Canadian book people seem rather like the survivors of a horrendous air raid: emerging from the shelters blinking at the light, glancing around them anxiously, but gradually beginning to realize they're still alive, and setting out with new resolve to pick up the pieces and move on. It's about 18 months since Chapters and Indigo became one under Heather Reisman, but the aftershocks of the final frightful months of the old Chapters still linger. And surely the hopes of an entire industry have never been focussed on one person to the extent that Canadian ones are now centered on Reisman, who seems to be the beginning and ending of every book-related conversation in Toronto (see interview).
As is so often the case, publisher Douglas Gibson at McClelland & Stewart, who happened to be the first person PW called on in a recent week spent in Toronto taking the Canadian industry's temperature, had just the right quote for the occasion. "Do you remember that poem by an unfortunate former English Poet Laureate on the death of King Edward VIII?" he asked. 'He is no better, he is just the same.' That's about where we are. I do wonder about the health of the new Chapters/Indigo, but I wish them well." But, Gibson went on to say, the new management was now buying "more conservatively and comfortably. There's less sense of exposure to the absurdly high level of returns we had experienced last year."
After a disastrous September, for many of the same reasons as in the U.S., the Christmas holidays were "not too bad," and life has now settled down to a season of "only modest sales, but returns likewise." Canadian publishers, said Gibson, rely heavily on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for book coverage and author interviews, and as a result of the terrorist attacks south of the border, "a whole season's promotions had to be condensed into weeks." One McClelland & Stewart author was bumped no less than four times from a show that would have given him major national attention. "The law of bestsellers being made in September was repealed."
There was one advantageous side effect for the publisher, however: a lavishly illustrated gift book called A Diary Between Friends, done by M&S with support from Ottawa as a gesture of goodwill toward the U.S., made up of portraits of friendly outreach in the September 11 tragedy, did well for them in the stores.
Gibson, as the Canadian publisher of a recent Oprah choice, Rohinston Mistry's A Fine Balance, was "surprised and depressed" to learn of the TV queen's abandonment of her book club. Yes, the show was widely watched in Canada, and though the Mistry book had been out in trade paper for five years, and was already a Canadian classic, the choice gave it a revived readership, and added sales of 70,000 copies.
Gibson is, as usual, bullish on Canadian literature, and is following up the recent volume of stories by Alice Munro with a new novel in the fall by Guy Vanderhaeghe, tentatively titled Mister Moses, and a first novel by Leo McKay called Twenty-six, which is the number of men killed in a Nova Scotia mining accident a decade ago, and which has been fictionalized in a style, said Gibson, reminiscent of award-winning Alistair Macleod. The fall list is larger than usual, said Gibson, "obviously in an effort to show we're confident about the Canadian market.."
Gibson was much tickled by a recent production glitch that perhaps only a Canadian publisher of a certain temperament would term amusing rather than disastrous. One of M&S's ongoing bestsellers is an elaborately illustrated history called Canada: A People's History, and not long ago a reader wrote in to point out that the cover subject, supposedly a Canadian soldier in the trenches in WWI, was in fact an Australian. "Oops!" said Gibson--and assured us it would be corrected in the paperback edition.
Another Crisis Arrives
As the Chapters/Indigo saga seemed to be reaching a less strenuous passage, strains showed up in another part of the Canadian system, when General Distribution Services, part of Jack Stoddart's General Publishing, lost its two biggest Canadian publisher clients, Key Porter Books and Douglas & McIntyre. This was related to Chapters' problems, however, as several observers noted that the company had been hard hit during 2001 by extensive returns and delayed payments. Key Porter, of Toronto, and D&M, of Vancouver, both had contracts that were coming to an end later this year, but Stoddart told the Toronto Globe & Mail that they had decided to part company earlier because of unresolved issues between them, including payment terms and the impact of returns. (Stoddart was unavailable to talk to PW during our visit.) As a result of the defection of the two publishers, GDS closed its Western warehouse earlier this month, according to Quill & Quire, the Canadian book trade journal.
