19 May 09 | Chad W. Post

To celebrate Gallimard Montreal as our featured bookstore of the month I interviewed both Saskia Deluy and Julien Lefort about the store, Quebec literature and publishers, the future of indie bookselling, etc.

Chad W. Post: Could you tell me a bit about the history of Gallimard Montreal? When it was founded, it’s location in Montreal, etc.

Saskia Deluy: It was founded in Montreal in 1989, that is, the bookstore itself, the office for Gallimard-Distribution already existed in the same building on St. Laurent—one of the oldest and most important streets in Montréal. It was very much the project of the the man who was, and still is, the CEO of Gallimard Limitée in Québec, Rolf Puls. He opened this bookshop and has helped and supported it ever since.

CWP: Does Gallimard Montreal have a specific mission? How would you categorize the selection of books in the store?

SD: In the beginning the bookshop was supposed to keep at least one copy of every available book published by Gallimard (which was quite an impossible mission, and soon forgotten . . .). Besides, it was selling books by French and French Canadian publishers like any other bookstore, with a specialization in social sciences, literature and poetry. The specific mission was and is still to be a display for Gallimard in Québec and to promote their books.

CWP: How did you personally get involved in bookselling?

Julien Lefort: I’m a literature student. I started to work in bookstores to get a discount on books! It’s been 4 years now.

SD:I started at Gallimard almost 15 years ago, with the bit of experience I got by working for my father’s bookstore in Paris in the eighties (I studied Classical Archeology in Amsterdam but couldn’t find a job in Montréal).

CWP: In my short time in Montreal, I didn’t really notice any big box chain stores. Are the chains (like Indigo/Chapters) a huge competitor for independent stores? Is Amazon.ca?

JL: The French-speaking and English-speaking (reading) markets are very different. Indigo and Chapter take a lot of place in the English market. For the French market, two big chains (Renaud-Bray and Archambault) control at least 50% of the market. But a few indie stores are surviving in Montreal and Quebec. Amazon is, like everywhere else in the world, a huge competitor.

CWP: In America, indie booksellers have been dying off for years, and it doesn’t look like this trend is going to reverse anytime soon. Are Canadian stores facing the same problems?

SD: For the moment they survive, although with great difficulties, because they offer different books and the knowledge and competence that are almost totally unavailable in big stores. As long as readers prefer speaking to a human being for advice and sharing we have a small chance to survive, but it is getting more and more difficult, and the e-book will not help of course.

CWP: How would you describe the publishing scene in Quebec?

JL: Mostly one big publishing group (Groupe Ville-Marie) that takes care of mass literature (historic novels, cook books, psycho-pop). There are also a few mid-size non-specialized publishing houses (Boréal, Leméac) with mainstream authors. Finally, there are dozens of small specialized publishing houses (Le Quartanier and Le Noroit for poetry, Liber and Lux for non-fiction). They all receive subsidies from governments (local, provincial, federal). The sales are usually pretty low (around 500), except for a few bestsellers every year.

CWP: For Americans interested in finding out more about Quebecois publishing, which presses should they check out?

Boréal: mainstream novels and classics

Le Quartanier: experimental poetry, poetry, fiction and non-fiction

Héliotrope: young and hip novels and design books

Les Allusifs: foreign literature

Liber: non fiction, philosophy, social sciences.

CWP: This is always a tough question, but what are your top ten Quebecois (or Canadian in general) authors/books?

          Julien:

Hubert Aquin: complete work

Anne Hébert: Les chambres de bois

Paul-Marie Lapointe: Écritures

Réjean Ducharme: L’hiver de force

          Saskia:

Réjean Ducharme: L’hiver de force

Marie-Claire Blais: complete work

Hervé Bouchard: Mailloux, histoires de novembre et de juin

Catherine Mavrikakis: Le ciel de Bay City

CWP: I would suspect that in Quebec, and Canada as a whole, literature in translation is valued more highly than it is in the States. Do you think that’s accurate? Are readers especially interested in buying works in translation from your store?

JL: I don’t think it’s accurate . . . unfortunately. The bestsellers are mostly French-Canadian books (it’s a very “protectionist” market) and American books (Da Vinci Code, etc.. . .). But every year, there are a few foreign books that are selling well (usually, it’s a French best seller, Goncourt Prize . . .) (J.)

SD: As far as English books are concerned, a lot of people read English here, and English books are often cheaper and faster available of course!

CWP: Are e-books becoming popular with Canadian readers?

SD: We talk a lot about it and a few weeks ago I attended a symposium organized by the ALQ (Association des Libraires du Québec) about the future of our profession, where the different speakers all insisted upon a quick reaction from the book world here. For the time being there are no French e-books, but of course they will be here soon, and they improve with great speed. We are still looking for a way to keep bookstores in the market, by selling e-books, by working closer with editors and writers, by developing other partnerships etc. . . . As some French editors like Gallimard are already preparing their e-books, we talked about storage here in Montréal for Canadian e-books and are very much aware that Amazon and Google are moving fast.

CWP: What do you see as the future of the indie bookstore? Will the model have to evolve to be able to compete against other entertainment options (video games, internet, etc.) and/or e-books?

JL: I think that indie bookstores that carry rare books (philosophy, foreign literature) can survive against Amazon more easily.

SD: I am not worried about video-games and the internet as competing entertainment, I believe there will always be readers for good books—it is a different market. But I do worry about the e-book explosion. We will have to adapt to a new market, where a lot of books will be cheaper and easier to purchase as e-books. We will sell fewer books, get more specialized, and count on the specificity of small indie bookstores as mentioned above. I think there always will be a market for paper books (how often were they buried in the past?), but this market is going to get very small and even more competitive than it already is. All in all, I see a black cloud coming . . .


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