Publishing and Bookselling in Canada: If You Can Make It Here, You'll Make It Anywhere
John F. Baker -- 5/26/98
"It's like being a mouse living next door to an elephant."
That was the eloquent image called up by David Kent, president of Random House Canada, in evoking the plight of the Canadian book publishing industry in its proximity to the United States, home to the world's biggest and most profitable book market.
Canada has only about 18 million English-speaking people (a third of the country speaks French); most Canadian publishers have strong links to U.K. and U.S. houses, and therefore already bring in more books than the market can absorb; the country has been "underbookshopped" for years, a condition that is only now beginning to change, with the ambitious superstore and online programs of Chapters, its leading chain, along with the planned growth of a promising newcomer, Indigo Books.
|Children's Publishing in Canada: Finding a Wider U.S. Market|
by Sally Lodge and John F. Baker
Children's publishing is an area in which Canada has come to excel, and Kids Can Press is a good example of initiative in this area. Publisher Valerie Hussey said that when it was launched 25 years ago in Toronto there was virtually no Canadian publishing for children.
"We'd been raised on British and American books, but that was a period of strong Canadian nationalism, and we decided we should have our own." Annick Press is another highly visible children's publisher, originators of the phenomenally successful books by Robert Munsch (the ubiquitous Love You Forever and many other titles).
According to editor Rick Wilks, these sell more each year, mostly by way of gains in U.S. sales, arranged through Firefly. In fact more than half of Annick's sales are now in the U.S.
About as far as possible from Toronto is Vancouver's Douglas & McIntyre, a 28-year-old publisher whose Groundwood is a notable children's line, with Greystone for natural history, guidebooks and illustrated books, often in co-editions with the likes of Abrams. President Scott McIntyre describes a company with a small literary list (new writers, some Quebec authors in translation), much local publishing, and art and architecture titles in co-editions.
About 20% of business is export, mostly to the U.S., and the company distributes FSG, Candlewick and Sierra Club. He g s east every month or so, has a Toronto office and attends all the major book shows. "Canada," he says simply, "is one of the most interesting markets in the world."
Recent years have brought a dramatic shift in how children's publishers north of the border are conducting business: the standard practice of selling off U.S. rights to individual titles is becoming less common. Instead, a significant number of Canadian companies are marketing their own children's books here.
"We have been doing it for years," said Kathy Lowinger, publisher of Tundra Books of North America, now a division of McClelland & Stewart. "We wanted to have control over the print run, the production quality and the life span of our books. By selling to the U.S. ourselves we are not at the mercy of anyone else's publishing decisions."
Nor of another company's marketing and promotional strategies. Lowinger and a number of her colleagues at other Canadian houses voiced concern about their titles becoming buried within larger lists of American children's imprints. "If we are in control of publicity we are able to get much more exposure for our authors," she said.
Tundra's children's list, which primarily features Canadian authors and illustrators, adds about 20 new titles each year. To the theory that children's books must have an American focus or setting to be viable in the U.S. market, "We say 'pho y!' " announced Lowinger.
Another pioneer among Canadian houses, Firefly Books, has for 15 years been selling its titles, and those of the publishers it distributes, directly into American trade and institutional markets through its U.S. sales force of commissioned reps.
President Lionel Koffler estimated that his company's business in the U.S. school library market has tripled in the past three years. He attributes this growth to his company's presence at all key book conventions and to the effectiveness of its full-color, annotated catalogue, which is mailed to 110,000 public schools in the U.S.
Koffler, whose company ships to U.S. accounts from a Buffalo warehouse, also emphasized the importance of Canadian publishers being "a domestic rather than a foreign supplier" of books to American schools, libraries and stores. Publishing books in areas U.S. publishers have neglected is one of Firefly's editorial objectives, reported Koffler, who points to his company's Shakespeare Can Be Fun as an example of a series that has found an eager market here.
Other Firefly hits in the American market are Robert Munsch's picture books, many of which are illustrated by Michael Martchenko (including The Paper Bag Princess, which is in its 33rd printing). These are published under the Annick Press imprint, which is distributed by Firefly, as are releases from Bungalo Books, Mikaya Press and OWL Books.
A relative newcomer to the U.S. marketplace is Groundwood Books, which three years ago signed up Publishers Group West as its distributor. President and publisher Patsy Aldana, who founded Groundwood 20 years ago, explained that cutbacks in funding for schools and libraries fueled her decision to expand into the U.S. market. "We can sell fewer books and make more money publishing this way rather than selling rights to American companies."
