Though not many of you may know her, Heather Reisman is the biggest player on the Canadian bookselling field. In fact, for all intents & purposes, she is the only player.
As of last year, her company, Indigo Books & Music Inc., owned approximately 70% of the book market share in this country. This virtual monopoly has made it nigh on impossible for indie bookshops to offer any real competition.
Until the late 1990s, smaller bookshops existed in harmony with two larger dealers, Coles & W.H. Smith — the latter being operated by a U.K company. Both had their beginnings in Toronto, ON, & would later grow to serve readers across the country.
Now, in 1980, Coles did open The World’s Biggest Bookstore — a 67,000 sq. foot location in the heart of downtown Toronto; however, a store this size was the exception, rather than the rule.
But, as the 90s progressed, an ambitious business man named Larry Stevenson took Coles, Smith’s, Classic Books, The Book Company & Active Minds, merging them into Chapters Inc.
During this time, Heather Reisman was determined to enter, & ultimately dominate, the Canadian book market. Her initial plan centered around a minority stake in Borders & the financial reputation of two would-be investors.
Due to an overdose of xenophobia on the federal government’s part, though, her scheme ultimately failed. Virtually no one sitting in parliament wanted to see Canadian culture infringed upon by outside forces. This paranoia played right into Stevenson’s hands, & using the influence of a former Ontario Premier, he was able to realize his dream of a nation-wide superstore book chain.
Reisman wasn’t finished, though. By September of 1997, she had built the first Indigo Books, Music & More in Burlington, ON — a small city east of Toronto. Thanks to her financer husband, Gerald Schwartz, she was able to aquire 8.5 million shares in Chapters in early 2001, giving the couple a 70% majority. This ended a battle between Reisman & Stevenson for the control of Canadian book market — a battle that had, at times, gotten personal.
And now, almost ten years later, Heather Reisman’s Indigo Books and Music continues to grow. Just this past October, a new location opened not too far from where I live — which now brings the total number of Indigo-owned stores in this town to six.
You’d think that having some 300-plus stores would be sufficient — especially in a country with a population of only some 34 million. But, no, from what I’ve heard, Reisman is intent on devouring the Canadian book market in its entirety.
This leaves the independent brick & mortar owners in a precarious position. Those whom Indigo would see closed must find ways to stay relevant, implementing inventive strategies that will retain existing customers & draw in those who have ignored their existence so far.
Fortunately, this site is chock-full of such ideas — and people who know the book business inside-out. It’s my opinion that if all bookshop owners were more like some of the bloggers on this site, Indigo & those of their ilk would not be the threat they are today.