The Canadian publishing industry has long faced uncertainty, but e-books, the U.S. pricing system and a concentration of major retailers in the Canadian market contribute to greater uneasiness today, according to three industry insiders.

Three insiders discussed their concerns about the future of the industry on CBC’s The Sunday Edition — Scott McIntyre, the founding partner and CEO of Douglas and McIntyre, Margie Wolfe, President of the Association of Canadian Publishers and co-founder of Second Story Press, and Patsy Aldana publisher of Groundwood Books and co-chair of the National Reading Campaign.

As sales per book decline, e-books appear to offer a lower-cost option to publishers, McIntyre said, speaking with host Michael Enright. However, he said he believes e-books have not been around long enough to predict future sales trends.

"It’s the wild west. Nobody knows anything," he said. "The margins on e-books are good, they’re even not bad for writers. But it’s not a business model yet."

Another issue is the discrepancy between U.S. and Canadian prices. Canadian books are not currently priced at fair market value because they have to compete with lower U.S. prices that are based on a much larger market, according to the panelists.

"The irony is we’ve always been good creators, and I would argue that the industry is very professional here. But we’re always up against deeper pockets and bigger markets," said McIntyre.

At the same time, publishers are being squeezed by larger commissions, which they pay to major retailers for selling books or placing them in prime locations. Because Chapters-Indigo dominates the Canadian retail market, it can demand such commissions.

Despite shrinking profits, Canadian publishers have a fighting spirit, they noted. 

"Instead of saying the sky is falling, we have to remember that Canadian publishers have been remarkable for their resilience," said McIntyre.