Always a publisher of multicultural titles, Groundwood is now giving its list what Aldano terms "a new thrust -- by adding a number of books by Latino authors and artists." Reflecting this focus is a lead fall title, Our Lady of Guadeloupe, a pop-up book. Noting that that Groundwood plans to bring out some of its Latino titles in simultaneous Spanish editions, Aldano, who is Guatemalan, said: "I believe this is an untapped area in the American children's book market."
Just completing their first year of selling their books in the American marketplace are two imprints with Toronto roots: Kids Can Press and Stoddart Kids. The two companies use the same commissioned reps in the U.S. and are both distributed by GDS, the distribution arm of Stoddart's parent company, General Publishing. Though their debut lists were presented in a single, back-to-back catalogue, the two houses will in the future have separate catalogues.
Leona Trainer, president of Stoddart Kids, explained that some of this imprint's titles are not brand-new to U.S. booksellers' shelves, as they had previously been published in Canada by her company's educational publishing division, Irwin Publishing, which had then sold paperback rights to a variety of American mass market houses. "As these contracts came up for renewal," Trainer noted, "we took the rights back and are now publishing them ourselves."
Brigitte Shapiro, publishing director of Kids Can Press, recalled that she entered the U.S. market a year ago with a very positive attitude, which hasn't flagged. "We had been selling American publishers the rights to 90% of our list, and they had had great results," she stated. "So the time seemed right to go out on our own." Over the past 18 months, Kids Can has added 10 people to its staff, which now totals 30, and has increased its annual output of titles to 50.
Given the company's success with its Franklin series by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark -- there are over 15 million copies in print of its 20-plus titles and the amiable turtle will make his debut on an animated CBS-TV series this fall -- Shapiro is looking forward to the launch of a series starring Elliot Moose.
Though booksellers from California to Maine are obviously familiar with Workman's two-million-copy seller The Bug Book and Bug Bottle and other popular book-plus packages Somerville Press has produced for U.S. houses, this Toronto company will enter the U.S. market as a publisher this fall when it launches a new line with Penguin Putnam. Among the 10 initial releases under the Somerville House USA imprint are Sew Your Own Bean Bag Friends and Megalodon: The Prehistoric Shark, a hands-on science kit.
Though every publisher queried offered varying motivations for throwing their hats into the U.S. publishing ring, one explanation surfaced repeatedly: with the past decade's slew of mergers and acquisitions, the number of children's imprints seeking to buy foreign rights has been markedly reduced. Most of the new players are well aware that it will take time and money to establish their reputations in the U.S. -- and to turn a sizable profit -- but all pledged that they are in this business for the long run. Even if, in Koffler's words, "that long run is a very long run. We believe it is worth it."
In Kent's opinion, there is too much government support going to publishers that don't really need it. Add to all this the absence of a large national distributor, on the scale of Ingram or Baker & Taylor, in a country that poses extraordinary distribution challenges, thanks to a daunting topography, vast distances and sparse population crowded into a handful of cities on East and West coasts.
"It's a bit like Australia," said Kent, "except they don't have the Americans just over the border."
It sounds like a dire situation, but there are countervailing tendencies, too. One is the growing international repute of Canadian writers. Veteran superstars like the late Robertson Davies, the still vastly successful and admired Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant, and the apparently reborn Mordecai Richler, have been followed by a new generation of widely respected writers with an international following: Anne Michaels, Barbara Gowdy, Carol Shields, Michael Ondaatje, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Rohinton Mistry and Jane Urquhart, among many others.
The publishing capital of Toronto, once seen as a provincial backwater, is now one of the compelling North American cities, with a vibrant book community, lively scouts and agents, an internationally acclaimed author event in the annual Harborfront Festival.
Toronto has a reputation as a city second only to New York as a port of call for overseas scouts and publishing folk. Canada has a reading public that seems to care deeply for the literary works its best writers produce, and a government policy that has helped encourage the growth and publication of such writers.
Above all, it has a group of particularly lively and resilient publishers who, with the enormous numbers of books they are pouring into their small market, and their inability to achieve economies of scale by big printings, have to be extra agile and competitive to succeed at all.
