When Publishers Weekly publisher and vice-president Cevin Bryerman spoke last week in Montreal’s Atwater Library and Computer Centre about the changes revolutionizing the publishing world, his message was by turns fatalistic, prescriptive, dismaying, and upbeat. “The digital age is definitely here,” he told an auditorium packed with book industry professionals, “and you have to embrace it.”
Booksellers will be dismayed to know that publishers are working with their own databases of buyers – and that e-book sales of adult fiction titles have risen to 10%, with a forecast of 20-30% two years from now. With Canadian sales of e-books trailing far behind U.S. figures, I asked him whether this is a U.S. phenomenon. “It will grow,” he says. “E-publishing has to be part of your business.”
There are now only 1600 independent booksellers in the U.S., and their number continues to dwindle. But then the big box stores are in decline, too, and that may be good news for the independents. “Indie booksellers have to be strategic and community-minded.”
Even the upbeat message, which is that “there are great opportunities out there,” requires some pretty fundamental adjustments, as Bryerman knows first-hand. The revolution has not left PW untouched. Hence the international interest and outreach, which includes the Canadian market, for which there is a correspondent based in Toronto. Hence the reviews of self-published work, a policy change dating back two years. Hence hirings of editors with a digital mindset. Hence the apps, the website, the digital content. “The world is changing, and we’re trying to change with it.”
The great opportunities include opportunities for Canadian publishers, who should be submitting more of their books for review. Review guidelines are strict (see the PW website), but books received four months prior to publication will be considered. Publishers should send a cover note for a title deserving special consideration. While coverage is admittedly “advertising driven,” he is “open to productive conversations: “I need to know what you need to know about the U.S. market.”
His April 26 visit to Montreal having already taught him that Montreal needs special treatment (“I understand that the Toronto correspondent is not able to cover Montreal”), Bryerman expressed interest in learning more about Montreal publishers, in attending Opening Night of the 13th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival the following evening, and in taking on a Montreal stringer.
His talk was organized by Baraka Books and Quebec's English-language publishers’ association AELAQ.