Gifts posted at the booksellers’ expense

Ottawa’s gift to booksellers won’t arrive in time for Christmas. The $ 32.1 million pledged seven months ago to help them increase their online sales will ultimately not be distributed until 2022, and will only pay for shipping books by Canadian authors, has learned. The duty. Until then, many booksellers are paying out of pocket to offer mailing to their customers.

“Often, as a bookseller, you work for virtually nothing. Calculations to support this, the president of the francophone bookstore of Ottawa Librairie du Soleil, Francine Mercier-Chevrier, shows that she makes practically no profit with orders of around $ 40. From this amount, the order benefits from free delivery.

The holiday season is the busiest of the year for bookstores, like back to school and, for some, on August 12, J’achète un livre québécois. The founder of the independent bookstore, which also has an address in Gatineau, is sorry that she cannot benefit now from the sums that were promised to her in the 2021 budget. “Due to the rise of the e-commerce giants, we have to invest to help Canadian books find their way to readers, ”the government advocated at the time.

Seven months and a federal election campaign have passed since the announcement of the new Support for Booksellers Whose Businesses Are Canadian Owned, amounting to $ 16 million per year, over two years, through the Book Fund from Canada. In an email to To have to, Canadian Heritage confirms that the program will be launched no earlier than January 2022. The funds will not be available until later in the year.

This new program is more generous than the envelope of 5 million dollars initially requested by associations of bookstores in the country to establish a reduced postal rate for books – rate which already exists, but which is only accessible to libraries. The program “responds well to current realities, believes Katherine Fafard, general manager of the Association des libraires du Québec, since it will cover, in addition to shipping costs, costs related to labor dedicated to the trade. line for the processing and tracking of orders, as well as promotion to increase those sales, in the context of the competition that the Internet giants are waging for Canadian retailers… a fight with unequal arms. “

But for the shipping of books, only the shipping costs of books by Canadian authors will be reimbursed. Thus, for a client who orders two French novels and one from Quebec, only the sending of the Quebec book will be compensated. Complex calculation? According to information from To have to, a ratio would be calculated for each bookstore based on its annual sales of books, and Canadian books. This ratio would then be applied to all mailings. The site sold 48% of Quebec books in 2020 and 46% in 2021, and estimates that it will reach 50% including Canadian books.

Free delivery ? Not for everyone.

“Book orders have exploded during the pandemic. And it stays. People have taken a liking to it, ”testifies the bookseller Francine Mercier-Chevrier. The situation of his bookstore is anything but unique, according to the brief Book prices for independent Canadian booksellers, presented to Canadian Heritage in February 2021 by the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association, Librairies Indépendes du Québec and Association des libraires du Québec (ALQ) and obtained by The duty. figures the increase in online book sales at 725% between 2019 and 2020. A phenomenal 1,300% increase in online sales was achieved at the height of the pandemic. “Where e-commerce represented less than 5% of sales before COVID-19, it now represents more than 25% of sales – even when bookstores have been allowed to open their doors to the public,” the brief notes.

A blessing that comes with a major problem: online sales pay much less for bookstores. Since books are expensive products to ship in relation to their value, shipping costs can represent up to 50% of the price of books in store.

With Amazon and the big chains in the picture, Mme Mercier-Chevrier believes that the customer “would go elsewhere” if it did not offer free delivery for orders over $ 39.95, a practice it considers harmful. And according to a CEFRIO study on electronic commerce in Quebec, half of online shoppers abandon their cart when the delivery is not free.

To counter Amazon

” The amount [offert par le fédéral] seems important at first glance, but if we do a quick calculation of $ 8 per shipment per customer, for all Canadian bookstores, we realize that it will run out quickly, ”said Julien Lefort-Favreau, professor of French literature at Queen’s University, and specialist in the world of books.

Indeed, the brief of the Canadian bookstores confirms that a “book purchase can be shipped to a customer in a province for [quelque] $ 8 or across the country for [quelque] $ 12. The signatory associations have 400 bookstores across the country. Thus, the initiative of the Book Fund, despite its apparent generosity, “does not help to fight on equal terms against Amazon”, believes the one who also signed The luxury of independence. Reflections on the world of books (Lux).

“Because Amazon sells everything, everything, everything,” Mr. Lefort-Favreau recalls. Obviously, Canadian bookstores also depend on their sales of international products, and sending them by mail, ”says the specialist. Renaud-Bray / Archambault declined the offer “to be part of the speakers” on this file.

What is a Canadian book?

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