The Structure of the Publishing Industries: The Canadian Book Market 2013


As we all know, “the publishing industry has always been in a state of crisis.” With bookstores closing and big publishers having a monopoly on the industry, publishing can only stay afloat by being constantly monitored. This is where BookNet’s annual report comes in; it provides data that is very much needed by the industry. It offers an in-depth analysis of the Canadian Book Market in 2013, from the weeks of December 30th, 2012 to January 5th, 2013. It looks at three categories: fiction, non-fiction and juvenile. Within these three categories, we see over 50 subjects, ranging from literary criticism to suspense and thrillers to body, mind and spirit books. I won’t be talking about all of them; rather I picked a few subjects in fiction and a few in non-fiction, based on areas that accumulated the most bestsellers. The report is presented through graphs and performance figures. It’s meant to serve all the industry’s players, including writers, agents, editors, publishers, and booksellers. An increasing number of industry players are actually relying on this report and other market analysis for their decision making.

For those of you who aren’t extremely familiar with BookNet, they’re a “non-profit organization that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry.” They were founded in 2002 and are run by various industry professionals. Their current chair is Karen Boersma, publisher of Owlkids Books.

Not unaware of the industry’s constant state of flux, they figured they might be of use if they collected and published data for industry professionals. They help companies promote and sell books and help them deal with the ever-changing market. Their main aim is to set standards and help organizations apply them. For the most part, their data is collected from what they call a “ring fence” of retailers, which represents a group of almost 665 comparable book retailers, within specific categories, that have been submitting their data constantly between 2009 and 2013. This allows for a more accurate understanding of how the market changes from year-to-year and allows us to see what individual categories fluctuate the most.

In the 2013 report, BookNet mentions that the most noticeable change was e-book sales: 17% of English-speaking Canada prefers to buy electronic books. Oddly enough, they didn’t actually collect data on e-book sales; I will address this later. It is also worth noting that while this study has no way of tracking online retailers, BookNet firmly believes that the perceived market decline is a direct result of buyers’ shifting from bookstores to online booksellers, such as Amazon. The main review panel in 2013 compromises of 2,000 stores, including chains, independents, online retailers, newsstands, etc.

The focus of the report is on trade print sales, and therefore does not cover every sale for every segment of the industry, such as online sales and especially educational sales.

BookNet also publishes other articles and a lot of information on industry trends and industry definitions (such as what constitutes a bestseller). I’ll be referencing these a few times throughout my presentation.

 Total Market and Canadian Publishers

  1. Total Market

For starters, the report gives a detailed summary of market statistics in 2013. To get these statistics, they use the collective sum of all sales tracked from their ring fence of retailers (mentioned above). In this case, the graphic pretty much speaks for itself. Because of this, I’ll just mention the highlights, or rather what I found the most interesting/relevant:

  • The total market value is the total sum of dollar value (by list price) of units sold by the ring fence of retailers. This allows for a comparison of year-over-year sales unaffected by the addition of new reporting retailers.
  • In 2013, the total market value was $711,239,160.91, which is a 8.76% decrease from the previous year.
  • The median week in 2013 made close to 15.5 million dollars compared to almost 17 million dollars in 2012.
  • It is maybe worth noting that Penguin and Random House merged the year this report was created, so the various divisions of both publishers which appear in the Publisher Market Share graph are no longer extremely relevant.
  • Basically, Penguin Random House along with HarperCollins and Scholastic own the majority of the market.
  • Actual book prices have for the most part remained the same; it should be mentioned that there are no price comparisons between e-books.
  • Sales volume (number of goods sold in the normal operation of a company in a specified period): highest was juvenile fiction at 27.36%; lowest was literary collections at 0.04%.
  1. Canadian Publishers

Secondly, the report also gives a Canadian specific summary of market statistics in 2013. A publisher is considered Canadian-owned if its main headquarters are in Canada; if the publisher is operating in multiple countries, like Harlequin Enterprises, they must have their head office in Canada. Again, I’ll just mention the highlights:

  • In 2013, the Canadian publishers market value was $35,184,257.95, which is a 21.94% decrease from the previous year.
  • The median week was around 800,000 dollars compared to over 900,000 dollars the year before.
  • Harlequin Enterprises, Firefly Press, Annick Press and House of Anansi were among those with the most market shares.
  • There is no available data for the sales volume by category.

