Interview with Serge Patrice Thibodeau

January 29, 2014 | By FRENCH CULTURE BOOKS

Serge Patrice Thibodeau is the editorial director of Éditions Perce-Neige, a publishing house based in Moncton, New Brunswick, that is dedicated to publishing works by Acadian authors. He is also author, member of the Board of Directors of the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres (ANEL), and Vice President of the Regroupement des éditeurs canadiens-français (RECF) all at once. He shares his experiences as a publisher of digital books in a bilingual country and gives us his opinion on the future of books.

Interview by Marang N’Douba, Book and Debates Officer – Consulate General of France in Toronto

When, how, and why did you start offering titles from your catalog in digital formats?
The entire Éditions Perce-Neige collection has been digitized since 2010–2011. Thanks to the Canadian Council for the Arts’ Flying Squad program [1], the publishing team was trained to “enter” PDF files so that we could produce some works in ePub format. Many Canadian publishing houses have received grants to help them move towards digital technology, but some have reported significant delays, particularly among publishing houses with larger collections. Perce-Neige started marketing certain titles in January 2012: now we have 17 titles available in a digital format.

Offering digital books is quickly becoming an obligation, particularly regarding government agencies. If you don’t, it’s difficult to explain why a publishing house is not preserving its collection in a digital format.

Has the digital world changed your work as a publisher? If so, how?

The digital shift brings extra responsibilities on top of our day-to-day work. You have to oversee the production and commercialization of digital books (ISBN and precise metadata for each title, production of files for browsing, contact with digital storage, billing, revision of contracts with authors or the development of new licenses, updates…). This means extra work, which has human and financial costs. Éditions Perce-Neige received grants from a number of different institutions that have allowed us to bear the financial cost. To be more precise, we’ve been able to recruit a new partner.

How do you promote this resource?
We promote our digital books via all of our communication media: the ISBN of the PDF or ePub file is clearly indicated in our catalogues and on our posters and ads. Our titles are available on several platforms dedicated to digital books (digital warehouses, Rue des libraires), but since we don’t have a great deal of figures or information about ebook sales, it’s hard to say if these efforts are bearing fruit. We believe, however, that in Francophone Canada, the demand for digital books is much less substantial than in Anglophone Canada.

Do digital formats offer new possibilities in terms of content?

I thought so, in the beginning, but I was quickly disappointed. For a publishing house like ours that publishes collections of poetry and plays, no supplier would agree to transform a poem or a play into ePub format because it’s too complicated. Illustrated books also make very large files that take a long time to download. They can also be affected by software bugs.

What do you imagine the future of books will be?
The advent of digital technology brings with it the problem of obsolescence and disuse. Digitalization is fantastic because it allows you to make old documents last forever. I like to think that in five or ten years, we’ll be speaking of digital books in the past tense. Devices, readers/tablets, and technologies change, and just like every other piece of computer hardware, digital devices fall quickly into disuse and rapidly become obsolete.

On the other hand, I think that paper books will exist forever, just like “niche” publishing; the specific challenges there are congestion at printing plants and the mood swings of paper manufacturers. To my mind, the real threat to books is the Internet and the growing importance of social media.

In Canada, the real threat to books is the new Copyright Modernization Act called Bill C-11. Everyone loses, there: first writers and other authors, then publishers, and, indirectly, bookstores, under the pretext of greater democratization of access to works. This bill is a real disaster!

What do you think about the proposed legislation to fix the prices of books in Quebec?
Fixing book prices is necessary to support both independent publishers and bookstores: I support my Quebecois colleagues in their efforts, even if regulations like this will have no immediate effect on Éditions Perce-Neige. However, if independent bookstores continue to disappear, that would be a loss to us publishers because there would be no more bookstores giving readers recommendations to choose our books.

[1] Support program intended to help cultural organizations transition to digital goods and/or services.

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