The two publishers both found other homes, Key Porter with H.B. Fenn and Co., and D&M with Raincoast (see below). But it was believed that other companies, particularly smaller publishers, may also pull out of GDS if the reported problems persist, according to Quill & Quire. GDS handles shipping for about half the publishers in Canada, and its problems could easily have a ripple effect.
One Stoddart-related publisher who did speak at length with us is Marc Cote;, whose Cormorant Books is 40% owned by General and receives federal money from Ottawa.. With a wide-ranging background that includes journalism (Books in Canada, book reviewer for the Globe & Mail), bookselling (at the old Coles chain), a brief stint at Stoddart as marketing manager, another at the Canada Council handling the Governor General Awards, and then a spell as a small press publisher at Dundurn Press, Cote; has an understanding of each side of the business. Two years ago, invited by Jan Geddes to join Cormorant, he brought in two partners and took 60% of its shares, selling the rest to Stoddart. Cote; then became publisher and Susan Stewart president.
He describes a strictly literary list that began with poetry and has since achieved a degree of recognition with the publication of Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci (the author's fourth novel, Testament , is coming this spring from Doubleday). The focus is now on fiction, particularly on the discovery of new talent, and "we actually read our slush pile." Cote; is enthusiastic about a first novel found that way, Cumberland by Michael V. Smith, just published--and on which Stoddart is selling foreign rights. He is doing a new novel by Neil Bissoondath, Doing the Heart Good¸ and reviving some of that acclaimed author's earlier titles. As a press that receives some government funding, Cormorant aims mostly at Canadian authors--including some occasional translations from French-Canadians. In fact Cote; aims to do more translating in general, perhaps three titles a year out of a total of 15 or so, and would like to take on some overseas authors he feels are insufficiently represented in Canada--mentioning Beryl Bainbridge and Yvonne Klemer in particular.
Cote; sees no conflict in the notion of government support for independent Canadian publishers, though it infuriates some execs at American-owned publishers here. "I think it's comparable to what happened in the first century of the United States. They deliberately ignored international copyrights to help support a native publishing establishment, and when a company like Bertelsmann controls something like 50% of the trade books published in Canada, we've got to have some help."
On the retailing situation in Canada now, he is cautiously sanguine. "I know Heather [Reisman] is trying to turn things around, and we all hope she can do it. She has some really excellent buyers, some of whom go back 20 years or more, and it's a vote of confidence in her that she's been able to keep them on. She's brought in some new talent too, but can she make it all work?" Still, he finds the current climate worrying. "This seems to be the first recession in history where book sales have actually dropped; people seem mostly to be buying remainders and discounted bestsellers."
Change at Penguin
For a long time, Penguin and Pearson in Canada went their separate ways, although they shared a common ownership. That is about to change with the appointment of Ed Carson, formerly senior v-p for professional and reference publishing at what was then Pearson Education (and is now simply Pearson Canada), to head up Penguin Canada alongside the new Pearson. He and Cynthia Good, who will continue to head the publishing operations at Penguin, will work side by side to develop what both characterize as "a very exciting publishing opportunity." This involves the possibility of marketing some Penguin titles through Pearson's well-developed higher education and school marketing divisions, and offering greater outreach in educational markets for Penguin's extensive children's list.
Pearson is about a $250-million company in Canada, and the combination, says Carson, will "make us the largest publishing group in Canada," probably number two purely in trade publishing, behind the Random group. The new integration will be on public view first at Book Expo Canada in June, where the formerly separate imprints will display under a common roof. The former Pearson list, a nonfiction one comprising cookbooks, gardening, wellness and some business titles, will now appear as Viking Canada. Penguin Canada will continue to be a mix of fiction and nonfiction, with a strong emphasis on Canadian titles, and the children's books will now appear under the Puffin imprint; new logos will be devised for each. There is also a technical publishing operation that has about half of Canadian computer books, and which will continue to have its separate sales force, while the other sales forces will be combined into a general interest force.
All the integration involved will take a good while to put into place, says Carson, who notes that such things as separate e-mail systems will have to be combined, which could take two to three years, while the creation of a joint warehouse could take longer than that. Editorial and sales operations, plus the expanded trade marketing operation, will all be housed in the Penguin offices at Alcorn Street in Toronto, where more space is available.
