Checking into the relationship between Canada Reads and Indigo: nothing to see here

I’ve noticed over the last couple weeks a few booksellers, writers, and books-adjacent folk marveling at all the publicity Indigo is getting through Canada Reads while lamenting the absence of the independent bookstores. People were wondering whether Indigo was officially “sponsoring” the event. That got me wondering what the optics, never mind the ethics, of that even are, given that CBC is supposed to be our national public broadcaster. So I wrote to CBCBooks and asked. An executive producer got back to me right away with a very friendly and concise update.

Short answer: no, Indigo is NOT officially sponsoring Canada Reads. But they have in in the past, as has Kobo. Further, a cursory search of the CBC Books coverage of Canada Reads turns up no links to Indigo pages or mention of the retail giant. All checks out, which is a good thing, in my opinion.

But, while I have no idea what the rules around this are, given their status as a public broadcaster, I do see the practicality of having major retailers with massive infrastructure on board for a national reading program. That said, much like everything else Indigo has done to books in Canada in the last 20+ years, it’s not great for independent bookstores to be left out in the cold for what is basically a yearly cash grab. (For foreign readers: Indigo is a like our Barnes & Noble: a massive shade tree planted in a bed with sun-loving flowers.)

Plus, what does it say to our reading public about our priorities around the consumption of literature when we try to unite them around a single title, then send them in cars to big box stores when they could walk on foot to a small shop down the way — one that is presumably breathing actual life into their neighbourhood? What are your thoughts?

Thanks to CBC for getting back to me so quickly and frankly. The bulk of the message is quoted below::

There is no formal relationship between Canada Reads and Indigo. They are not an official sponsor. 

Before the public announcement, we share the Canada Reads titles under embargo with retailers large and small and other associations like CELA and NNELS to help them prepare for the demand for the books. We offer use of promotional elements by request, for example bookstores can request physical posters be sent to them or they can download and print their own. Indigo is included in these offers alongside everyone else.

When retailers approach us with ideas to promote Canada Reads, we work in a non-exclusive way. The only time we have had exclusivity with any elements is when we have a show sponsor TV and digital elements. The radio broadcast is never part of any sponsorship agreement. Indigo was a sponsor in the past, as was Kobo. 

An example of a retailer request would be last year’s Apple Books feature, where they came to us and asked for photos and quotes from each panellist, or this year’s Indigo event with the panellists and authors.

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