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How 2 avid readers from Canada’s East Coast are trying to make books more affordable

Click to play video: 'Online book shop aims to make books more affordable'
Online book shop aims to make books more affordable
A new book shop in Saint John is hoping to make books more affordable for those in the community. Nathalie Sturgeon spoke with the owners about their passion and mission to make literature more accessible. – Jun 19, 2024

Two lifelong readers from the Maritimes have transformed their passion for books into a mission to make literature more accessible to people across the region.

Emily Dean, co-founder of Fablefern Book Shop, said she’s been passionate about books since her parents started reading to her at a young age.

“What I love about books is that you can just pick one up and be transported to another world, place, time in history,” she said, adding that trips to the library were the highlight of her week as a child.

“It brings you an endless world of possibilities.”

Growing up in a small town without a neighbourhood bookstore, Dean, who now lives in Saint John, N.B., said she wasn’t always able to access the titles she’d wanted, as she’d occasionally have to spend top dollar to get her hands on her favourite works.

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“Accessibility from a financial standpoint can be a barrier,” she said.

In January, Dean said she and her best friend pledged to transform their passion for storytelling into a business venture that also works to empower their communities. Their shop then launched online in March.

That’s when Fablefern was born — with a mission to offer used books at a significantly cheaper price than what customers see at big-box retailers.

“We want to get more books in the hands of more people,” she said.

Elizabeth Stockall, co-founder of Fablefern Book Shop. Reynold Gregor

Dean’s longtime friend and now business partner, Elizabeth Stockall, said reading was foundational to her upbringing due to the fact that her parents met at the Saint John Public Library.

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“After that, our house was full of books all the time for my entire childhood. So, I think it may have been genetic,” she laughed.

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Stockall, who lives in Halifax, said the business objective is to allow people to purchase a book without having to worry about breaking the bank.

“We wanted to make sure books are easily accessible to people,” she said.

“Having them at a price where people can actually afford them and that they don’t necessarily have to sacrifice something else at the cost of buying a book is really important.”

Reading on a budget

Dean said she doesn’t perceive her project as a library replacement, but rather an enhancement to the established community resource — as both she and Stockall are active members of their community library.

“This is for the people that really want to own a copy of a book. We want to price it at a point that’s more accessible than going out and buying a new $30 book; you can go out and get one from us at $7,” she explained.

“Sometimes you want to pick a book up that you can’t grab at the library. This is an accessible, affordable way for people to do that.”

As for their book selection process, Dean said she spends lots of time identifying titles that are trending among readers online.

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Emily Dean said it’s encouraging to see the reception to Fablefern since launching six months ago. Nathalie Sturgeon

“It always makes my day when somebody messages me and they’re so excited because they’ve got a book they’ve been dying to have and they got it for a fraction of the price,” Dean said.

“It’s just (about) being able to help people who are looking for books and they can find them at a price point that works for their budget.”

Looking ahead, Dean said she would consider a storefront or mobile location — but for now, her focus will remain on increasing the accessibility of books for people who are interested in reading.

“When you have access to books, you have access to infinite amounts of information. I think that being able to read gives you the power to do anything you want,” she smiled.

Combating declining literacy rates

Dean said another “huge part” part of Fablefern’s mission is combating the declining literacy rates across New Brunswick, as her shop prioritizes pricing children’s books at affordable rates.

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“We think that if you make books accessible to kids, more kids are going to read and that naturally is going to help literacy rates,” she said.

“We would love to be a part of bringing more literacy to the province.”

Lynda Homer, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick, agrees — noting that accessibility to books is critical in an era where reading rates are sliding.

“It’s key to our quality of life, children’s development, success in school, and being engaged in society,” she said.

She said there are great benefits to having physical books available at home.

“The literature is showing the difference is huge in handling a physical book and there are benefits,” she said during an interview with Global News on Wednesday.

“Certainly (there are benefits) in retaining knowledge and just the fact you can go back and look at a certain paragraph or find a certain section of that book and reread.”

Homer said the long-term impact of making books accessible to young people is “critical” for a person’s development.

“Families need to have those books in their home for easy access,” she said.

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“We really appreciate keeping costs low because that helps to access books for all.”

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