When HarperCollins Canada announced last November that it would be getting out of the Canadian distribution business, it set off a succession of changes in the publishing landscape. Ultimately, University of Toronto Press emerged with the most new business, as four of HC Canada’s former distribution clients—Douglas & McIntyre, House of Anansi/Groundwood Books, Greystone Books, and New Society Publishers—announced in March that they were moving their Canadian distribution to UTP.
UTP also picked up new clients such as the literary press Biblioasis and U.S. publisher Career Press this year, and thanks to the increased business, the distributor announced in May that it would start offering an optional free-freight program on all Canadian bookstore orders over C$300. “Many publishers believe that a larger margin for the bookseller will lead to larger orders,” says Hamish Cameron, UTP’s v-p of distribution. More than 15 client publishers have signed up so far for the free-freight option, which went into effect earlier this summer.
Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been distributed by UTP for five years, and publisher Brian Lam says the free-freight option has been an important change. “We talked to a number of booksellers here in B.C., and they actually told us that they were only ordering my books as special order, because the cost of the books including freight was just too onerous,” Lam says. “Now bookstores can add our books to an Anansi or Greystone order and get the free-freight option.”
Rob Sanders, publisher of Greystone Books, another West Coast press, says the transition from HarperCollins to UTP was not easy, but he says he is now “very happy” with the new arrangement—in particular the free freight. “That was critical for us because we’d been involved in it at HarperCollins. And we believe in being able to get books across this country to booksellers equally,” Sanders says. “That was one of the only reasons we would consider going [to UTP].”
In addition, this summer UTP hired two new full-time staff members who had formerly worked in distribution for HarperCollins: Chris Balkissoon came on as warehouse operations manager, and Jacqueline Courtney joined as client services representative. And, in August, UTP picked up one more client, kids publisher Annick Press, which will officially move from Firefly Books to UTP in January 2016. Annick’s U.S. distribution and sales, meanwhile, will be handled by Publishers Group West. “Annick Press hugely complements our children’s list of client publishers. It’s been a very good year for us,” Cameron says.
One negative for UTP is the impending loss of longtime client Kids Can Press, the largest Canadian-owned children’s publisher (and home of Franklin the Turtle). According to KCP president Lisa Lyons Johnston, the company will move its sales and distribution to Hachette Book Group as of February 2016. UTP doesn’t offer sales representation (most of their clients are represented by Ampersand), and Johnston says the move was a strategic decision to grow the business in the U.S.
“It’s definitely a blow to lose Kids Can, because they are the foundation of our children’s list,” Cameron says. “But it was a global decision on their part that relates more directly to their sales and marketing representation. Kids Can has been with UTP since the 1980s, when they were a very small company. But look on the bright side: we have space for more publishers.”