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Industry Profile

May 2020 Profile


Book publishing in Canada is a $1.6 billion industry, with Ontario contributing two-thirds of total national operating revenue at $1.1 billion. The Ontario publishing ecosystem includes large, foreign-owned publishing firms as well as smaller, Canadian-owned publishers. There are 245 active Canadian-owned, English-language publishers in Canada, the majority of which operate in Ontario and Quebec.[1]

Industry Size and Economic Impact

Note: The following information on employment, revenue and the consumer market should be considered a snapshot of activity in the industry based on the best available information. Many of the figures for Canadian-owned publishers contained in this profile include a very small number of large corporations whose characteristics differ significantly from those of small- and medium-sized book publishers. All dollar figures are in CAD unless otherwise noted.

Revenues and Related Figures

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the following figures include all book publishers in Canada, including both domestically-owned and foreign-owned.

  • In 2017, the Ontario book industry generated $465.2 million in GDP, approximately 72.5% of Canada’s $641.8 million overall book industry GDP.[2]
  • GDP generated by the book publishing industry has declined both nationally and provincially, although the combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of GDP in Ontario between 2013-2017 was slightly higher than that of Canada, at -7.1% as opposed to -7.4%.
  • The book publishing industry had an operating revenue of slightly over $1.6 billion in Canada in 2016 and operating expenses equaling almost $1.5 billion, with an operating profit margin of 10.2%. Ontario had a slightly higher operating profit margin of 10.9%, with $1.1 billion in operating revenue and just under $1 billion in operating expenses.[3]
  • In 2018, 54 million books were sold in Canada, with a total combined retail value of $1.1 billion. Of those, 33.5% were non-fiction, 25.5% were fiction, and 39.4% were juvenile and young adult novels.[4]
  • Sales of e-books and internet sales of print titles are both on the rise. Between 2014 and 2016, book publishers saw a very small 0.5% increase in total sales of own and agency titles. However, sales of print titles not via the internet declined by 2.5%. In contrast, internet sales of print titles increased by 8.6% and sales of e-books by 11.6%.[5]
    • However, in 2016, internet sales of print titles still only accounted for $166 million of the $1.37 billion in national book sales, or 12.1%. Sales of e-books made up $188 million, or 13.7% of book sales, indicating that while these options are on the rise, they’re still far behind print books bought in brick and mortar store locations.[6]
  • Of the $1.37 billion in book sales generated nationally in 2016, 81.0% were domestic sales and 19.0% were exports. Of the firms generating these sales, 53.8% were foreign-controlled and 46.2% were Canadian-controlled.[7]
  • According to Nordicity, in 2016 the Canadian English-language publishing industry earned approximately $404 million in revenue. The majority of that amount is attributable to sales of their own titles, including rights, at 64%.[8]

Employment and Wages

  • Canadian book industry jobs have dropped noticeably from just under 15,000 in 2013 to 9,500 in 2017, but have stabilized somewhat in the last several years. Ontario book industry jobs have also declined, but not at as dramatic a rate, going from over 8,500 in 2013 to just over 6,000 in 2017. They have also stabilized since 2015.[9]
  • The Ontario book publishers industry spent $256.8 million on salaries, wagers, commissions and benefits in 2016, down 3.3% from 2014. This accounts for 68% of the $379.7 million spent nationally.[10]
  • Of the 2016 Canadian book publishing industry expenditures, 25.7% went to salaries, wages, commissions and benefits.[11]
  • Of the 245 English-language, Canadian-owned publishers in Canada, the majority (78%) of them have fewer than 10 employees, with only 2% having 50 or more employees.[12]
  • Nordicity estimates that in 2016, the Canadian English-language publishing industry supported 5,940 full time equivalent employees, 45% of which were direct employment at publishers, 36% of which were indirect employment in publishers’ supply chains, and 19% of which were induced employment from the re-spending of direct and indirect labour income.[13]
  • The English-language Canadian publishing industry workforce is largely female, with 70% of full time equivalent (FTE) positions held by women.[14]
  • The (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) has released their 2018 Canadian Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey, providing demographic information about publishing industry workforce including race, gender, and sexual orientation. Of the 278-279 respondents (depending on the question), 82% identified as white, 74% identified as female, and 72% identified as heterosexual.[15]

