of course—the represent 80 locations. So this is not a particularly large sample, and it’s self-selecting. That means there also could be inherent biases based in the type of markets in which the responding stores operate. For example, 43 percent of the respondents are in Ontario and 35 percent are in British Columbia, leading to a possible title toward urban influences and affluence, of course. The survey was conducted online.

More than half the responding companies, in fact, are in urban areas (53 percent), “and more than a third are in a small town or rural area (37 percent), the BooklNet team says. Nine percent of the stores surveyed are in suburban areas.

Language Diversity, Staffing Challenges

Image: From BookNet Canada’s ‘What’s in Store: The State of Independent Bookselling in Canada 2018’

Here are some bulleted highlights in which we’re quoting from BookNet’s summary.

  • Slightly more than two-thirds of booksellers stock books or products in languages other than English (69 percent).
  • Among those booksellers, all stock French books or products. More than half have books in Spanish (59 percent) and more than a quarter have books in Cree (28 percent).
  • On average, booksellers tend to stock most of their Canadian-authored titles within their adult fiction and adult nonfiction inventories.
  • When we asked booksellers about the return on investment (ROI) in regards to money, time, and effort spent on books by Canadian contributors or about Canada, almost nine out of 10 reported a positive ROI (86 percent).
  • Slightly more than half of a bookstore’s expenses goes towards purchasing inventory (54 percent) and 37 percent is spent on operations.
  • Of those inventory expenses, the majority gets spent on new books (62 percent, combining frontlist and backlist).
  • Of those operation expenses, the majority is spent on staff (37 percent), followed by rent (20 percent) and supplies (11 percent).
  • About half of all bookstores sell large-print books (51 percent).
  • About four in 10 sell physical or digital audiobooks (42 percent)
  • Of all permanent, contract, and seasonal staff at Canadian independent bookstores in 2018, 72 percent were permanent staff and 24 percent were seasonal.
  • Slightly more than half of all employees at the stores surveyed were part-time (55 percent), while 45 percent were employed full-time.
  • Challenges when recruiting and hiring employees: offering enough hours (39 percent); finding candidates who fit their work culture (39 percent); offering competitive compensation to candidates (34 percent); and finding candidates with the required skills and experience (34 percent).
  • Challenges in retaining staff: competitive compensation (52 percent) and offering enough hours (42 percent)

The full survey report contains more information, including input from responding booksellers on co-op advertising, marketing, foot traffic, in-store accessibility, and more.


More from Publishing Perspectives on BookNet Canada and its research is here. And more from us on the Canadian market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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