Niche Publishers and the Condition of Canadian SF

I ran across this article by Robert Runté about the state of the Canadian economy (last Spring) and the role of new independent publishers in the evolution of Canadian SF, which I found interesting. Spec, Spring 2009


Publishers have been driven to this preoccupation with multi-million copy sales by market forces: to compete in a global economy, the major publishers have sought to increase market share by buying up the competition; but as independent publishers have been gobbled up by larger national concerns – which have in turn been bought out by mammoth global corporations – each level of consolidation has required the survivors to take on correspondingly larger levels of debt in their relentless acquisitions. The result is a need to achieve larger economies of scale to service this otherwise insupportable debt, and a rapid decline in the number of SF imprints as each merger rationalizes competing lines within its acquisitions down to a single imprint. Whereas the independent publishers of an earlier era could be satisfied with six to ten percent return on investment, that is not acceptable when debt payment alone can run several times that. Mid-list authors with sales of 50-60,000 copies are therefore no longer profitable to the remaining players; and new authors, untested subgenres, and boundary-stretching experiments are simply untenable. Consequently, the majors may no longer be publishing the best new SF.

So what’s a fan to do?

Runte goes on to encourage consumers to seek out the smaller, niche publications to support new and original Canadian SF.  I’m curious if, a year later, this is still as urgent or as valid a statement to make?  While I fully endorse Runte’s way of thinking, I also don’t see any major publishers necessarily turning away good authors. Then again, I think in terms of genre or spec fiction in Canada I get the general sense that there’s few enough venues to begin with (I could be wrong).

This article also reminded me that I really should finally get that subscription to On Spec, rather than trying and failing to find it on random visits to the bookstore/newstand.

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