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Alberta book publishers seek dramatic funding boost in provincial budget

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2017-02-25 Madeleine Cummings
022417-CAL0108-sg_b1.JPG-attard-W.jpg© Stuart Gradon 022417-CAL0108-sg_b1.JPG-attard-W.jpg

Book publishers in Alberta are asking the provincial government to include a $15-million fund for publishing houses in the next budget.

The Book Publishers Association of Alberta released a proposal for an Alberta Book Publishers Fund in November and has been meeting with legislators and staff from the Culture and Tourism Department to discuss it.

Alberta publishers already have access to grants from the province, but publishers say the amount available is inadequate, especially compared to funds going to other arts industries and publishers in other provinces.

“It’s at such a low level now that it could increase by a factor of several times before it would have the right impact on survival of our book publishers,” said Glenn Rollans, a veteran publisher and the association’s president.

The number of book publishers in Alberta has declined over the past 30 years. According to Kieran Leblanc, the association’s executive director, 45 publishers were active in the mid-1990s. That number has shrunk to 28. The worst of the attrition occurred between 1997 and 2005, she said.

A number of prominent, Alberta-based companies — including Lone Pine Publishing, Brindle & Glass, Altitude Publishing, Red Deer Press and Rocky Mountain Books — have either left the province, been sold to out-of-province companies or gone out of business in recent years.

According to Kelsey Attard, the publisher of Freehand Books in Calgary and a member of the association’s executive board, better government grants in Ontario and British Columbia entice Alberta publishers to move there.

“Even in the last 10 years, we’ve seen the same thing happen again and again,” she said.

Publishers say they would like to produce more books by local authors, hire more staff, increase their exports and better plan for their companies’ futures. They also argue that Alberta’s film industry has benefited greatly from significant provincial investment over the years.

“I think if we want to keep pace with other cultural industries, like film and music, it’s important to keep funding at the same level,” said Matt Bowes, the general manager of NeWest Press in Edmonton.

Despite entering the industry during a difficult economic time, Edmonton-based Stonehouse Publishing released its first five titles in 2016, nearly broke even financially and reprinted Pam Clark’s breakout novel, Kalyna.

But Netta Johnson, its publisher, said the company struggled to sell their books alongside a “sea of competing titles” in chain bookstores before the leftover copies are returned after two months.

“In terms of logistics, even a successful book which sells all of the first run of 1,000 books is not guaranteed to profit the publishing house, and often doesn’t. That is why grant support is so essential in this industry,” she said in an email.

About 90 per cent of the manuscript submissions Stonehouse receives comes from Alberta authors.

Publishers have advocated for increased funding for a long time, and came close in the early 2000s with a proposal that made it to cabinet but was not funded.

“We have typically found ways to survive, but I think we can be much stronger contributors than we are now,” Rollans said.

According to Statistics Canada, 67 per cent of the industry’s operating revenues came from book publishers in Ontario in 2014. Quebec and British Columbia followed with 27 per cent and 3.5 per cent, respectively.

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