Consumer Market

  • According to a report by Hill Strategies based on Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey, 77% of Ontarians age 15 or older read a book at least once in 2016, which is roughly on par with the national percentage. The study also found that 73% had read a book in print, and 30% had read an e-book.[16]
  • A (opens new window)BookNet survey of Canadians from across the country showed that 16% of Canadians say they read print books every day, 7% read ebooks, and 3% listen to audio books. Participants in the survey were far more likely to read on a weekly rather than daily basis, with 43% reading print books weekly, 25% reading ebooks, and 15% listening to audiobooks.[17]
  • Canadians are generally reading less overall. A 2020 Ipsos survey shows the gaps in readership between audiobooks and e-books are significant, with a nominal gap for print readership. Even though the market for audiobooks might be growing, audience demand appears to be decreasing which could lead to future market decline.[18]
  • Audiobook listening has risen substantially in recent years. In 2016, 11% of book buyers indicated that they listened to audiobooks. That number increased by 24% to 35% in 2018.[19]
  • A companion study by (opens new window)BookNet had findings relating to discoverability of books for Canadian readers. This survey showed that more participants discover books through word of mouth than through any other medium, at 44%.[20]
  • The majority of the Canadian book sales of own and agency titles are in English, with $1.1 billion in 2016. French and other languages account for $248 million in sales. Both French and English sales remained fairly steady between 2014 and 2016, with English increasing by 1% to 81.9%, and French and other languages decreasing to 18.1%.[21]
  • Libraries remain an important source of books for readers. Twenty-seven percent of readers of print books, 21% of readers of ebooks, and 24% of listeners of audiobooks say that they acquire the books they read or listen to at the library. This is the highest percentage for print books (followed by physical stores at 21% and online retailers at 18%), and is tied for first with free sites for audiobooks. Online retailers or apps make up the highest percentage for ebooks at 36%, followed by free sites at 24%, then by libraries.[22]
  • Participants in a Canadian diversity study by (opens new window)BookNet Canada indicated at a fairly high rate that they were interested in increased diversity in books. Thirty-one percent of respondents indicated that they would read more often if they could access more diverse books, and 62% stated that they actively seek out books with diverse subject matter and authors. Furthermore, 61% of underrepresented readers and 40% of well-represented readers stated that they would be “very interested” or “interested” in reading books by authors who are Black, Indigenous or other people of colour.[23]
  • In the past year, 21% of Canadians have bought a book, 28% have borrowed a book from the library, and 8% have both bought and borrowed. Given that more Canadians are borrowing than buying, (opens new window)BookNet Canada has developed a demographic profile of the average library book borrower. This individual is female-identifying, in her mid-fifties, partnered, living in central Canada, not living with kids, a university graduate, and living in an urban area.[24]

Trends and Issues

The growth rate of the book industry is positive according to statistics from PwC, both nationally and internationally, and the Canadian industry is growing significantly faster than the United States. Print versus digital is a reoccurring theme as the marketplace changes and consumer demand evolves. Accessibility and metadata for ebooks are also important from a consumer perspective, and Quill & Quire’s Canadian publishing industry sexual assault survey sheds light on ways the industry can improve itself from within.

Growth Rate and Industry Trends

  • Of the 6,420 new titles and editions published in 2016 by the Canadian English-language publishing industry, the majority (59%) were published both in print and digitally. Thirty-seven percent were published in print only, and only 4% were published exclusively in a digital format. Trade books were most likely to be published only digitally at 5%, educational books were the most likely to be published in print only at 46%, and scholarly books were the most likely to be published in both formats at 97%.[25]
  • Despite the fact that in 2016, 59% of books were published in both print and digital and 4% were published digitally only, 95% of domestic sales revenue came from print format books. Nordicity suggests that this mismatch can be partially attributed to lower sales prices for digital works, but these numbers would also seem to suggest that print continues to be the more lucrative medium.[26]
  • Deloitte predicts that the global audiobook market will grow by 25% to US$3.5 billion in 2020; a dramatic increase when overall media and entertainment growth is projected to be only 4%. Some possible drivers for this increase are the increasing use of smart speakers, as well as subscription streaming for audiobooks.[27]
  • PwC has estimated global book revenue in 2018 at US $122.5 billion, and projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.2% between 2018 and 2023. It is also predicted that the revenue generated by ebooks will continue to climb, reaching one quarter of total book revenue by 2023.[28]
  • The Canadian publishing industry is growing at close to twice the speed of the United States industry, with a 2018 revenue of US $1.8 billion and a projected CAGR of 2.1%, reaching US $2.0 billion by 2023.[29]
  • The results of a (opens new window)BookNet Canada survey showed that Canadian independent booksellers have a generally positive perspective on the state of their stores and the industry in general, with 74% viewing their bookstores as “healthy”. The study also showed that independent bookstores still have a niche alongside the major chains, with convenience and atmosphere stated as the primary motivations for indie store patrons.[30]

