Photograph of the front door and main sign of Words Worth Bookstore, located on King Street in Uptown Waterloo, Ontario. There are tables set up beside the main entrance, covered in books, and the windows are filled with books on shelves and balloons celebrating the store's 40th anniversary on May 11th, 2024.

EXPLORING THE ROLE OF INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES

“It’s the sweetest part, I’m sure for all of the staff here, to put the right book in someone’s hands and know it’s going to change their lives,” said the previous co-owner of Words Worth Books in Uptown Waterloo, Chuck Erion, during the independent bookstore’s well-attended and celebrated 40th anniversary event on May 11.  

As any local from Waterloo will know, Words Worth Books stands as one of the most beloved local bookstores within walking distance of Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.   

As a current publishing certificate student at the Chang School of Continuing Education, I believe Erion’s words illuminate the importance of local bookstores in the Canadian publishing industry.

Compared to the United States, Canada’s list of publishing houses is far smaller. According to Publishers Global, Canada has 522 publishing houses, while the United States has 2,848.   

One of these Canadian publishing houses is Wilfrid Laurier University Press, which runs out of the university’s Waterloo campus. The house publishes “scholarly monographs and collections, trade books based on sound scholarship, and textbooks,” according to their website.  

 A search for books published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press on Indigo’s website will bring up only one result: Leadership and Purpose: A History of Wilfrid Laurier University by Andrew Thompson.   

On the other hand, searching for Wilfrid Laurier University Press on the Words Worth Books website brings up 924 products.   

This is only one example of the importance of local bookstores in Canada. Without local businesses like Words Worth, smaller publishing houses are far less likely to be seen by local readers.   

A study conducted by BookNet Canada in 2022 found that browsing is essential for those who shop at independent bookstores to find the titles they purchase. Further, 29 per cent of the 1,000 participants in the study said they choose to shop at independent bookstores due to the “good selection of titles on offer.”  

This “good selection of titles on offer,” in my estimation, is a result of the extensive knowledge that independent bookstores have of their backlist, which the publishing sphere refers to a publisher’s list of books that are still in print.   

Graphic depicting survey data regarding participants opinions on "why buyers shop at independent bookstores".

This sentiment is echoed by Mandy Brouse, the current co-owner of Words Worth Books.   

“We’re very knowledgeable about not only books that are coming out today, but books that have come out throughout the years. We have a good knowledge of our backlist,” she said.  

Support your independent local bookstores, and you’re supporting the Canadian publishing industry.    

This article was cross-published with The Cord.