Canadian Magazine Industry News
12 August 2009,     HALIFAX
What the loss of independent book shops means for small mags
It's been a rough 17 months for independent book and magazine stores in Canada. Halifax's Frog Hollow Books is the latest in a string of indie shop casualties dating back to the April 2008 closure of Vancouver's Magpie Gallery. In a letter to customers posted on the store's website, Frog Hollow owner Heidi Hallet writes:

A number of things have contributed to this decision, from ever increasing rents, the slumping economy and increased competition from online, big box stores, discount retailers and grocery stores. Sales at Frog Hollow have dropped by 50 percent since 2003. After reviewing our second quarter sales, I had to make the gut wrenching decision that the business is no longer viable. While our move to Brenton Street resulted in an immediate increase in traffic and sales in June, it was simply not enough to see us through these incredibly difficult times. Closing Frog Hollow is a decision that has been very difficult to make, but we have exhausted our options over the last year and a half. Anyone who has been following our story knows that closing is a last resort for us.

The shop's last day of business will be Aug. 22.

Back in July 2008, Edmonton lost Front Page newsstand, while Toronto's Pages Books & Magazines will close its doors on Aug. 31.

The losses are particularly troubling for small, independent titles, which rely heavily on such shops to get their titles into customer hands.

"I did a ton of work with CMPA trying to distribute Shift through independent bookstores," says Sarah Watt, now a consultant with Abacus Circulation. "They were our lifeline. It’s scary. I can’t believe there isn’t a market out there."

The dominance of Chapters-Indigo has played a major role in reshaping the Canadian newsstand landscape, says Jon Spencer, also a consultant with Abacus.

"The dominance of one primary book retailer in the Canadian magazine industry is huge," Spencer says. "The problem for small titles is getting any visibility. The fact that Chapters is trying to carry so many titles means there’s only so much shelf space to go around. And the laws of business dictate that they should focus on the large-selling titles."

Matthew Blackett, publisher of Toronto-based Spacing magazine, says he typically sells 30-50 copies out of a Chapters stores compared to the 600-700 copies regularly picked up by Pages customers. Spacing was Pages' top-selling magazine and its closure "could put a significant dent into our newsstand sales," Blackett says.

The disappearance of such shops also goes beyond business, Blackett adds. Independent shops serve as "cultural hub(s). It acts more like a community centre than a bookstore."
— M.U.
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