In a recent whirlwind tour of a group of leading Toronto houses, both native-born and American offshoots, PW was forced again and again to acknowledge the quality of the work being done north of the 49th parallel, as well as the scale of the problems Canadian publishers face.
Random House, for example, represents all Random's U.S. and U.K. lines in Canada -- over 60 imprints in all -- as well as titles from Australia and New Zealand. David Kent estimates that this means it is bringing in over 2000 titles a year, in addition to its own Canadian publishing program of 100-odd titles.
Getting that sort of volume into a market a fraction the size of the U.S. forces Canadian publishers, said Kent, to be "more creative -- there's just no margin for error" -- and incidentally, not a great deal of margin for profit either.
Another factor that makes the Canadian market so different, he said, is the need to balance cultural and commercial considerations in most publishing decisions, "in a way you just don't have to consider in the U.S." Still, he felt that given its size and nature, the Canadian book business was "very viable, and with lots of talent."
That was an opinion widely shared. John Neale, president and publisher of Doubleday Canada, noted that with the "incredible number of books coming over the U.S. border, plus all the British books, I can't think of a market anywhere that has so much going on. As a book lover, I like this, but as a businessman I find it difficult."
Pricing, for example, is a problem because Canadian publishers are printing for such a small market. Overheads like sales and marketing and publicity costs the same as for much larger printings. Neale, too, publishes everything, "rights permitting," that the related houses do in New York, though he is "more selective" with Transworld's list out of London.
Even before the Bertelsmann purchase that created, in effect Canada's BDD, Doubleday Canada had a tradition of publishing local authors. Editor-in-chief John Pearce noted it was the first publisher of bestseller Pierre Berton, for instance, but "we didn't have enough heft."
The Canadian program has recently been doubled in size, doing both established authors (Farley Mowat, for instance) and, sometimes, new authors in trade paper (Olympia by Dennis Bock). "When another player steps up to the plate, it's very seriously treated here."
There's very little mass market publishing in Canada (most of the airport titles come from the States), but the mass Seal line, which owes, said Neale, a great deal to Bantam and Dell, also has a lively Canadian program that d s classics like Anne of Green Gables and recently sold 200,000 paperback copies of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace in six months.
|Lots Going on North of the Border, Eh?|
Although trends in Canadian bookselling trail those in the U.S. by several years, the pace of change is speeding up in Canada -- and increasingly resembling book retailing in the U.S. Chapters, the largest Canadian bookseller (with sales last year of more than US $300 million), is expanding more rapidly than even it had expected two years ago and continues to adjust its superstore concept. (It is beginning to add music to some stores and is looking at opening smaller superstores in smaller markets.) A rival superstore chain, Indigo, has opened its first three stores and plans to have 17 stores by the end of next year (considering Canada has about 10% of the population of the U.S., this is roughly the equivalent of 170 here.) Nontraditional bookstore outlets continue to take larger pieces of the general book sales pie.
In partnership with various newspaper companies, both Chapters and the Canadian Booksellers Association are setting up bookselling Web sites that aim to have a distinctly Canadian flavor.
Chapters' New Chapters
Chapters, created in 1995 by the merger of the Coles and Smithbooks mall store chains, should have 51 superstores by the end of this year and plans to have as many as 90 by 2000. Larry Stevenson, president and CEO of Chapters, told PW he believes Canada may be able to support 125-150 superstores, if smaller markets are included.
Indeed, some of Chapters' future superstores will be smaller stores in smaller markets, particularly areas with less than 80,000 in population. These smaller stores will have some 15,000 square feet of space but be just as nice as the larger stores in larger markets, Stevenson emphasized. Although the smaller-market stores won't have sales volume as high as stores in larger markets, they will pay a lot less in rent and won't have to compete with the many cultural leisure-time activities ranging from opera and ballet to sports offered in cities like Toronto and Montreal. There's a lot of opportunity [for the smaller stores] to become a major cultural center in their markets, Stevenson said.
In the past two months, Chapters has added music to the inventory mix at five of its superstores. Its music areas are run by Hear Music, a California music retailer whose approach is, as one Chapters employee put it, the absolute in customer friendliness: at its 50 listening stations, the company allows customers to open and listen to any of the 10,000 CDs it offers for sale. Hear Music emphasizes jazz, blues, classical and world music and offers amusing changing themes such as music you would listen to in a cab from Charles de Gaulle Airport or love on the rocks: music to break up to. Hear Music and Chapters are experimenting with selection. Stevenson said he d sn't expect every Chapters store to have a Hear Music section.