Global and Domestic Issues

  • The federal Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology completed its (opens new window)Statutory Review of the Copyright Act and published its report on June 3, 2019. The (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers put out a press release urging the federal government to act quickly and decisively after the October election to address the issues raised in this review, particularly regarding fair dealing for education. The committee heard a number of concerns that the 2012 introduction of educational fair dealing to the Act resulted in substantial loss of revenue for content creators and publishers as a number of educational institutions opted out of collective licensing, resulting in arguable copyright infringement.[31]
  • Federal policy on foreign investment in Canada’s book publishing industry is an ongoing issue for the publishing sector. Currently, the Investment Canada Act prohibits foreign ownership in the book publishing, distribution and retail sectors in Canada unless the (opens new window)Department of Canadian Heritage determines that an exception should be made because the foreign ownership will provide a net benefit to Canada. The Department of Canadian Heritage consulted with stakeholders on the policy in 2010, but to date no changes have been made. Reaction to the foreign investment policy and how it is being implemented differs among segments of the publishing industry. The (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers has gone on record advocating that Canada’s foreign investment policy for the book industry retain the current restrictions on foreign control, and that any changes include transparency and reporting mechanisms on the effectiveness of net benefits arising from foreign undertakings.[32]
  • A 2016 submission by the (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers to Canadian Heritage on Canadian content in a digital world states that the development of a healthy book sector ecosystem requires fair remuneration for rightsholders, as well as a strong network of locations for consumers to find books (such as stores and libraries). To achieve this, they recommend “focusing on citizens and creators,” “reflecting Canadian identities and promoting sound democracy,” and catalyzing economic and social innovation.”[33]
  • With one in five Canadians having one or more disability, it is important to produce materials which are as accessible as possible, and ebook publishing is a versatile ground for this. There are a number of customizability options that can make ebooks more accessible, such as font size, spacing, lighting and colour.[34]
    • It is also essential that publishers use the correct metadata methods to make retailers and library staff aware of an ebook’s accessibility features. BookNet Canada points to a number of resources for this, including guidelines by EDItEUR for providing accessibility metadata in ONIX, as well as information about companies like the National Network for Equitable Library Service, the Accessible Books Consortium, or the Centre for Equitable Library Access.[35]
    • Ontario publishers are making strides at creating accessible content: (opens new window)House of Anansi Press has been nominated for the London Book Fair’s Accessible Book Publishing Award and Disfigured by Amanda Leduc (published by (opens new window)Coach House Books in 2020) is the first book in Canada to be published simultaneously in traditional and all accessible formats.
  • In early 2019, (opens new window)Quill and Quire ran an anonymous survey looking to shine a light on sexual harassment and sexual assault within the Canadian publishing industry. Of the 185 people who participated in this survey, 53.5% had experienced harassment of some kind, and 63.2% said they had witnessed some kind of harassment, assault or predatory behavior. The vast majority of individuals who reported harassment were women, at 86%. Many of these victims of harassment never came forward with their claims (74%), and of those who did, 82.5% said that their complaints weren’t handled in a way that was satisfactory to them.[36]
    • (opens new window)Quill and Quire made a number of recommendations for next steps, including shifting hiring practices to allow for more women and people of colour to step into prominent roles; creating a cross-Canada code of conduct; and unionization. Reponses also emphasized communication and codes of conduct within offices; stepping back from a culture of alcohol consumption; and creating new support systems.[37]
  • (opens new window)BIPOC of Publishing in Canada, an industry collective aiming to support and connect Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) publishing workers, went live on social media in June 2019. The collective aims to support and create a community environment for BIPOC publishing industry professionals in Canada and has launched the BIPOC of Publishing Mentorship Program.[38]
  • Some smaller Canadian publishing houses are facing difficulties in selling their businesses, due to the fact that the Canada Council cannot guarantee that grants awarded will continue after the sale has been completed. These grants can, in some cases, make up a significant portion of the publishing house’s revenue, and there has been criticism that a lack of transparency regarding reassessment criteria on the part of the Canada Council is damaging to the sustainability of these smaller presses.[39]
  • Wattpad, a Canadian-based online platform for emerging authors to share their work and receive direct feedback from readers, has created a new imprint called Wattpad Books to enter the physical book market and begin printing some of their most successful stories. They will also be partnering with Penguin Random House U.K. to expand their publishing into Europe.[40]
  • Some Canadian children’s literature publishers are finding a market in China, where more than 40,000 children’s books are published every year, making up almost a quarter of the total book sales in the country. While some challenges are identified, such as heavy screening for “objectionable” content and the need to work with the state on all publishing to obtain ISBNs, this has proven to be a strong market.[41]
  • The Canadian Urban Library Council (CULC) is calling for publishers to give libraries fair access to ebooks and e-audio books, the costs for which can be up to six times to cost for a hard copy of the same book. Additionally, limited numbers of checkouts on these resources increase wait times significantly for patrons. In spite of this call for change, a number of publishers are moving from perpetual access models to shorter term licenses and metered models.[42]
  • (opens new window)eBOUND Canada released a study analyzing ebook acquisition, licensing, lending models, and discoverability in Ontario libraries. The report includes survey results from Ontario librarians about their preferences, and about the policies and procedures of their libraries. Among other results, the study found that a “one copy, one user” lending model was the most preferred, and that there is an interest among Ontario libraries in working with publishers to experiment with lending models.[43]
  • While a significant portion of the book market has moved from store sales to online sales, online window shopping still often leads to in-store purchases. According to Indigo Books & Music, one in five customers who visit the online store purchase a product in-store.[44]
  • The (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers provided a written submission to the pre-budget consultations in advance of the Canadian 2020 federal budget. In it, they recommended that the government increase the Canada Book Fund from $38.4 million to $58.4 million within the next five years or less.[45]

