Bookworms north of the border are likely to ratchet up their complaints about the U.S. imports, now that the shrinking U.S. dollar and rising Canadian dollar met at value parity last week.
Prices there have been a lightning rod for scrutiny, partly because both U.S. and Canadian prices for the same book typically are on the dust jacket. While the U.S. dollar historically has had a higher value than Canada's, Canadian prices for books typically have been higher than exchange rates alone could explain.
Among books released in recent weeks, as the currencies approached parity, the list price on Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World is $35 U.S. and $42 Canadian. Suggested retail prices for James Patterson's You've Been Warned are $27.99 and $32.50.
"Before, when there was a 5% or 10% difference (in the currencies), people would … accept that the Canadian price was higher without making a calculation," says Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. "Now that we're spot-on parity, it's tougher to explain away that difference."
Among reasons for continuing price differences:
•Time lag. List prices often are set more than six months before publication and can't accurately reflect a fast-moving exchange rate. The Canadian dollar is up 17% this year.
"It's becoming a huge issue," says Derek Weiler, editor of Quill & Quire, which covers the Canadian book industry. "Currencies are very volatile, (and) you can't be changing the price of the book every day or so."
•Older editions. Publishing houses have taken the Canadian currency's rise into account with new books and new editions, says Jacqueline Hushion of the Canadian Publishers' Council. But older books that haven't been reprinted will have larger disparities, she says.
David Kent, CEO of HarperCollins Canada, says his team has spent time and money tackling the issue. One tactic they're taking: Putting stickers with adjusted prices over older Canadian prices.
•Other export costs. The price differences also reflect costs such as storage and distribution.
•Canada is another country. Despite lots in common and intertwined economies, the USA and Canada are distinct markets. "Canadian consumer spending has been quite robust in the last year," Porter says. Producers and retailers "will charge what they believe the market will bear."
Contributing: Theresa Howard and Sue Kirchhoff