Trouble at Indigo? Bring back Canadiana!

Indigo Books and Music is having a bad year. Canada’s number one book retailer is dealing with declining sales. Compared with this time last year, sales are down roughly eight per cent. Those who want detailed figures can find them easily enough. Indigo CEO Heather Reisman points to some “promising early results on key performance measures.” And Indigo recently introduced a new rewards program.

Let’s hope that pays off. Meanwhile, I’ve got another idea. Let’s bring back Canadiana!

Yes, I have written about this before. But my unsolicited advice has as yet gone unheeded — though I offer it freely not just to Indigo, but to every independent bookseller in Canada. 

Once more into the fray. I would suggest that the way to differentiation — and so salvation — lies through an assertion of collective identity. 

Not long ago, I visited the main Waterstone’s bookstore in Edinburgh. There I found one entire wall — one long wall, mind, floor to ceiling — devoted to Scottish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children’s, crime, you name it. In Scotland, that approach sells books. And it serves additionally as an assertion of national identity: och, aye, this is us! We are here!

A short while later, in Dublin, I visited the Eason bookstore in O’Connell Street. This time, I found one long wall, floor to ceiling, offering Irish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children’s, crime . . . . it’s glorious.
Here in Canada, we went wrong some decades ago when we moved away from hiving off  sections in bookstores for Canadian books. Yes, I say “we” because Canadian writers were complicit in this change. Proudly we proclaimed that we didn’t need a ghetto to survive. We were just that good. By gosh, we could stand with the best in the world. 

Well, now, surely, we have proven whatever we needed to prove. And we have stumbled into a brave new world in which the digital (algorithmic) weather is against us and the wind blows hard and the rain is turning into hail. 

Surely it’s time for writers and publishers to call a halt to destructive infighting. Let’s admit that, in our hubris, we made a mistake. Let’s urge Indigo — and other booksellers — to start solving their problems by reviving the Canadian bookshop ghetto. Yup! I say we bring back Canadiana!

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