Part 1: Fiction – all adult fiction title

  • BookNet ranks fiction books by the volume of sales.
  • Fiction represents 31.36% of the total market; it’s worth over 223 millions dollars.
  • The average week makes over 5.5 million dollars; around Christmas that number goes up to 13 million dollars.
  • BookNet classifies bestsellers as books that have appeared on bestseller lists. There is no set amount a book has to sell to make it a bestseller. It’s more of a competition, i.e. who sells the most books in a certain period of time (usually a week).
  • According to BookNet, there are busier times (obviously) and what can bring you to the top in July, for example, most likely wouldn’t bring you to the top in December. In fact, it might only put you in the top 100.
  • I’m only going to talk about the categories of the top five bestsellers in both paperback and hardcover:
  1. Fiction – General & Other (12.93%)
  • Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call from Heaven (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Sylvia Day’s Entwined with You (Penguin Group USA)
  • Will Ferguson’s 419 (Penguin Group Canada)
  1. Historical
  • Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed (Penguin Group Canada)
  1. Mystery & Detective
  • John Grisham’s The Racketeer (Random House)
  1. Romance
  • Nora Roberts’ Dark Witch (Penguin Group USA)
  1. Suspense & Thrillers
  • Dan Brown’s Inferno (Knopf Doubleday Publishing)
  • Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep (Scribner)
  • John Grisham’s Sycamore Row (Knopf Doubleday Publishing)


  • What I find noteworthy is that romance, which represents 6.45% of the entire market, only has one bestseller.
  • I want to say that the two categories that sell the most (romance and suspense & thrillers) have the most in common, but the truth is that all categories have many similarities (or at least the bestsellers do).
  • The hardcover on average goes for around $30, with the graphic novel being the most expensive.
  • The paperback on average goes for around $11, with the graphic novel, historical and romance being the most expensive.
  • What I found interesting is that the best week ranges from subject to subject and one year sometimes will have a huge peak – most do well around Christmas time, but romance does really well in July and suspense and thrillers does really well around May.

Part 2: Non-Fiction – all adult non-fiction titles

  • Non-fiction represents 31.19% of the total market; it’s worth over 300 millions dollars, which is a lot more than fiction even though they both represent about the same amount of all unit sales.
  • The average week makes over 6 million dollars; around Christmas that number goes up to 24 million dollars. This literally barely changed from last year.
  1. Biography
  • Bobby Orr’s Orr (Penguin Group Canada)
  • Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Random House Canada)
  • Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala (Little Brown & Co)
  1. Reference
  • Craig Glenday’s Guinness World Records 2014 (Canadian Manda Group)
  1. Psychology
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath (Little Brown & Co)
  1. Cooking/Health & Fitness
  • William Davis’s Wheat Belly (HarperCollins)
  • William Davis’s Wheat Belly Cookbook (HarperCollins)
  • Janet Podleski’s The Looneyspoons Collection (Granet Publishing)
  1. Religion
  • Eben Alexander III’s Proof of Heaven (Simon & Schuster)
  1. Humour
  • Staff Oatmeal’s How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (Andrews McMeel Publishing)


  • There’s nothing much to say about this bestseller list because it all corresponds to what categories usually make the most money (biography and autobiography, cooking, health & fitness, and religion)

Category 3: Juvenile – all juvenile fiction and non-fiction including young adult

  1. Fiction
  • Juvenile fiction represents 27.36% of all unit sales and 19.28% of the total market value, which is a decrease of 12.78% from the previous year.
  • A regular week averaged out to make close to 3 million dollars, which is not hugely different from the previous year.
  • They make the most profit from paperback sales.
  • Interestingly, the top seller juvenile fiction books are based on movies.
  1. Non-Fiction
  • Juvenile non-fiction represents 5.88% of all unit sales and 4.72% of the total market value, which is a decrease of 1.82% (barely nothing) from the previous year.
  • A regular week averaged out to make close to $747,000, which is actually close to $38,000 more than the previous year.


I’d like to conclude by saying that though this report does no track e-book sales, BookNet also published another report called The State of Digital Publishing in Canada 2013, in which they to a certain degree address e-book trends. In 2013, 90% of publishers were creating e-books or had a solid plan to produce them in the near future. Their top reason was to increase sales but the others were consumer-driven – accessibility and demand. Only 15% of companies reported that producing e-books was cost-effective; the rest said they cost about the same to produce as regular books.

Discussion Questions

  1. There are no statistics on e-books and fiction doesn’t offer a general fiction category. How would these benefit the study? What other areas do you think need improving?
  2. How could this report benefit from knowing how many books are sold online? How could that be tracked?
  3. Based on the trends I’ve mentioned, what could be done to make the less popular categories (i.e. graphic novels) reach a higher/bestseller status?
  4. Why is juvenile fiction the only category on the rise?
  5. How is this relevant to Canada if there is no data on sales volume by category?

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