Toronto-based Dundurn Press is acquiring Thomas Allen Publishing, the publishing arm of Thomas Allen & Son, which is refocusing on its core distribution business.

Kirk Howard, president of Dundurn Press, told PW the acquisition was exciting for his company. “It’s an impressive list that Thomas Allen has put together,” he said, noting that it includes 126 titles — six 2013 titles and its backlist.

Although Thomas Allen only established its publishing program in 2000, returning to the venerable company’s original 1916 mandate to publish books of distinction and merit, under the guidance of its founder editor Patrick Crean, it achieved a lot of critical acclaim with many award-winning titles, including Scotiabank Giller Prize winners in 2002 and 2011.

Announcing the sale, Howard wrote: “As a fellow Canadian publisher, with our own mandate to preserve history, we have tremendous respect for Thomas Allen’s contribution to our country’s publishing landscape. By purchasing Thomas Allen Publishers, Dundurn Press will ensure that the company’s legacy continues.”

In the announcement, Thomas Allen president and CEO Jim Allen, said he was confident that “Dundurn will continue publishing books to the high standard that Thomas Allen Publishers has built its reputation on." Allen told PW that he decided to sell because it was increasingly difficult to operate a boutique publishing company that produced only a small number of titles of high editorial quality each season. “It’s the economics of having a very small literary list like we had and being able to get enough support for it each season to really give some of these somewhat unknown books a strong emphasis.”

At the same time, Allen said Thomas Allen & Son’s international agency business was growing, representing an additional 14 publishers since 2011 for a total of 29 lines. Allen said he has also been investing in a fledgling software company called Book Connect, which has grown out of Thomas Allen’s own systems, including a bibliographic data system. Some of Thomas Allen’s distribution clients, including Workman, Taunton, Square One and Canadian indie press Coach House are now using the system.

Howard told PW that Dundurn will be releasing Thomas Allen’s three new titles for fall, will reprint titles that are out of print and will keep the Thomas Allen name as an imprint, at least for the next year although he was undecided about under what name the books would be marketed beyond that time. He added that Dundurn is taking over Thomas Allen’s contracts with authors and may have options on their upcoming books. “We hope to deal with all of their authors, that’s one of the reasons we’re buying it,” he said.

Dundurn is one of, if not the largest, independent Canadian publishers left standing after a tough year in which BC’s D&M Publishers was broken into its imprints and sold to a few different companies, McArthur and Company closed and when both Oxford University Press and John Wiley & Sons decided to end their Canadian trade publishing programs. Bucking the downsizing trend, Dundurn has grown in recent years, expanding by acquiring Natural Heritage Books and Beach Holme Books in 2007, the English-language version publishing arm of XYZ in 2008, and Napoleon & Co. in 2011. Also in 2011. Dundurn merged with Patrick Boyer’s company, Blue Butterfly Books.

Dundurn now publishes both adult and YA fiction, mysteries, biographies, business, and current affairs titles, and military history. Howard noted that one of Thomas Allen’s fall titles is Ted Barris’s book on the World War II story of The Great Escape and that Barris has written 17 other military history titles, which will fit into Dundurn’s military history category very well.