While admitting he is not sure how or when his company -- or any of its online competitors -- will make money from selling books on the Web, Stevenson said the web and traditional bookstores are complementary -- and having a website is essential. Selling books on the web is a service, like filling special orders or having bathrooms, he continued. Chapters will open its website with the Globe and Mail, which calls itself Canada' newspaper, this fall. The company has a 306,000-sq.-ft. warehouse that is dedicated to the online retailing venture.
The biggest challenge in preparing the website, according to Stevenson, has been the creation of a comprehensive, accurate database. Since April, the company has been working on this, building on its basic database and adding other databases. In our stores, we correct the database as we and our customers find errors, Stevenson noted. But on the web, there is no self-correcting mechanism. No one is going to notice and tell us that a price is wrong. So far, it's estimated that Web bookselling accounts for maybe one-half of one percent of book sales in Canada -- less than in the U.S.
Still, within five years, web bookselling will be a big factor in Canada, Stevenson predicted. Because there is no equivalent of Ingram or Baker & Taylor in Canada, the costs of setting up and maintaining a comprehensive web bookselling site are significant, Stevenson said, giving Chapters a real advantage.
Indigo Ready to Go
Boasting that it is 100% Canadian (as opposed to Chapters, of which 20% is owned by Barnes & Noble), Indigo Books Music and Cafe has opened three superstores and plans to have 17 in operation by the end of next year. The company is headed by Heather Reisman and at one point, in a different incarnation, was backed by Borders, which withdrew from Canada after the government objected based on laws designed to protect Canadian culture. Indigo opened its first store last September and added two in November.
The Toronto store, which is in the Yonge Eglington Centre on Yonge at Eglington, is representative. With 150,000 titles and about 35,000 square feet of space on two floors, it offers all that a standard American superstore d s -- and more. It has its own cafe, 8000-10,000 music titles, audiobooks, videotapes, a children's section with play area, stage and computer terminals, extensive sidelines and gift sections, remainder books as well as computer terminals and several hundred software titles. The store has long hours (Thurs.-Sat. 9-12 and Sun.-Wed., 9-11) and a staff of nearly 70. It sponsors a variety of events -- and often has live music on weekends -- and a reading group program that will be expanded soon. On the main floor near the front are displays of selections from areas around the store, aimed, as Catherine Dorton, a manager, said, to offer busy customers a quick selection. Thus, not far from the front door there are shelves with music CD's that are new and selling well, movie tie-ins, Oprah picks, children's titles and more. Wrapture, the traditional bookstore sidelines section, offers journals, cards, stationery, gift bags and boxes. Most striking is the Indigo Presents section, a gift area that offers, among other things, candles, frames, soap and bathoils, boxes, products suitable for a wedding or baby shower and pottery as well as related books, all merchandised in a style resembling such upscale retailers as Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma.
The store is a mix of sleek, modern and comfortable with some cement flooring, plenty of seating, bright signage and cool, urbane colors (and yes, some indigo). It has several displays of Canadian titles and books by Canadians as well as a mural in the coffee shop that reads "The World Needs More Canadians," that lists well-known Canadians. There are several discrete areas featuring, among other subjects, mysteries, biographies and travel. Indigo buys centrally but allows stores much leeway in purchases, particularly on reordering and backlist. Indigo, which is looking at sites across Canada, hopes to give Chapters a run for its money. Noting the challenge, Chapters' head Larry Stevenson said that Canadian bookselling is increasingly competitive -- and more complicated. Besides the traditional good independents in most markets, Chapters is now competing with Indigo, online booksellers ranging from Amazon.com to the new CBA-Canada.com alliance as well as non-traditional booksellers such as warehouse clubs and specialty shops with book sidelines, which are growing in importance in Canada as dramatically as in the U.S.
Even in subarctic lands, it's a bookselling jungle out there.
Pearce speaks with some awe of the Canadian respect for literary writers. "The way Canada has funded literature has meant that in this country literary figures are sitting up there on the bestseller list along with the big American blockbuster writers. There's help not only for writers and literary publishing programs but also for author tours, support for writing schools, and amazingly, the public has followed all this, and so has the bookselling community.
"People here still have visions of writing the Great Canadian Novel. What this all means is that sometimes American fiction can be a hard sell, because there's this sense of obligation to support Canadian writers."
