I end up with a generous amount of time between my visit to McGill-Queen’s University Press and my next date with Éditions Hurtubise. On another trip I would’ve used the time to explore more of the city—to head to the water or to browse shops in Vieux Montreal. Instead, I go back to my B&B. After a few emails, I take a nap.
To be honest, at this point I’m feeling exhausted both physically and mentally. I’ve been on the road for over three weeks, most days involving lengthy conversations about publishing and the climate therein. It’s fantastic! It’s overwhelming. And so today I take advantage of an extended lunch hour to be as alone (and as asleep) as I can get.
Later I make my way to Éditions Hurtubise by foot. The entire walk, I coach myself. The conversation will be in French, and I can do this. What I’ve come to realize is that speaking French for me is similar to playing a tune on the piano. Alone, I do well. In front of other people, I’m crippled by performance anxiety.
I arrive at Éditions Hurtubise, which is in a building that also houses Éditions XYZ and Éditions Marcel Didier, as well as Distribution HMH. For all those who have ever taken French in school, this is the place where your Bescherelles come from!
The receptionist brings me to the boardroom where I browse the books along the shelves while waiting for my hosts. The first thing Arnaud Foulon and Yasmina Daha do upon their arrival is offer me a drink. A coffee? A water? A beer?
Aha, very funny, I laugh. But they’re not kidding. The mini fridge in the boardroom is definitely stocked with beer. I joke that only in Quebec—land of wine in the grocery stores—would you find beer in the boardroom. But Arnaud assures me that it’s not just a French thing, it’s publisher thing. Éditions Hurtubise, perhaps, is just more transparent about it.
They make themselves tiny coffees and we begin our conversation. I know I’m making a ton of errors in French, but it feels like my hosts are happy to oblige and appreciate the effort. So much so, I barely have to ask any questions at all. The conversation seems to flow from one topic to the next without me needing to do anything but keep up with what they’re saying. This is relatively easy until David, who speaks at a tempo reserved for rappers and auctioneers, joins us.
Arnaud came to Éditions Hurtubise the son of five generations of publishing. His father is semi-retired and still at the helm of the company. Yasmina comes not from a background of books, but from working in communications in the arts and culture sector. David… I would love to say where his background is from, but the best I can do when listening to him is latch onto keywords. I catch is that he’s been in sales for a long time!
On fait pleins de choses… c’est un milieu qui change beaucoup et on apprend beaucoup de choses tous les jours.
In terms of publishing in French Canada, one of the important things to consider is that while they have a niche market, two thirds of that go to publishers from France. Other challenges a Canadian-owned French publisher has are very similar to what Canada’s English publishers face. These include decreasing media coverage in books, dealing with heavy discounting from box stores, and being hit on by writers in bars who have a novel they think would be perfect for to publish (that may or may not yet be written).
Interesting to note is that when it comes to EPUBs, “les livres numériques” take up less than 5% of sales compared to the under 15-20% of English Canada.
Government policies surrounding the publishing industry in Quebec are different. Here this means standing up for the local bookstores (in Quebec, called “librairies”). A law is in effect here that states no publisher can engage in direct sales (with the exception of educational sales). All books must be sold through a store. Returns are also regulated.
Currently there is a law being put forth that would place a limit on the discounts that can be provided by retailers. The law is far from being enacted, but this would limit retail discounts across the board for the first nine months after a book’s publication. I have only a small amount of knowledge on the legalities behind policies of this nature, but can see how a law like this would very much even out the playing field for booksellers.
In comparison to other independent publishers, Éditions Hurtubise (and by proxy the other houses and distro houses included in the HMH Group) is more on the corporate side of office types. That said, the French seem to know how to make everything more fun. We spend a lot of time laughing. The signs workers put up around their desks are clues to a workplace that is balanced and full of good humour.
The staff here recognize that at the heart of publishing is people—that what they are doing, at its base, is human. In asking why it is they are in publishing I finally find myself able to understand what David is saying.
“J’aime les livres, j’aime les gens…j’aime le monde.”
(“I love books, I love people… I love the world.” )