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Publishing in the family

Spotlight on Alumni

Rebecca Rose is the president of Breakwater Books, a St. John’s publishing house and the president of the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association. In May, the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs named Ms. Rose Youth Entrepreneur of the Year. Ms. Rose recently talked with our contributor Bojan Fürst.

BF: You grew up surrounded by books?

RR: I grew up surrounded by books, and writers and artists and anybody from the arts and culture background. I was fortunate in that way.

BF: What was that like?

RR: [Laughter] Really interesting actually. I recognize that I was lucky, but I did not know it at the time, obviously. Being a naive child, I just thought these were my parents’ friends. As I got older and started learning about them through the school system, I realized how fortunate I was to have been hanging around the likes of Gerald Squires … and musicians and writers like Des Walsh and all these wonderful who are so well known to me now as an adult. I feel very fortunate for that. And from what I recall it was all fun. [Laughter] Spending time with Al Pittman and his girls and with all the other people and their children. A lot of us still know each other and keep in touch. It was a good experience.

BF: When did you get involved in the book business?

RR: I have always been in and out even as a young girl behind the scenes waiting after school for mom and dad to get out of here. I’ve always been exposed to behind the scenes operations. I started actually working here when I was, I think, 15 when we had the retail outlet downstairs. I was working cash there initially. After high school I started working at Breakwater assisting the production department first. I was doing research and permissions and then graduated to the marketing over time. At this point I was also going back to university. If I weren’t at the university, I was here, unless I went out of the country. The last two years of university I went back full time and kind of took a break from here. I came back to publishing full time in 2002.

BF: What did you study?

RR: I actually did a degree in psychology [laughter]. How that has to do anything with books, I don’t know. But, in fact, I think it made me be able to survive this industry. It certainly helps in working with other people, managing other people. It helps me to deal with other organizations and to deal with, you know, sensitive people. It’s proven to be an asset in the long run.

BF: What was your experience at Memorial like?

RR: It was actually pretty good. I was one of those people who went in there out of high school dead set on doing a degree in biology. That changed right after my first semester. I knew right away I was totally off course and I started focusing more towards the arts.

BF: You said you traveled abroad?

RR: Yes. I moved to Ireland. At one point, they had sent their tourism people here to recruit Newfoundlanders. I think I was one of over a 1,000 young people at the time were hired to go over and work in Ireland. That was in 2000 or 2001. It was a fabulous experience. I am so glad I did it. I know a lot of young people came back from that and did not enjoy it, but I absolutely loved it. I was placed in a really small hotel out in the country and I was serving pints to farmers, essentially, and cleaning hotel rooms. But it was a great experience because when I got time off I traveled as much as I could around the rest of Ireland. I was really fortunate and had a friend placed at the same hotel as me so we could go together and see the rest of the country. We made the most of it and I am so glad I did it. It was fabulous.

BF: Book publishing is a rough business.

RR: It is. Very. I am a sucker for punishment [laughter]. That’s what I narrowed it all down to. You know, I was really hesitant to commit to this industry. I came back in 2002 and right off the bat I was questioning “What the hell am I trying to do here?” There is no sense of stability in any way, shape or form and it’s an ever changing industry. Right now, it’s undergoing a huge move towards digitization just like movies and music did. You know, the minute I got a sense of the whole printing industry, it’s all changing to digital. So yes, it took me a while to really commit to putting all my life efforts into this type of business and I had to take time to be sure that I am adequately prepared to do that and that the business was set up so that I felt comfortable taking this company into the future - or attempting to, I should say.

BF: What is your involvement with the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association?

RR: I am currently the president. Atlantic Canadian publishers have a very different experience of publishing than mainland publishers. So, while it is important for us to be involved nationally, we do have features that are unique to our own territory and that’s why we have our own association.

BF: How is the publishing industry different in Atlantic Canada compared to the mainland?

RR: Right off the bat, location. The heart of publishing in this country is Toronto. All the major players are there, all the major distributors, events, everything comes out of Toronto. First and foremost, we are distanced from that. Distribution is of course much easier from a centralized location, than when you are on an island on the edge of the north Atlantic. And obviously the market itself. There aren’t as many buyers of books in Atlantic Canada as there are in Ontario which makes every book we make harder to sell and push. In that way we have smaller sales potential. We as Atlantic Canada publishers have to prove our books here first before the rest of Canada is receptive to them. And we are all independent publishers in Atlantic Canada. We are not a part of multinational chains and huge presses. That presents all sorts of challenges marketing-wise, budget-wise, the number of people we can employ to do what a larger house would do...

BF: You talked about digitization. What’s going on right now?

RR: Right now, Canadian industry is all merging together. This is being facilitated through the national publishers association. We are moving forward as a collective to ensure that buyers and retailers are not underpricing our products before we have a chance to discover what they are really worth. You are already seeing trends where e-books are $9.99 regardless of whether it’s a 500 page book or a 100 page book. I think initially the publishers were just agreeing to those terms because nobody was sure how is all this going to work, but we recognize that if our distributors and aggregators are going to determine what our products cost now we will have no say in determining what are the actual costs in the future.

BF: How do you feel personally about digital books?

RR: Hmmm... I am not one of those people who is going to end up reading a book electronically. I like the physical feel of a book. I am very rough on books. I am personally not one who will ever go that route. But certainly the next generation coming is insisting that electronic versions exist. And this is all happening so fast. It’s just remarkable how fast it’s happening and the publishers are really struggling to keep up so not to lose control as we’ve seen happen with movies and music. We don’t want to see that happen, especially for authors. As if the book industry was not bad enough. So, personally, no it won’t be me, but I am preparing my books for the next generation that is to come.