Jack Stoddart is one of the major names in Canadian publishing, and his General Publishing is a significant player as both publisher and distributor. The company, more than 70 years old, was bought by Stoddart's father in 1957, and had been for many years a major importer of books on an agency basis.
In the 1960s it began to publish some Canadian titles too, and this tradition is now carried on by Stoddart Publishing. Its titles tend to be commercial in tone, embracing self-help, real estate, business and financial, with such bestsellers as The Wealthy Barber, with more than a million copies sold over five years, and Boom, Bust and Echo, on the bestseller list for the past two years.
It d s some politically activist publishing, too, and Stoddart credits a recent title on the Multilateral Agreement on Investments with helping to turn public opinion around on the issue. (A special version was published for the U.S. with an introduction by Ralph Nader.)
It is a large and complex group that also comprises Irwin (formerly Clark Irwin), bought in 1988, a publisher of educational, college and reference titles, and more recently General Distribution Services (GDS), one of the closest things Canada has to a major national distributor.
GDS handles the books of 55 Canadian publishers, including Key Porter's, and d s C$75 million a year in business, most of it on Canadian materials. It also operates a warehouse in Buffalo, N.Y., selling to U.S. customers at U.S. prices, with access to 50,000 Canadian titles, though Stoddart d sn't claim the rights to ship to the States for all of them.
Still, he feels "there will be a lot more Canadian titles on the American market in future," noting Canadian expertise in such areas as children's books, Native American themes, and gay and lesbian issues. London Bridge, a firm that distributes British titles in the U.S. and is strongly tied in with U.K.'s Virgin, is also a subsidiary of General.
With its 200 titles per year, at least 150 of them originals, Stoddart is the largest publisher of Canadian books in the country, though Stoddart has a somewhat dark view of the bottom line this brings: "Publishing Canadian authors into the Canadian market can mean no more than 2% plus or minus in your results."
Louise Dennys is someone who has worked both sides of the street in Canada, first with her own publishing house, Lester & Orpen Dennys, a kind of Knopf of Canada that eventually found it could not afford its high-quality approach. Ironically enough, "when we were forced to close up, Sonny [Mehta] called up and asked me to start Knopf Canada. That was in September '91, and believe it or not I had the first list out the following January, working out of my apartment."
A woman of impeccable literary credentials (a niece of Graham Greene, she commissioned Ways of Escape and worked as an editor on his final novels), Dennys describes a relationship with Random Canada that is not dissimilar to that in New York.
"They do the more mainstream stuff -- more cookbooks, gardening titles, and we do more literary titles, in both fiction and nonfiction." According to tabulations done for David Kent, the Random family leads all other Canadian publishers both in the number of top bestsellers and the number of titles it gets on the lists (second and third, but considerably behind, are Doubleday and Penguin; the same pattern holds for review coverage).
Knopf handles Vintage and Ballantine in Canada as well, though here the latter is more a trade paperback imprint. Monty Roberts's The Man Who Listens to Horses, for instance, which sold 65,000 copies in hardcover, went on to trade paper, whereas it was a mass title in the States. Knopf last year published Mordecai Richler's latest, Barney's Version, widely hailed as a return to form for the popular writer, and winner of last year's $25,000 Giller Prize for fiction.
The three-year-old Giller is just one of a number of highly encouraging Canadian book awards established to augment the long-running Governor General's' Award. Another is the well-endowed Lionel Gelber, worth $50,000, given annually for nonfiction, and open also to other than Canadian authors.
Dennys is astonished at the recent transformation in the market for Canadian titles. "The market right now is remarkable. Five-thousand used to be a bestseller here, but Anne Marie MacDonald's first novel, Fall on Your Knees, sold 45,000 in hardcover, 100,000 in paperback." Still, the limited size of the market makes it a difficult one.
"Margins are very small, you have to be on your t s all the time. If you succeed here, you're the very best you can be. Canada breeds great publishers as well as great writers," she said with a smile.
Part of her mission at Knopf is to seek out new Canadian writing, and she has launched a campaign called the New Face of Fiction, which features four or five first novelists a year, promotes them, tours them, helps booksellers focus publicity, "and gives book reviewers something to write about."
Ron Besse at Canada Publishing presides over an empire that includes Gage, a major educational publisher, and Macmillan of Canada, and is a significant distributor of titles from U.S. publishers, including, most notably at present, IDG Books Worldwide, which d s $C10 million a year.
