Indigo Shoving the Small Kid

We like to think of Canadians as being polite, stand-up people who would never resort to bullying or strong-arm tactics. It’s a nice thought. But of course simply isn’t true. We can be, unfortunately, as bullish and predatory in business as our American, and global, counterparts.

Take, for example, Indigo’s latest tactic with small and micro publishers. Over the past year, because of Indigo’s new retail policy, whereby 50% of retail space is now dedicated not to books, but to giftware (over-priced and destined for garage sale giftware), small publishers across the country have had books flying back to them in astonishing numbers. Often these are books Indigo stores have had up to a year. And often those books weren’t marketed particularly well in-store, often relegated to the ‘local author’ section where few customers linger or browse. Couple that fact with the book retailer custom of ordering more books than could possibly sell (by expedient of the fact a publisher can’t deal with Indigo unless you allow returns), and you have a mix that makes a mess of business organization and cash flow.

And because Indigo is now stocking only best-selling and new release books from major houses, or from major distributors adept at bombast, there is little hope of small and micro publishers even having a chance at Indigo’s retail space. Sure, a small press can still look to book signings with the mega-chain. But therein lies yet another caveat, because rest assured the event store will order more books than will possibly sell at the event, all with the view of creating a visually pleasing display, at the publisher’s expense. And so those books will come flying back to the publisher, now within 45 days, according to Indigo’s new rules. That becomes even more difficult for the publisher in light of dwindling interest and attendance at book signings, even for many well-known authors.

There is another more insidious aspect to this entire culture of doing business with Indigo. If a small publisher finds itself in the position of having received hundreds of returns, that can equate to thousands of dollars in credits now owed to the giant, Indigo. And Indigo, in turn, in a thinly veiled attempt to throw up a windfall in cash flow, then expects immediate reimbursement for said returns. Doesn’t matter if those returns were from books originally purchased a year ago.

Should a publisher find itself in this position, suddenly that very tight budget and very tight ship finds itself with a breach in the hull that may be difficult to plug. And that breach becomes even more difficult to plug because Indigo’s response to wanting immediate payment is to suspend the account of any publisher who owes them money.

So, not only does the publisher find themselves in the situation of being a buyer, but also finds they’re unable to bring any new publications to market through Indigo because they can’t get their bibliographic data uploaded to Indigo’s system.

It’s sort of like cutting off an arm, and then saying, “Sorry, there’s no recourse to medical attention.”

And because small publishers have very little political or financial power to sway the opinions and actions of giants like Indigo, they’re left no alternative but to submit to standards and corporate decisions of whim.

Chase of this post? Five Rivers has found itself in a jail of monopoly, without a get out free card. Our books had been in scores of Indigo stores across Ontario, and even in Alberta and Nova Scotia. All of the small inventory in each store had has been returned, which taken as a whole has meant hundreds of books.

Any of our new publications as of September 1 will not be listed in Indigo’s online catalogue, and any of our old publications will only be available for order online through Indigo and unavailable for order through Indigo stores. We’re told that as soon as this rather impressive sum is reimbursed to Indigo that our account with Indigo will be reinstated.

In the meantime, of course, should you wish a print copy of any of our publications, you can choose to order directly from Five Rivers, through your local indie bookseller, who can either order directly from Five Rivers or through Coutts Information Services. Or you can choose to go to the other evil giant, Amazon, where our books are most definitely available. If you’re in the US, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and a score of other online chains carry our titles, as is the case in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Our digital versions remain available through Kobo, Apple, Kindle, Sony, Nook, Diesel, Books on Board, Smashwords and a plethora of other ebook retailers.

We’re working on clearing this up as quickly as we can. And although this is something quite beyond our control or influence, we apologize for the inconvenience to our fans, readers and authors.


  1. I don't believe you need to apologize. This arrogant stance by many of the conglomerates is nothing new. They claim to support local talent and business yet the outside world has no clue as to the difficulty and expense a smaller house goes through – let alone the numerous call-backs to get a response – just to get their books placed.

    One response given to us was that there was no 'big gain' to host our books, meaning they assumed the house would not bring in the sales compared to the bigger houses. Although I may agree with this point on some business level, the fact remains they should not judge.

    And yes, I've noticed too a wider space given to 'household' items lately.

    What it boils down to is this:

    they keep saying to promote local Canadian authors and houses but they are really not open unless you give them the shirt off your back.

  2. I dislike Chapters/Indigo so much that I haven't shopped there for more than two years. They are nothing more than a poorly run consignment shop unfriendly to small and indie Canadian publishers. I don't care if any of my books ever make it into their bricks and mortar stores or even in their online store. It wouldn't bother me at all to see them fail like Borders…They deserve it.

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