The Book Overlords of Canada

Posted September 29, 2020 by Bluestocking Bookworm in General / 0 Comments

Hi awesome nerds!

There has been a lot of talk about how Amazon is the reigning evil overlord in the US – especially of books. Their ability to undercut other sellers, specifically independents, is notoriously one of the main causes of the downfall of the independent bookstore.

But there is shockingly little of the same conversation as it relates to Canada. And when I found myself looking for a specific book recently, I decided it is time to start talking.

Some backstory

Back in August, I saw that Indigo/Chapters had canceled an interview between Heather Reisman (their CEO and “chief book lover”) and Layla Saad, the author of Me and White Supremacy. Normally, a canceled interview isn’t a huge thing. Stuff happens, right?

Except that Layla Saad is an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman* writing on the topic of anti-racism in a time when it is imperative that white people shut up, sit down, listen, learn, and do better.

And Reisman? She’s essentially the target audience for Me and White Supremacy. A privileged white woman.

Now for the missing piece that makes this such a bad look.

The interview was canceled because Reisman hadn’t done the guided journal prompts and exercises included in Layla Saad’s book. And that this same interview had been postponed for the exact same reason once before.

Left: postponement message (June 2020) | Right: cancellation message (August 2020)

I have never been the biggest fan of Chapters/Indigo, but they are one of the only options in Canada for book purchases – especially if you are trying to avoid Amazon. But this was the last straw for me.

I tweeted my outrage, and did some thinking. Because it’s one thing for me to be outraged and angry because of Reisman slighting Saad – and indeed the entire focus on becoming an anti-racist society. But that anger from me isn’t enough anymore. It isn’t productive. So I vowed to read the book.

Upon receiving my library copy (ebook) I dove in. And I quickly realized two very important things.

  • This is not a book you can push through quickly. I made it to the first set of prompts and realized that to truly benefit, I would need to let the questions sit and percolate for a day or two before I answered them.
  • This isn’t a one-and-done book. The first time you read it will be the most impactful, for sure. But I could see myself going back to it repeatedly. To remind myself of how to be anti-racist in a world where racism is embedded in absolutely everything.

I also felt very strongly that I wanted a physical copy. Naturally, I didn’t want to support Chapters/Indigo at all. So, I went looking for my own copy of Me and White Supremacy.

pricing comparison

I live in Winnipeg, and I consider that I have four options when it comes to buying new physical books. So, my options are:

  • Amazon
  • Chapters/Indigo
  • McNally Robinson (Canada’s “largest independent bookstore”)
  • Prairie Sky Books (my local independent bookstore)

My first choice was Prairie Sky Books, because supporting independent bookstores is important. COVID-19 has left me – like many others – without money to spend on things like books (even books as essential as Me and White Supremacy) so the $40 price tag was more than I could afford.

Out of curiosity, I looked at all of my options. I was completely shocked at what I saw.

(Ahem… I just spent 20+ minutes trying to make a pretty graphic with the screenshots I took, and it isn’t working, so no screenshots right now 😅)

Prairie Sky Books: $37.99
McNally Robinson: $37.99 (or $34.99 with a paid rewards membership)
Chapters/Indigo: $25.71
Amazon Canada: $25.45

It is also worth noting that both Chapters/Indigo, and Amazon Canada have free shipping options, where as shipping would be additional from either independent store. The paid rewards card from McNally Robinson is $25/year.

Now, if the price difference had been within $5, I would have just eaten it and bought it from one of the independent stores. But a whopping $12 difference?!

IMPORTANT: I am not angry with McNally Robinson or Prairie Sky Books, and I understand that a lot of the time books are more expensive at independent stores because they just can’t provide the bulk orders needed to get the steep discounts to pass on to their customers. But I have also never seen this large of a difference before. It’s frustrating.

How are we (book lovers, book bloggers, allies, activists) in Canada supposed to make the right choice in these situations? In this economy?

I am still committed to purchasing this book and doing the work. I will save up and likely buy it from Prairie Sky Books when I have the money. But most people will just go to whoever’s cheapest. In this case, that means either driving one more nail in independent booksellers’ collective coffins, or supporting a company whose CEO apparently can’t be bothered to do any work towards becoming an anti-racist person.

Is there anything that can be done to lessen the gap between what the big box companies are selling books for versus what the independents can sell for? Or will independent booksellers always be fighting this uphill battle?

All I know is that it’s well past time to start the conversation.

Stay bookish, lovelies! ♥

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