Indigo Books celebrates its 25th anniversary

Indigo Books & Music celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a special collection of 28 limited-edition books released in September, which includes important titles published over the past quarter-century. The collection includes CanLit classics such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s TaleLawrence Hill’s The Book of NegroesThomas King’s The inconvenient IndianAlice Munro’s lives of girls and womenand Michael Ondaatje The English Patient; national non-fiction favorites, such as Chris Hadfield Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and Orr: my story by Bobby Orr; and a selection of contemporary hits such as Anthony Doerr’s All the light you can’t seeby Rupi Kaur milk and honeyand Tara Westover educated. The hardcover books all feature blue flyleaves that echo the bookstore’s branding and are illustrated with covers created by emerging Canadian artists.

“Nineteen of the books are Canadian, 15 are fiction, and half are BIPOC authors,” says Rania Husseini, senior vice president of print books at Indigo. Husseini was, like many Torontonians, born abroad. Originally from Palestine, she emigrated to Canada at the age of 16 and eventually joined Indigo, working her way up through the chain’s Coles, Chapters and Indigo stores to her current position. This experience of having been a young immigrant working in bookstores informs her purchasing philosophy. “When I first walked into a bookstore, I didn’t see myself represented in the books,” she says. “Now I want to elevate underrepresented voices – be they Indigenous, Black, Asian, BIPOC, LGBTQ – so everyone who comes to one of our stores from any community sees themselves in the books. on the shelves.”

In a further effort to make the shopping experience at Indigo more inclusive, books should also be purchasable. For this reason, the Anniversary Editions are all priced at C$28, a relatively low price for a hardcover in Canada today. “With some hardcover books priced as high as CA$50 due to inflation, we believe the CA$28 price tag provides customers with excellent value,” says Husseini. Print runs will be 4,000 to 6,000 copies each, and a total of 115,000 copies of the limited editions will hit the shelves. “When they left, they left,” she adds.

Another important aspect of the selection is that 19 of the books are Heather’s Picks, titles that have been personally selected by Indigo Founder and Executive Chairman Heather Reisman for promotion in stores in the past. Reisman’s imprimatur often bestows instant bestseller status on a book, which then continues to sell for much longer than usual. “She only chooses books that she personally likes, and when she chooses a book, it makes a difference and really increases sales,” says Husseini.

Husseini calls Reisman an “incredible leader” – someone who is “fully committed to Canadian books, culture and reading.” Early in the pandemic, Reisman lobbied the Canadian government to consider books an “essential” good, saying at the time that “reading is fundamental to the soul.”

This point about Reisman’s commitment to Canadian books is important, because if there’s one problem the store often faces, says Husseini, it’s that customers sometimes don’t perceive it as Canadian, despite the fact that Indigo has 88 superstores (under the Chapters and Indigo names) and 84 small-format stores (under the Coles and Indigospirit names), employs some 5,000 people across Canada and has no competitors of comparable size. Yes, there is an Indigo outpost in the United States, in Short Hills, NJ, but no other plans have been announced to expand beyond this location, which “provides enormous customer knowledge “, says Husseini.

Over the past decade, the chain has gone through something of a reinvention, adding a wide array of complementary products ranging from beauty products and yoga mats to mugs and pillows. But the focus, says Husseini, is naturally on the books, which account for around 60% of overall sales. “We are particularly committed to working with small, independent Canadian publishers, many of whom are close to their communities. We want to stock our stores, so that when a customer walks in, they feel like the books have been selected especially for them.

That said, if customers can’t find a title that speaks to them, they can order from a selection of 15 million titles available on Indigo’s website, which is gearing up for a full relaunch this fall. “The biggest thing we did was update it to ONIX 3.0,” says Husseini, referring to the digital cataloging and metadata standard. Additionally, the redesign will provide more opportunities for the store to talk about books and merchandise in a way that appeals to readers. For example, books that are trending on TikTok may be front and center.

Last year, Peter Ruis was named president of Indigo, and on September 5 he was named CEO, succeeding Reisman. Ruis, who is British, has 30 years of retail experience, having worked to turn around several businesses including Anthropologie and British luxury department store John Lewis.

Indigo began celebrating her birthday as she began to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic. Sales for the fiscal year ended April 2 increased 17% from fiscal 2021 to C$1.06 billion (approximately $800 million). The channel also recorded an operating profit of C$29 million, compared to a loss of C$31.9 million in fiscal 2021. Indigo’s online business had cushioned the financial blow when stores had to close their doors to customers, but in fiscal 2022, sales through its big box stores increased 35% to C$595.5 million, while sales through smaller stores increased by 29% to C$93.1 million. Gains in physical stores offset a 13% drop in online sales, which fell to C$321.5 million. Despite this decline, online revenue was 98% higher in fiscal year 2022 than in fiscal year 2020, a year that ended just as the pandemic kicked into high gear.

Indigo took its omnichannel approach to retail years ago, and that move continues to deliver benefits. The retailer said it has seen consumer behavior change during the pandemic, with consumers increasingly beginning the discovery process on its digital platforms and purchasing books or other items from one of its stores.

As for the future, Husseini says the channel’s mission is simple: to bring the widest variety of books to the widest audience, elevate underrepresented voices, and foster inspiration and connection among readers. Husseini says Indigo’s philosophy boils down to one question for every customer: “How can we be a place where they can find inspiration and connect?” After that, the store strives to offer something even deeper: “A sense of purpose and joy.”

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A version of this article originally appeared in the 09/26/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Indigo Books celebrates its 25th anniversary

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