Federal Funds Will Help Bookshelf Scale Up Digital Sales

Do you like books? Do you like small, independent book stores like the Bookshelf in downtown Guelph? If you do, then this was a good news day because the Federal government announced funding for the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association, as well as funding for 180 booksellers across Canada, to help support Canadian literature by making those tomes easier to buy through digital storefronts.

“Local bookstores are an important link connecting Canadians to our stories. Supporting our booksellers in growing their online channel is an investment in our cultural outreach, but also in the future of our authors and publishers,” said Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez in a statement.

A pool of funds worth $12 million were announced by Rodriguez in Montreal Wednesday to help 177 small chains and independent booksellers, along with three large chain booksellers, expand their capacity for digital sales over the next two years. In all, 467 bookstores across Canada that will benefit including 50 booksellers located in rural or remote communities and another 37 booksellers owned by or serving members of Indigenous, official-language minority, and racialized communities.

The Bookshelf’s share of this funding is $23,024, which was allocated according to past sales of Canadian-authored books. At the Guelph announcement, MP Lloyd Longfield said that this is both a cultural announcement and an economic one.

“When you look at the Bookshelf, and what it does to the downtown, it’s a destination point,” Longfield said. “Absolutely it’s economic, but it also reflects the culture in Guelph and the culture of independence and creative thinking that we have in Guelph. The Bookshelf has become one of those touchstones where creative people gather and share their stories and write new stories.”

Ben Minett, president of the Bookshelf, said that the store’s online storefront tends to get more use when people are unable to come in to the bricks and mortar store, but even now, buying books online is still a significant part of the Bookshelf’s business.

“It’s been really interesting to see how online sales react to what’s going on in the news and what’s going on in life, and what we really noticed throughout the pandemic was that online sales go up as COVID numbers went up,” Minett said. “Now things have sort of normalized, and a lot of people are coming into the store, but I’d probably say right now about 20 per cent of our sales are online.”

The $12 million in funding also includes $156,575 for the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association, which was founded by Bookshelf co-founder Doug Minett.

“Building on Doug’s previous work here in Guelph, he’s assembled quite a team across Canada, and they’ve looked at the independent distribution of books in Canada, and the challenges in fulfilling online orders to their customers with international online platforms,” Longfield said. “I’m pleased to see that we’re supporting the Canadian portion of digital media, which also helps us expand into new markets globally.”

Longfield drew a connection between the announcement and the upcoming holiday season as a good reason to visit shops downtown. In terms or rebuilding and reviving the downtown business area post-pandemic, the MP teased that there may be more good news for small businesses coming soon.

“We are working with downtown business associations, and there will be some announcements, hopefully soon, on that,” Longfield explained. “We’ve also just opened up the second round of a funding stream for recovering downtowns through the Tourism Relief Fund so that we can stimulate activities that drive tourism to downtown cores.”

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