Small Independent Bookstores in Canada Are Almost Extinct

Canadian small independent bookstores have played an important role in local communities for many years but are now about to become extinct. While they have had a significant cultural and social impact, many independent bookstores closed doors in cities such as Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, and elsewhere.

Why the Future of Independent Bookstores Is Uncertain

Competition from big-box book retailers is one of the main reasons why the prospects of small bookstores are unclear. In fact, chains account for about 70 percent of sales. E-commerce is also on the rise, and many prefer to order books from the comfort of their home. EBooks have become increasingly popular, and some predict that eBooks are soon to replace hardcover copies. In fact, some go as far as to predict that our main shopping streets will turn into e-commerce pickup points in the near future.

What Indie Retailers Share

According to a survey by BookNet Canada, in 2018, 65 percent of indie retailers have experienced increases in revenue from new releases.  Non-book items account for a small percentage of sales or just 16 percent. The top marketing techniques that retailers use include advertising books at off-site and on-site events, stickering and shelving books, and selling in-store.

Bookstores Closing Doors

When the big-box book retailers entered the Canadian market, some 350 independent retailers closed doors or downsized. Toronto lost many indie bookstores over the last years, among which Pages, Mirvish Village, Ten Editions Books, and others. Some of these independent retailers have been iconic and ranked among the best indie stores in Toronto. Many small retailers also closed in Halifax, including Book Room, which opened doors in 1839 and was one of the oldest bookstores in Canada. Some of the best-known indie bookstores also closed in Vancouver, prominent examples being Duthie Books and Sophia Books.


What Can Be Done

Bookstores that offer new ideas and experiences have better chances of surviving in the face of competition and changing buyers’ habits. These can be things such as offering subscription services, hosting events, or opening cafes. Organizing events with celebrities and bestselling authors is also a way to attract readers and turn them into customers. Indie retailers may, for example, market themselves as book discussion communities. They can organize book events with a focus on new releases or bestsellers such as the Sun and Her Flowers, The Boat People, or Seven Fallen Feathers. Hosting a book discussion club is also a chance for authors to join and present their books and spark interest. Bookstores that are evolving and transforming offer customers something that is unique and exciting.

The study by BookNet Canada also shows that 33 percent of businesses are not members of retail, business, or publishing associations. There are also no regional and local trade shows or a national trade organization, all of which can help indie bookstores to stay in business and thrive.