It was crowd control for Major Tom when Commander Chris Hadfield appeared at Victoria’s Bolen Books on Nov. 16.
According to store manager Colin Holt, the event was one of the best-attended in the bookstore’s history. Holt estimates 1,400 Hadfield enthusiasts lined up for the three-hour book signing, arriving as early as 6 a.m. for a chance to meet the retired astronaut.
Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Random House Canada), is currently in second position on BookNet Canada’s non-fiction hardcover bestsellers list, right behind Bobby Orr’s memoir, Orr (Viking Canada).
Two weeks after its 33rd birthday comes word that the World’s Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto will close in February.
According to the Toronto Star, the development company that is in the process of buying the property has no immediate plans for the space.
In June 2012, Q&Q reported that the lease on the 64,000-square-foot iconic bookstore, currently held by Indigo Books and Music, would not be renewed.
Earlier this month, Indigo announced it was closing its flagship Chapters store at Bloor Street West and Runnymede Road. The building, which previously housed a historic movie theatre, is slated to become a Shoppers Drug Mart.
The Toronto Chapters location that moved into the old Runnymede Theatre 14 years ago is set to shut its doors in the new year.
A spokesperson told the CBC that the store will not renew its lease on the property at the corner of Bloor Street West and Runnymede Road, which is rumoured to become a Shoppers Drug Mart.
From the Toronto Star:
“It’s a great store that’s served the neighbourhood incredibly well,” said Drew McGowen, vice-president of real estate and development at Chapters Indigo. “We’re at the end of our lease and the landlord can get far, far more money than we are able to pay.”
Since the store opened in November, 1999, Toronto’s commercial and housing real estate market has experienced “such a boom,” McGowen said. Chapters must vacate the premises by March 31, however McGowen could not confirm when the store would be closed to the public.
Though there was initially some local opposition to the store’s arrival, some community members are indicating that they may now fight to keep it open.
The building, constructed in 1927, will have its exterior kept intact in accordance with its historic designation.
Last weekend, cartoonist and YA novelist Evan Munday (Dial M for Morna, ECW Press) took a seat in the front window of Toronto’s Type Books, drawing customers’ “Goth Portraits.”
Window-artist extraordinaire Kalpna Patel designed the display, featuring Munday’s goth-inspired drawings of Type staff.
On Oct. 19, Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax celebrated its 35th anniversary. Co-owner Liz Crocker – who opened Woozles in 1978 with Ann Connor Brimer and Brian Crocker – spoke to Q&Q about the birthday festivities, as well as the shop’s enduring success.
How did the anniversary celebration go? The day couldn’t have been better in terms of weather. We had hundreds of people attend. Children got their faces painted, Paddington Bear visited, and author Sheree Fitch delighted everyone in accepting the Woozles Appreciation Award. She said that she values Woozles because it’s a place that represents a positive community feeling in Halifax, which offers the possibility of joy and discovery through the magic of books. Then she dazzled with an enchanting rendition of her book Mabel Murple.
Why do you think the store has lasted for so long? People have responded to our passion for what we do and the deep knowledge of the staff. Also, the activities we offer – like our workshops, contests, book clubs, and Battle of the Books– make Woozles more than just a store. Being in the downtown core has also helped in that we are part of the urban community.
What have been the big changes in selling kids’ books over the years? We have seen a huge growth in the number of exceptional Canadian children’s authors and books, and an explosion in the variety of ways and places one can obtain books. But some things haven’t changed, like the depth of our backlist and how often people still look for their old favourites, such as Good Night Moon, Where’s Spot?, Charlotte’s Web, and The Velveteen Rabbit.
What are the challenges and benefits of working in the Canadian kids’ publishing industry? It is difficult to know that some places sell books for so much less than we do, because they have such huge buying power. It’s also sometimes troubling to see children being consumed by technology and not having the time or opportunity to discover books. But the challenges are small compared to the delight we have daily as we watch children and adults discover what a good book can do, and what having a place that is for and about children feels like.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more than three decades, The Cookbook Store has been a major supporter of the Canadian food-publishing sector, while playing host to some of the world’s biggest culinary names, including Julia Child, Martha Stewart, and Anthony Bourdain. Now, six months after the Toronto shop’s 30th anniversary and two years after it established a cooking studio, comes word that its home is being sold to developers.
