Canadian publishers have attacked the decision by Indigo Books & Music, the country's biggest bookshop chain, to stock fewer books and evaluate returns on a shorter timeframe. They claim it is putting extra pressure on the publishing industry when digital technology is already imposing major challenges. Carolyn Wood, executive director at the Association of Canadian Publishers, said that while she expects publishers with blockbuster titles to remain unharmed by Indigo's policy change, the decision would hardly help anyone else.
Wood warned some publishers might start to avoid bookshops altogether. “If retailers aren't willing to play ball, then publishers have to find other ways to get their books out there,” said Wood, noting that she was worried Indigo's decision might be a stepping stone to more extreme scenarios for publishers, such as resorting to selling books direct to readers or increasing book prices.
Random House Canada president and chief executive Brad Martin said that he wasn't too concerned about Indigo's decision having a negative impact on his company, given its size. However, he agreed that increasing challenges in the publishing industry have already prompted bigger publishers to gravitate towards alternative marketing strategies, such as working in social media and engaging further with readers and authors in order to keep book sales up.
Marc Côté, publisher at Cormorant Books, a small Toronto-based publisher, said that while the change in policy could be good business for Indigo, that does not apply for publishers and authors. “They are modelling themselves on grocery stores and not bookstores,” he claimed.
Since 1st June, Indigo has been moving towards a product mix that includes more giftware and toys, with less shelf space reserved for books. The company will also now evaluate the success of a book after 45 days rather than 90 days. Janet Eger, spokeswoman for Indigo, said the chain would look at product performance and then potentially slim down inventory on a store-by-store basis after 45 days. “If one store is selling a book fantastically and another is not, we will first look to determine whether there is something we should be doing to promote the title to bring performance up,” she added.
But Côté argued this quicker turnround time meant new inefficiencies in the distribution stream: “Books ordered in the spring will be returned because they do not do well off the bat, and then, for example, if they are shortlisted for any award, they'll have to be ordered again in September,” he said. “This will have a definite impact on profit, and we'll have to pay for shipping and distribution costs twice.” Martin said that the most gains to be made for publishers would still come from having their books in stores: “In a bricks-and-mortar bookstore you browse and see what the book is really about—and there is the social aspect of going to a bookstore, too, that you don't get online,” he said.