Beyond hockey: Does Canada need to fight off a US bookseller?

The Canadian government will decide "soon" whether to allow giant American bookseller Amazon.com to set up a distribution center in Canada.

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    Amazon in Canada: hurtful to future Margaret Atwoods?
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This season, the Canadian-US rivalry seems to be extending beyond the hockey rink. Might giant US bookseller Amazon.com prove dangerous to Canadian culture and commerce? That's what the Canadian government must weigh as it decides whether or not to allow the Seattle-based book e-tailer to set up its own distribution centers in Canada.

Amazon already serves the Canadian market. But it cannot set up its own warehouses in Canada. Currently Canadian law requires that all distribution centers in Canada have majority Canadian ownership.

And some Canadian booksellers want to keep it that way. "To allow Amazon to enter the Canadian marketplace will detrimentally affect independent businesses and would raise serious concerns over the protection of our cultural industries," Canadian Booksellers Association president Stephen Cribar wrote to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore. "Individual Canadian booksellers have traditionally played a key role in ensuring the promotion of Canadian authors and Canadian culture. These are values that no American dot-com retailer could ever purport to understand or promote."

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But not every Canadian agrees. "Free the book market," urges Toronto-based writer Michael Taube in yesterday's Financial Post. "There’s hasn’t been a free market in bookstores in Canada for almost two decades," he writes, pointing to the "near monopoly" that he says Indigo Books & Music, Canada's largest bookstore chain, has on the national market. "Now may be a good time to try it."

Canadians who favor allowing Amazon to set up its own Canada-based warehouses and distribution centers argue that it could mean lower book prices and more jobs for Canadians.

Arguments against the extension of Amazon's network – or that of other US booksellers – into Canada include the fear that heavily capitalized American firms could gain "a stranglehold on the Canadian bookselling market," summarized Eric Jackson, writing for The Street.com. These American firms wouldn't understand "the cultural importance of Canadian literature. Only Canadians could promote up-and-coming Canadian authors to allow future Margaret Atwoods to develop."

In the realm of books, will Canada see a need to protect its home ice? A decision from the government is expected shortly.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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