According to an email from longtime manager Alison Fryer, a banner advertising condominiums will be hung on the iconic Yonge St. building today, but that doesn’t mean the end of the store. “We have lots of irons in the fire,” she says.
In a press release from Fryer and owner Josh Josephson, the two say they’re considering “a number of options to relocate the store.”
“As a leader in the world of cookbooks, and culinary events for over 30 years, we will be building on our past successes as well as creating new initiatives in an exciting and vibrant new environment. We look forward to updating you all on these developments as we are able to release the information,” says Fryer.
In 1983, Josephson and Barbara Caffery took over the defunct Books for Cooks and hired Fryer as manager. In a April interview with Q&Q, Fryer said, “You’re always having to reinvent yourself as a bookstore.”
Notwithstanding the fact that, in its most recent quarterly report, Indigo Books and Music noted a decline in sales of e-readers year-over-year, Toronto-based tech company (and former Indigo property) Kobo is ready to launch a slew of new products, including a dedicated bookstore aimed at kids.
Publishers Weekly points to a Manhattan event in which Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis announced the Sept. 16 release of a new suite of e-readers ranging in price from U.S. $150 to $400. Serbinis also announced the debut of Kobo Kids, a subsection of the Kobo bookstore that would market directly to children.
Kobo is launching Kobo Kids, a new e-bookstore within the [Kobo] store, that will offer more than 100,000 kids e-books, in addition to offering kids’ accounts (tied to their parents and restricted to kids titles in the Kobo store), safe search, “fun” reading statistics and awards for kids and an “allowances” feature that allows parents to set a pre-paid budget for their kids to purchase e-books.
While apparently convinced the children are the future, Kobo also seems to be hedging its bets on aspects of online reading that are, at best, extra-literary.
Serbinis also announced a partnership with a tech company called Pocket, whose software would allow Kobo users the ability to archive articles read online and make them accessible on a Kobo device. Other new features would reformat magazine articles for tablet reading, “reducing ‘the pinching and zooming’ readers have to do to read or see layouts.” And there is Beyond the Book:
a new social reading feature that adds a layer of information (it’s like having Wikipedia inside your book) that offers in-book links to info about characters, plots, the authors and more, available to readers without having to go to the Web. Kobo is also working with a variety of well-known authors (among them Margaret Atwood) and a variety of celebrities to offer Collections, a feature that provides recommendations to books and other content.
One year after French-language book distributors launched the Our Books at Fair Price campaign, it appears as if the idea may have support from the Parti Québécois government.
According to CTV, the Quebec government is considering the regulation of book prices as a means of protecting independent booksellers. The proposed plan could include fixing prices on books, regardless of where they’re sold or their format (digital or print), and reducing discounts on bestselling titles.
A parliamentary commission will begin hearings on Aug. 19.
Last August, after John Wiley & Sons sold Frommer’s to Google for $22 million, it was rumoured that the travel giant’s ubiquitous guidebook series would soon be discontinued. Those concerns appeared to be justified when reports emerged in March that Google had quietly ceased print production of new series titles.
Google has since sold the company back to its founder, Arthur Frommer, who has stated his commitment to print publishing in several interviews, but the situation demonstrates the tumultuousness experienced by the travel-guide industry over the past decade. Several independent Canadian publishers, including Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press and Toronto’s Formac Lorimer Books, have ceased producing travel guides altogether, and most guidebooks sold in Canada are now published outside the country by international companies like Avalon Travel, Lonely Planet, and Fodor’s.
However, after several years of declining profits and increased online competition, the market appears to have stabilized. Canadian publishers and booksellers are reporting steady sales bolstered by ebooks, specialized guides, and new editions of classic titles.
Montreal-based Ulysses is the only Canadian publisher devoted exclusively to traditional guidebooks. In 1990, the company, which started as a bookshop a decade earlier (and still operates two Montreal stores), began publishing its own titles. According to publisher Claude Morneau, Ulysses specializes in books that combine the “cultural and practical aspects” of travel in Canada and the Americas, targetting international and domestic tourists.
One of Ulysses’ biggest challenges, says Morneau, is convincing travellers to pay for guides when so much free information is available online. “Travel publishers have to highlight their expertise and their editorial independence, which other sources of information can’t guarantee,” he says.
