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Book sellers, caught off guard by Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize, scramble to stock shelves

A seller handles Alice Munro books at the Munro's Books in Victoria October 10, 2013. Ms. Munro has been named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, making her the first Canadian to win the honour.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Almost immediately after Alice Munro was announced the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature Thursday, an e-mail was sent to all Chapters Indigo stores.

By noon Thursday, or end of day at the latest, the e-mail from managers read, all locations were to move Ms. Munro's books to the front of the store.

At a downtown Toronto store Thursday morning, though, the hastily-arranged display featured just 13 copies of the author's books – all they had in stock, an employee explained apologetically. Although they had ample copies of her most recent book, Dear Life, hardcover copies of many of Ms. Munro's other recent titles were out of stock. It was the same scenario on Chapters' website, too.

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The ubiquitous retailer wasn't alone. Thursday's Nobel announcement appeared to catch Canadian book stores off-guard, sending sellers across the country hurrying to stock up on the popular author's titles.

"It was a surprise for most of us; it usually is," said Ian Donker, general manager of Book City, a Toronto book store chain. Mr. Donker said that already Thursday, many customers had come into the stores asking for Ms. Munro's books.

"Everybody's doing that right now," he said of retailers across the country. "Everybody's on the phone with the publisher saying 'gimme copies, gimme copies.' "

Mr. Donker said that a Canadian writer winning the award is that much sweeter because of the relative ease of ordering Ms. Munro's books. In past years, he said, stores have run up against winners who only publish in foreign languages, or whose books they're unable to secure the rights to.

"She is Canadian. We have Canadian publishers who have published her. It's a very simple process this year," he said.

Bahram Olfati, the senior vice-president for printing and e-reading at Chapters said that the company has always maintained ample stock of Ms. Munro's books, but that if any of its stores were caught off-guard Thursday morning, that they were working quickly to change that. "If we only had 13 of her titles, this is a fantastic opportunity to triple that," he said.

Within hours, the company had also re-designed its website with a message congratulating Ms. Munro (with a "shop now" button prominently placed), planned to have an e-mail sent out to all of its customers notifying them of the news, and processed new orders on her titles.

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"What we're hoping this will do is to introduce her to a whole new generation of readers," he said.

He would not say how many new orders the company had placed, describing it only as "nice, substantial orders."

But whether Penguin Random House Canada, Ms. Munro's publisher, will be able to keep up with demand remains to be seen. "As far as we know, we have stock of all of Alice's active titles," president and CEO Brad Martin said Thursday. And any titles that they have in stock, he said, can be in stores as early as Friday or Monday.

Mr. Martin added that the company is in the process of looking at all of her existing titles, and will re-print any of the titles that they decide they don't have enough copies of.

As for how much of a bump in sales the Nobel announcement will cause, Mr. Martin said he's unsure. A Giller prize, he said, can usually amount to about 50,000 to 100,000 extra copies sold. But because the Nobel prize is awarded for a body of work rather than a single title, he estimates about the same number, but spread across all of Ms. Munro's titles.

"This is the first Canadian book to win the Nobel, so we're learning from this too," he said. "To the extent people come to Alice as a Nobel prize winner? It's new territory for us."

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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