Government Support

Note: The information included in this section is an overview of some of the government support to the book publishing sector. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of government support available.

Industry Recognition

Ontario authors and publishers are frequently lauded for their outstanding work:

  • The 2019 Trillium Book Award Winners were announced in June 2019. Dionne Brand won the English Trillium Book Award for her novel The Blue Clerk ((opens new window)McClelland & Stewart), Lisa L’Heureux won the French Book Award for Et si un soir ((opens new window)Prise de parole), Robin Richardson won the English poetry award for Sit How You Want ((opens new window)Signal Editions/Véhicule Press), and Diya Lim won the French poetry award for La marchande, la sorcière, la lune et moi ((opens new window)Les Éditions L'Interligne).
  • In addition to her Trillium Book Award win, Dionne Brand has also won the Toronto Book Award for her novel La marchande, la sorcière, la lune et moi> ((opens new window)Knopf Canada).
  • Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway ((opens new window)Book*hug Press) won a Governor General’s Award for Poetry. Small in the City by Sydney Smith ((opens new window)Groundwood Books) won a Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature - illustration. Two (opens new window)Playwrights Canada Press books won: Birds of a Kind won a Translation award and Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris won for Drama.
  • The Shortlist for the 2019 edition of the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize includes two books published by Ontario Creates-supported publisher (opens new window)House of Anansi Press: Megan Gail Coles’ Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club and Alix Ohlin’s Dual Citizens. The latter is also a finalist for the $50,000 2019 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, as is André Alexis’ Days by Moonlight, published by Ontario independent press (opens new window)Coach House Books.
  • The $50,000 2019 Canadian Children’s Literature Award went to Heather Smith’s Ebb&Flow, published by Ontario publisher (opens new window)Kids Can Press.
  • A title published by Windsor-based independent publisher (opens new window)Biblioasis was on the 2019 international Booker Prize shortlist, Lucy Ellmann's Ebb&Flow.
  • The 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize was awarded to Ian Williams for his novel Reproduction ((opens new window)Penguin Random House Canada).