Ulysses titles have been available as ebooks since 2009. Although growth has been slower than expected, sales are up 34 per cent from 2012 and represent approximately four per cent of overall sales. The company is also developing its first app, although Morneau notes that the financial investment required rarely seems to pay off.
One decision that has paid off is Ulysses’ commitment to the French-language market, a success Morneau believes is due to the diversity of Francophone retailers in Canada and Europe. Ulysses’ French-language series, Guides Escale, aimed at short-term visitors to Montreal, Toronto, New York, and other cities, is a recent bestseller for the company. Recreational guidebooks that focus on “regions and themes other publishers are not covering” also do well, including the new Guide to Creative Montréal, which provides 10 tours of the city’s arts scene.
Other Canadian publishers in the travel market have found success by keeping things local, focusing on regional-interest titles, nature guides, and updated editions of old favourites.
Vancouver’s Greystone Books, a former imprint of D&M Publishers now owned by Heritage House Publishing, began releasing travel books with Jack Bryceland’s 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia. First published in 1973 by the British Columbia Mountaineering Association, the guide is now in its sixth edition.
“When a book works, and it keeps working and it’s kept up-to-date, it can be very successful over a long period of time,” says Greystone publisher Rob Sanders.
Sanders observes that guidebook sales tapered off slightly five years ago, but have “been holding their own ever since,” with ebooks selling about 10 to 20 per cent the volume of print. (A similar division exists in the rest of Greystone’s catalogue.) To date, Greystone hasn’t produced any apps, but Sanders says he’s “exploring the possibilities.”
Although Halifax’s Nimbus Publishing has decreased the number of titles it produces annually and has yet to make its travel books available digitally, recreational guides and regional-interest books continue to sell.
“We have a guide to Kejimkujik National Park that has information that’s nowhere else,” says sales manager Terrilee Bulger. “I think there’s still a market for that. Also, Halifax Haunts, a guide to haunted sites in Halifax, does well.”
Specialized travel booksellers have also felt pressures of a shrinking market, but Jeff Axler, owner of Toronto’s Open Air Books & Maps, has observed some customers returning to print books, frustrated by tiny device screens, cellphone roaming charges, and an inability to quickly thumb through pages or add notes.
Despite 37 years in the business, Axler is uncertain about the future but cautiously believes the Frommer’s sale is a positive sign. “Things are slightly better this year than last,” he says, “but it’s definitely never going to get back to where it was.”
Open Air Books & Maps does not offer online shopping – Axler notes the challenges of competing against major e-retailers like Amazon – instead focusing on its physical store, a strategy shared by The Travel Bug in Vancouver. Andrew Schoulten took over the store, which specializes in travel books and luggage, earlier this year after the retirement of long-time owner Dwight Elliot. He notes a “big resurgence” in book sales after a major dip around four years ago, in particular for series like Lonely Planet, Bradt, and Rick Steeves. Schoulten doesn’t plan to make any major changes to the business except to increase the floor space dedicated to luggage.
As booksellers and publishers continue to adapt to a transitioning market, one fact continues to bode well for the industry: Canadians’ appetite for travel is alive and well. The only question that remains is, who will help them reach their destinations?
This story appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Q&Q.
On Monday, when developer David Mirvish announced the sale of the iconic Honest Ed’s discount store in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, speculation began immediately over its future owners and usage.
Yesterday, the Toronto Star reported that the deal will mean an even bigger change for the neighbourhood, as the sale also includes Mirvish Village, an eclectic enclave of independent shops and restaurants that surrounds Honest Ed’s.
Among the stores affected is The Beguiling, a comics retailer that has been a mecca for graphica lovers since 1987, and its companion shop, Little Island Comics, dedicated to younger readers. Owner Peter Birkemoe told the Star: “I always felt that development of this area was inevitable, but I held out hope that it would be the Mirvishes undertaking it.”
Originally a residential area, Mirvish Village has a long history with Toronto book lovers. In 1967, “Captain” George Henderson opened Memory Lane, considered to be Canada’s first comics bookstore, at 594 Markham St. In 2008, architectural book retailer Ballenford Books closed its doors after 29 years in business, and from 1974 to 2009, David Mirvish had his own eponymously named bookstore, which specialized in visual arts titles.
Mirvish, who says he’s focusing on developing properties elsewhere in the city, says the affected businesses will have three years to find new locations.