The Literary Press Group of Canada (LPG), which has been providing sales, marketing and distribution to 47 small literary publishers, has been crippled by a federal government decision to cut its funding. Although LPG is committed to selling its publishers’ fall titles, all five sales reps will lose their jobs by the end of August and most of the rest of the staff by the end of November.
“We believe that this decision is seriously misguided and has the potential to irreparably damage literary publishing in Canada,” said LPG executive director Jack Illingworth. “It just isn’t good public policy to fund the production of books and attack their connection to readers in the most destructive way possible.”
The LPG has helped many small and new publishers sell books to independent bookstores, retail chains, libraries and online booksellers, but those operations will have to be drastically restructured in order to continue at all. While the LPG’s sales and marketing funding has been cut, its distribution service LitDistCo was funded and its operations will not be affected. The funding cut amounted to about a third of the LPG’s operating budget.Illingworth and a full-time marketing manager will remain on staff.
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been cutting spending, but the LPG feels somewhat singled out because the book publishing industry has had few cuts to funding so far. The only reason given for the cut in a form letter was that initiatives that have measurable results are being prioritized. “I can count every single book we sell,” Illingworth answers. “For a rep group, it’s not a huge number. It’s only about 100,000 titles or units a year, but it’s still 100,000 units a year of cultural works, primarily from publishers that the government supports and toasts its support for publicly.”
Illingworth says he is actively negotiating an agented relationship with another sales force or possible integrated sales force-distributor. He added that in preliminary conversations with publishers 26 of LPG’s clients have said they would be interested in being part of a collective on that basis. There’s strength in numbers for their client publishers Illingworth explained. “Many sales forces are going to be reluctant individually take on a single publisher that does C$30,000 in net sales a year of avante-garde poetry, that’s not a very interesting commercial proposition…. But if I step up with 20 to 30 publishers of various sizes with a bigger title load but a collective C$600,000 to $800,000 in sales, they are much more likely to do that.” He added that the LPG could play a role in helping their staff and reps understand the list and providing marketing support.
The timing of the cut is particularly bad for the LPG. Two months into a new fiscal year, it has contractual commitments to represent publishers’ books into the fall. “If we had received this news in January or February of this year (applications were submitted in October 2011), we could have made the transition in an orderly way with much less harm to our association, our members, and their authors,” Illingworth said. He is seeking funding to help the LPG transition into an agented business model.
The LPG was founded in 1975 as a project of what is now the Association of Canadian Publishers. Its aim was to promote Canadian publishers producing literary works. It began offering sales and distribution services in the late 1980s and was incorporated in 1995. Funding from the Canadian government's Heritage department helped the LPG shift in 1998 from part-time, commissioned sales representatives to full-time salaried sales staff.