An Introduction to Exporting Academic and Scholarly Books

“Canadians are exporters.” So begins our new market guide, Exporting Academic and Scholarly Books: A Guide for Canadian English-Language Publishers, and we couldn’t agree more!

Written by industry expert R. Peter Milroy, formerly of UBC Press, this report offers insight and knowledge into the global market for this specialized segment of the publishing industry. And yet, Milroy also offers wisdom into markets and practices that publishers of all walks of life will find beneficial.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some excerpts from our market guide on this topic. To begin, let’s set the scene with an introduction to the academic and scholarly books market.

Canadians are exporters. Our economy was built on exporting staples, namely, fish, furs, and wood, and later minerals. Today we export a much wider variety of tangible and intangible products, including cultural products. In 2008, published works accounted for $628.1 million—37% of Canada’s overall cultural goods exports (this is down from a peak of 46% in 1997).

Canadian cultural workers and cultural products have become increasingly important to the national economy and to the representation of Canada to the rest of the world. The impact of our literary culture has been substantial, and Canadians are justly proud of the international recognition of names like McLuhan, Munro, Ondaatje, MacMillan, Atwood, and Gladwell, among others. For authors of that level of prominence, publication in other countries is a straightforward proposition and is usually arranged directly with foreign publishers by their agents. Canadian publishers play a vital domestic role in the success of these authors in the trade market, but rarely gain from their sales under foreign imprints, which are not calculated as Canadian book exports.

Books can be exported in several forms: as printed volumes, as digital book files that can be printed in the country of sale, and as electronic books. The ease and speed with which e-books can be sold and delivered across oceans and continents is potentially transformative, both culturally and financially. However, despite predictions about the demise of print books, a substantial majority of buyers and readers continue to favour print, and in the last year, e-book sales in many categories are flat or have fallen. This lends support to the potential for printing in situ from digital files.

In 2012, export sales of Canadian books in all forms and genres accounted for 12.2% of operating revenue. Although Statistics Canada gathers data on book exports, it reports sales of all genres in one combined figure. Independent figures for books in the two genres that are our focus—academic and scholarly books—are obscured in Statistics Canada’s more detailed breakdown of domestic sales. It provided data on only four categories. Academic books are included in Educational (which also covers textbook and instructional books from kindergarten to post-secondary). A category simply identified as “Other” includes the classifications of scholarly, reference, professional, and technical books.

It might surprise people in a country that places such high value on disseminating the work of authors with high profiles that Canada’s energetic scholarly and academic presses, although small in number, include many of its most successful exporters. The four largest university presses and the two largest academic publishers obtain half or more of their revenue from US sales alone.

Of the 20 independent publishers listed in the directory of the Association of Canadian University Presses as academic and/or scholarly publishers, 12 are university presses. All three of the largest university presses report that exports account for about half of their sales revenue. Two academic presses (one a subsidiary of a university press) that focus on books for university course adoption also have export sales that are comparable to their domestic ones.

In contrast, however, several of the smaller presses say that exports account for so little revenue as to be immaterial.

Why Should Canadian Scholarly and Academic Publishers Export their Books?

  • To expand the market and sales potential for their books: Given the relatively small part of the world book market that the Canadian book publishing industry comprises, there is room for publishers to rethink the way they select books and take a more global view of the content of their lists. Canadian scholarship and innovation is impressive, and Canadian publishing can represent it well.
  • To help facilitate global dialogue and transmit important ideas: The principal goal of scholarly publishing is not to make a profit, but to ensure that important ideas, research outcomes, and reflections on cultural values reach a wider audience and promote intellectual discussion and exchange. Exporting the work of Canadian scholars and researchers adds great value to Canada’s reputation on the global stage.
  • To build the reputation of the publisher’s imprint: Reaching international audiences and disciplines in which Canadian scholarly and academic presses publish helps a press to define its leadership in specific disciplines and fields.
  • To diversify and build financial stability: Developing markets in other countries helps diversify a publisher’s financial base and, when currency exchange works favourably, can be especially financially rewarding.
  • To moderate the imbalance of trade in the academic market: Canada is a net importer of books from other countries and its intellectual balance of trade is deeply in the red. Building the importance of Canadian scholarly and academic brands internationally can also help increase their market share in Canada.
  • To attract authors: All authors want their books to be read, whether for acclaim or profit or both. Scholars want to know that their work will reach their colleagues around the world. Canadian scholars who work in fields that are not specifically focused on Canada often choose publishers from other countries because they believe that their work will reach wider audiences and achieve greater esteem in Canada and abroad as a result.
  • To increase translation potential: Books that reach audiences outside Canada are more likely to be identified for their translation potential. This has value for authors and publishers alike.
  • To develop business and professional relationships with other publishers and organizations: Exporting brings Canadian publishers in contact with their counterparts in other countries, from whom they can learn and share common experiences, thereby making them better at their own work.

Want to read the full report? Download your copy here! Watch this space for more on this topic.

08/16/2016 | Export, Market Guides, Rights