Publishers per capita

Manitoba’s high density of publishers creates a good environment for authors

Perhaps it’s time for Manitoba to start celebrating its status as a publishing hotspot.

For every book publisher in Manitoba, there are just 86,000 people. British Columbia more than doubles this, with about 193,000 people per publisher. In Ontario, they’d need to collect 358,000 people before finding one.

With all these publishers in Manitoba, how can they operate or thrive in such close proximity to each other?

Michelle Peters, executive director of the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers (AMBP), believes that variety makes it possible. 

“We have a good, stable industry with different types of publishing represented,” she says.

Victor Enns, president of the Mennonite Literary Society, publisher at Rhubarb magazine and publishee in Turnstone Press’ third year of operation, says publishers’ specialization also helps. 

“Publishers have been successful in finding certain niches, rather than competing with each other directly,” Enns says.

Manitoba publishers are extremely diverse and represent many genres. Some focus on children’s books, politics, poetry, fiction, literary works, non-fiction, academic works or other types of writing.

Clarise Foster, editor of Contemporary Verse 2, says local publishing houses can build stronger relationships with authors. 

“Often when you have local publishers, they are more inclined to take a second look at somebody who is local and talented.”

Peters agrees that local publishers are committed to working closely with writers. 

“They’ll take on manuscripts from unknown authors, and they’ll work with them on the editing and their aspects of it. Development of first-time writers is a priority,” she says.

New and local writers make up a huge section of the industry. One-quarter of the 530 books published by AMBP members in the last five years were by new writers, and over half were written by Manitobans.

And supporting these local publishers can make a difference, too. Seventy-seven per cent of Manitoban publisher spending stays inside Manitoba, while 74 per cent of book sales come from outside the province. 

Andris Taskans, the founding editor of Prairie Fire magazine and founding member of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, has some ideas for how the industry could grow. 

“I would like to see more provincial and municipal government support for book and magazine publishing,” he says.

Enns sees some difficulty in getting government funding for the publishing industry, because it’s not as “sexy” as other arts.

“Publishing is not quite as lucky as film or music, but there are programs of support from the government … most particularly, the introduction of the Manitoba book tax credit,” Enns says. “It is a credit we worked very hard to make available to all publishers, whether they were for-profit, not-for-profit, university presses, whatever.”

The credit has added $500,000 in income a year to Manitoba book publishers and allows them to claim a refund for a portion of their labour costs, Enns says.

Foster believes the industry is doing excellent work.

“I would like to see them get more recognition for the books they publish,” she says.

And Enns’ view on what the industry needs more of is succinct: “Books.”

Explore more from Manitoba publishers at ambp.ca.

Published in Volume 71, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 30, 2017)

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