"We have to be careful not to build too much on agency lines, however," Besse added, noting that they can be fickle: it no longer distributes Microsoft titles, though they once did well, and after working up Time Life Books from $700,000 to $7 million, they went off on their own.
Macmillan, once related to the British company but no longer, was acquired from Maclean Hunter in 1980 and was then, said Besse, one of Canada's top fiction publishers, with Robertson Davies among its authors.
"Then we examined it, realized it could no longer make a profit in Canadian fiction. Agents were demanding higher advances and U.S. rights, and it was simply not financially viable. So we decided to make it a backlist publisher; anything we do should have at least a three-year cycle."
The result, he said, is a strong nonfiction list, with Canadiana, health and lifestyle titles and what he claimed as the largest list of Canadian-authored cookbooks. Besse is bullish on the new Canadian retailing picture. Having been much impressed by the U.S. superstore revolution, he finds Chapters' aim to expand in this area "a very welcome addition to what had been a lackluster scene.
"The older chains [Coles and Paperjacks] had been undercapitalized, and were a bit dim at marketing. I think retailing has taken a giant step forward, and I'm all for Chapters' online initiative with the Globe & Mail -- the more distribution we all have, the better."
He is also an unashamed booster of Canadian publishing and impatient with the hand-wringing that greets such occasional collapses as, say, that of Coach House, a respected literary publisher that folded last year. "We've got a lot to be proud of as an industry. We're a very successful one, especially when you consider we started from scratch, and that we're competing with so many powerful foreign companies."
Another strong Canadian firm is McClelland & Stewart, bought from Jack McClelland, himself the son of the founder, in 1980 by real estate magnate Avie Bennett, who now runs it as chairman, with Douglas Gibson as his publisher. This has long been a pre-eminent publisher of Canadian fiction, which means that, at this time of the world prominence of such fiction, business is spectacularly good.
According to Bennett, sales in 1997 were up 40% over those of the previous year. Their star author is, of course, Margaret Atwood, who has remained loyally with M&S as her international star has risen (M&S sold more than 130,000 hardcover copies of Alias Grace last year, a figure that would translate to about a million and a half in American terms).
But other current stars, including Anne Michaels and Jane Urquhart, have enjoyed almost comparable success internationally, with dozens of rights sales each. "It's one of the great stories," Bennett said. "I have a sense that publishers around the world are now seeking out Canadian authors."
M&S also has a strong nonfiction list (former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's memoirs, a book by prima ballerina Karen Kain, some telling political titles). They also publish the Canadian Encyclopedia -- also available in CD-ROM format and, said Bennett, M&S is probably the only Canadian publisher doing well in electronic media. Coming up, he said, is a strong new effort at reaching the American market, with sales there through commissioned reps.
A special catalogue will introduce it at the BEA show in Chicago. "It will contain books for which we have rights but which have not sold in the States" -- among them a series of boys' books on hockey adventures, called the Screech Owls.
An unexpected link between M&S and Anna Porter's Key Porter books is the fact that Porter recently published The Letters of Jack McClelland, a salty reminder of the feisty and much-admired publisher, now living in retirement in Florida (imagine any contemporary American publisher's letters being published!)
Porter herself a multilingual author who is certainly one of the most glamorous figures on the international publishing scene, familiar at all the world's book fairs, said her company has had a good year, particularly in its heavily illustrated children's books and its health books. Porter is an indefatigable buyer and seller of foreign rights, and said that about half her business is now in sales outside Canada, particularly in Germany, Australia and Japan.
She is even thinking, she said, of buying a publishing company in her native Hungary. Key Porter's list of about 100 titles a year -- the second-largest Canadian list -- is strong in nonfiction, with particular emphasis on nature, wildlife and conservation areas: "I work closely with Sierra Club and Voyageur in the States," said Porter.
Still, she finds returns unacceptably high and is thinking of pruning the list a bit this year. Meanwhile, her latest creation as an author of well-received mysteries, The Bookfair Murders, about a murder at the Bertelsmann party at the Frankfurt fair, is being filmed but has, oddly, not sold in the States.
At HarperCollins, there is an impression of renewed vigor, with a comparatively new president, Claude Primeau, and an energetic editor-in-chief, Iris Tupholme, who was brought aboard (from Penguin) seven years ago with a mandate to build up the Canadian list. Primeau came out of a distribution background, having sold the last of a string of distributors he operated to HC eight years ago. He spoke of an invigorated retail marketplace, with both Chapters and Indigo expanding promisingly, and special markets, including price clubs, on the upswing.