Profile current as of February 28, 2020


  1. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 3.
  2. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 36-10-0452-01 – Culture and sport indicators by domain and sub-domain, by province and territory, industry perspective. (Accessed August 29, 2019).
  3. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 21-10-0200-01 – Book publishers, summary statistics. (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  4. ^ (opens new window)BookNet Canada, The Canadian Book Market 2018, April 1, 2019.
  5. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 21-10-0205-01 – Book publishers, electronic sales (x 1,000,000). (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  6. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, The Daily – Book publishing industry, 2016. (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  7. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, The Daily – Book publishing industry, 2016. (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  8. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 21.
  9. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 36-10-0452-01 – Culture and sport indicators by domain and sub-domain, by province and territory, product perspective. (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  10. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 21-10-0200-01 – Book publishers, summary statistics. (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  11. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 21-10-0201-01 – Book publishers, industry expenditures. (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  12. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 8.
  13. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 10.
  14. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 16.
  15. ^ (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers, 2018 Canadian Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey, March 2019, pp. 3-4.
  16. ^ Kelly Hill, “Arts, culture and heritage participation in Canada’s provinces and largest census metropolitan areas in 2016,” (opens new window)Hill Strategies, March 20, 2019.
  17. ^ Shimona Hirchberg, “Canadians and their leisure time: Leisure study part 1”, (opens new window)BookNet Canada, April 2, 2019.
  18. ^ Deloitte, TMT Predictions 2020: Fuelling the future (presentation slide deck), January 2020 p. 51.
  19. ^ (opens new window)BookNet Canada, “Meet the Canadian book buyer”, BookNet Canada, June 12, 2019.
  20. ^ Shimona Hirchberg, “How Canadian readers discover and obtain books: Leisure study part 2”, (opens new window)BookNet Canada, April 9, 2019.
  21. ^ (opens new window)Statistics Canada, Table 21-10-0206-01 – Book publishers, sales of books by language of printing (x 1,000,000). (Accessed September 6, 2019).
  22. ^ Shimona Hirchberg, “How Canadian readers discover and obtain books: Leisure study part 2”, (opens new window)BookNet Canada, April 9, 2019.
  23. ^ (opens new window)BookNet Canada, Demand for Diversity: A Survey of Canadian Readers, April 2019, p. 5.
  24. ^ (opens new window)BookNet Canada, “Canadians buy and borrow books”, BookNet Canada, June 11, 2019.
  25. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 14.
  26. ^ Nordicity, The Canadian English-Language Book Publishing Industry Profile, July 2018, p. 23.
  27. ^ Deloitte Insights, Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2020, 2020, pp. 106-108.
  28. ^ (opens new window)PwC, Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023, “Books,” June 2019.
  29. ^ (opens new window)PwC, Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023, “Books,” June 2019.
  30. ^ (opens new window)BookNet Canada, What’s in Store: The State of Independent Bookselling in Canada 2018, August 2019, p. 7.
  31. ^ Kate Edwards, “Canadian publishers urge action following conclusion of Parliamentary Review of the Copyright Act”, (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers, June 5, 2019; Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Statutory Review of the Copyright Act, June 2019, p. 55.
  32. ^ (opens new window)Department of Canadian Heritage, Investing in the Future of Canadian Books Discussion Paper, July 2010; (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers, submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage on Review of the Revised Foreign Investment Policy in Book Publishing and Distribution, 2010.
  33. ^ (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers, submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage on Canadian Content in a Digital World, November 2016.
  34. ^ BookNet Canada, “Producing ‘born accessible’ books”, BookNet Canada, June 20, 2019.
  35. ^ BookNet Canada, “Producing ‘born accessible’ books”, BookNet Canada, June 20, 2019.
  36. ^ Sue Carter, “Q&Q’s sexual-harassment survey: the results”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, April 22, 2019.
  37. ^ Sue Carter, “Q&Q’s sexual-harassment survey: what are our next steps?”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, April 22, 2019.
  38. ^ Sue Carter, “Q&A: Meet BIPOC of Publishing in Canada, a new industry collective looking to foster connections and support”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, July 8, 2019; BIPOCPub “Well, we are happy to announce the launch of the pilot of the BIPOC of Publishing Mentorship Program!” (Tweet), February 23, 2020.
  39. ^ Steven W. Beattle, “How the Canada Council makes a small press an uncertain investment”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, April 29, 2019.
  40. ^ Carly Lewis, “Wattpad has already disrupted digital publishing. Now it’s challenging the industry once again – by printing books”, (opens new window)The Globe and Mail, May 3, 2019; The Canadian Press, “Wattpad expands publishing arm to Europe, partnering with Penguin Random House U.K.”, (opens new window)The Globe and Mail, August 8, 2019; David Israelson, “What clicks with fiction readers? Wattpad helps authors find out”, (opens new window)The Globe and Mail, May 14, 2019.
  41. ^ Heather Camlot, “Canada’s kidlit publishers are finding success – and challenges – in the Asian Pacific market”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, May 16, 2019.
  42. ^ Maryse Zeidler, “Can’t find your favourite e-book at the library? This might be why”, (opens new window)CBC News, December 15, 2018; Sue Carter, “Canadian libraries galvanize over publisher changes to pricing models”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, July 11, 2019.
  43. ^ eBOUND Canada, (opens new window)Analysis of Canadian Content in Ontario Libraries, April 2019.
  44. ^ Ryan Porter, “One in five searches on Indigo’s homepage leads to in-store purchase, says CMO”, (opens new window)Quill & Quire, July 29, 2019.
  45. ^ (opens new window)Association of Canadian Publishers, submission to the Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the 2020 Budget, August 2019.