Mark Leslie Lefebvre 2009 in Review: Plus ça Change, Plus c'est la Même Chose

Mark Leslie Lefebvre is a blogger, a writer and an innovative bookseller at McMaster University. There’s a rumour going around that he also plays a mean jazz flute.

In many ways, 2009 was an intense year of change within the Canadian book industry. 

In February, for example, Reed Exhibitions cancelled BookExpo Canada, which used to be a small trade show run by Canadian Booksellers Association. Years ago, it was taken over by a large corporation, grew fast, got out of hand and was no longer about booksellers and publishers sharing information and ordering books, but about flash and glamour, publishers paying continually growing rental fees for booths they couldn’t afford and ridiculously long line-ups for freebees.

It started to be managed further away from the actual book-loving people it was centered around (ie, booksellers, publishers and authors), and eventually things collapsed.  Canadian Booksellers Association quickly put together a “back to the basics” Summer Conference 2009.  Touted as “Stronger, smarter, shorter, sweeter” it included more opportunities for simple connections between participating publishers, authors and booksellers.  It was a great success. 

There’s more change in the air, with respect to digital delivery of books (both ebooks and digitally delivered POD)  As one of three Espresso Book Machine owners in Canada, I personally witnessed the importance of embracing the ability of authors, publishers and booksellers to act quickly in getting books into consumers hands.

I worked with Playwrights Canada Press to get two books into a classroom at McMaster which were out of print and stock and thus would have otherwise been unavailable for study.  This resulted in publisher income and further study of Canadian authored work.  Similarly, thanks to the forward thinking of Blue Butterfly Books, my bookstore was able to go from not having even heard about a great new fiction title (Second Rising by Catherine Wiebe) to having stock of it within a matter of hours in response to local buzz and promotion.  Again, increased sales because of a willingness of the publisher and bookseller to work together and try something new.

Of course, that type of advantageous use of POD is just the tip of it. There are so many opportunities to change distribution models to better benefit the author, the publisher, the bookstore and the consumer.

Digital books, something that we’ve only seen the modest beginnings of this year, present interesting changes and challenge. 

It’s my hope that the previously mentioned examples of the spirit of adaptation prevalent within Canada also takes hold and we don’t blindly follow the lead that the major US and foreign owned publishing houses seem to be taking with respect to ebooks (which seems more in line with the “old” way publishing has done things, based solely on models that subscribe to moving physical atoms from point A to point B)

I hope that 2010 allows the book industry to find ways to embrace the change and engage in the possibilities that digital can provide rather than subscribe to the belief that the existing world is coming crashing down around us.