"We're about where you were in the States eight years ago." HC Canada distributes all Harper titles from the companies in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, as well as a number of other U.S. clients, including Perseus, Prima, TV Books, some others, but "since we sold the college division we have plenty of space in the warehouse, and we'd like to take on more."
Editorially, according to Tupholme, this fall will see "the finest Canadian list since I've been here. We should own the bookstores this fall!" She cites new titles by Barbara Gowdy, Greg Hollingshead, an Atwood biography, a new collection by Timothy Findley, a true-crime thriller about a Canadian swindler and maybe murderer whose trial in England this summer should be a sensation.
Penguin's Cynthia Good is a company veteran, dating from the prime years of Peter Mayer. She sees it as her aim to create a list for Canada without looking too hard at the rest of the world, acquires and edits herself, and even reads the slush pile in search of new writers. In her early days at Penguin, figuring Canadians were good at short stories, she put together a series of collections by the likes of Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, W.P. Kinsella, Marion Engel, Joan Barfoot, early Rohinton Mistry, all in original trade paperback, "which was innovative at the time."
When there seemed to be a decline in interest in fiction she went vigorously into nonfiction, notably with Peter Newman's major trilogy on the Hudson's Bay Company, soon built up a list strong in history, biography, memoirs. The 80 or so titles now published annually run about 3 to 1 in favor of nonfiction.
Not only d s Penguin Canada distribute the entire Penguin Putnam list, along with Norton and Faber titles, but its Bejo distribution arm also handles Berkley and Jove. "Our numbers work because of all the distribution we do." In terms of the new amalgamation with Putnam, "there has been some merger in management [Phyllis Grann had just been there], but none in lists yet", although she expected that to happen next year.
So far Penguin Putnam in New York had taken very little from the Canadian list, though agent Alison Bond sells their titles well elsewhere. Perhaps this might change, she thought, especially with the Riverhead line.
Although the planned Random/BDD merger would have a major impact on the Canadian scene too, few seemed much concerned about it (and it was seen as a big American takeover rather than, as in the U.S., a German one).
Good, however, deplored the prospect, seeing it likely to lessen competition for properties, as some in the U.S. have done. "The only hope is that some smaller publishers may grow into the gap, and perhaps we can go back to some of the freshness and energy we used to have."
Yes, there is English-language publishing outside Toronto. In largely Francophone Montreal, for instance, there is McGill-Queen's University Press, which, with 80 titles a year, mostly serious works of history and cultural anthropology, has one of the larger Canadian academic lists.
It also has an aggressive "small is beautiful" posture, which it is trumpeting in a series of striking ads, launched with a doubled ad budget. They run under such heads as "Howard Stern Bores Us" and "Books You Won't See on Oprah." The new approach, said Philip Cercone, executive director, g s along with new U.S. distribution (by CUP Services).
Lone Pine, in Edmonton, Alberta, has as its motto "The World Outside Your Door," and according to David Cleary, director of sales and marketing, concentrates on nature, natural history, gardening and outdoor recreation. Its 30 titles a year include the bestselling gardening books (300,000 copies to date) of Lois Hole, and its sales in the U.S., especially in the Rocky Mountain states and the Pacific Northwest, account for 25% of its annual sales. It has begun a series on the birds of major U.S. cities, beginning with San Francisco and Seattle, and eventually to embrace New York and Boston too. No report on Canadian publishing is complete without a word from Jackie Hushion, who as long as anyone can remember has been the face and voice of the Canadian Publishers' Council. She feels the likely adverse impact of a Random/BDD merger in Canada has been much exaggerated. "They've both done well with Canadian authors, and I don't think the government will feel there's any problem there."
As to the new retailing scene, she feels Chapters has done a good job on inventory, "but there's still concern over returns, though they seem to be down this year." The chain, she feels, has been very successful at bringing nonreaders into the stores, citing particularly promotions built around shortlists for the bigger Canadian book prizes.
"They've really enhanced their market, and I think the superstore growth has energized Canadian publishing." Her final reflection: "I think the Canadian market is very electric right now; lightning can create great energy but it can also injure -- so be sure you have your lightning rods in place!"
A cautionary Canadian remark if ever there was one.
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