Good, who used to report to Phyllis Grann when she headed the Penguin Putnam group in New York, said the combined fall list of the two entities would be "a powerhouse, wonderfully diverse in terms of quality and editorial interest." She also noted that most of the executives in charge of the various combined operations were women--"perhaps too many?"--and this was probably a reflection of the fact that not enough qualified men were entering publishing in Canada; she thought it was time to try to redress the balance somewhat.
She and Carson agreed on their assessment of the current Canadian publishing picture: It was getting better, but "there's still a pretty fair distance to go." The new "Chindigo," as it is informally and half-affectionately known, seems to have better control over inventory, and there is a better partnership than there used to be with the buyers. "We take care to talk to them about quantities, and talk them down if it sounds as if they're overbuying." They thought the government-mandated closings of superstores this year would amount to maybe half a dozen, with more to come next year; meanwhile some mall stores were continuing to close, "but they try to warn us in advance about coming returns."
Meanwhile, the independent stores are still the risk takers. They're "proactive," while Chapters/Indigo is more inclined to be responsive once the market has been identified; and independents are still better at running book events. Good noted that Canada is vastly cosmopolitan as a retain marketplace: "We get nearly all the English-language publishing from all over the world," she noted, but whereas the U.S. market is very responsive to Canadian fiction, it is very resistant to nonfiction, feeling much more comfortable with American takes on Canadian themes. They agreed that the launch of Amazon.com in Canada, expected shortly, will make a big difference to the interchange of books between the countries. Already, Carson said, he has had calls from the U.S. asking for Canadian titles.
The Children's Scene
At Kids Can Press, now part of the Corus group, Valerie Hussey talks of the expansion the new ownership has allowed. They now do about 55 books a year, nearly twice as many as previously, and "have learned a lot about being part of a large company." About a third of Kids Can's market is now in the U.S., and while "one market tends to offset the other," there are similar stresses in both; in Canada the Chapters imbroglio, in the U.S. the recent loss of retailers like Zany Brainy and Noodle Kidoodle. Still, the institutional market remains strong, said Hussey, and is the backbone of children's publishing in both countries.
Kids Can is strong on series characters, and its Franklin and Elliot Moose have helped the company, especially in tough times for books, with their TV franchise--"though the television market is incredibly competitive, on both sides of the border." Meanwhile, they are always on the lookout for a new series character, and are currently looking in-house at the possibilities for developing several more. The house has always been strong on Canadian history for kids, and as part of its growing outreach to the American market is trying to make them of broader interest so they can travel.. They are working, in fact, on providing parallel editions for Canadian and U.S. readers; "it's about 25% more work for the author, but we could sell more than that in extra copies." Distribution is handled by the University of Toronto Press.
Hussey worries about the independent retailers. "We're down to only a handful of specialist children's bookstores now, but the ones that are left are real survivors." She thinks there's potential for stronger growth in the children's market, and is gratified that Heather Reisman at Chapters/Indigo has expressed strong interest in the category. "But it's all a question of handselling, and whether they can really bring that successfully into their stores." She tries to ensure that the chains are not overstocked, and notes that children's books have the advantage of depending more heavily on backlist sales than most adult trade.
Kids Can remains, she says, an open door for new talent, still accepts unsolicited manuscripts, and understands that "it's still a publisher's job to put authors and illustrators together." The house is also strong on international rights sales--she spoke on the eve of her departure for the Bologna Book Fair--and feels they sell them better than agents do.
Hussey is also an activist, currently helping to orchestrate a group, the Canadian Coalition for School Libraries, studying the importance of school librarians in terms of their impact on reading skills, and combating current attempts to have their jobs phased out or replaced by teachers working on a part-time basis.
At Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Gail Winskill looks after children's publishing, and finds the business improving, particularly on the institutional side, where sales are divided equally between the U.S. and Canada: "We couldn't do without the U.S. market." She finds that the independent bookstores that remain are doing "splendidly" with kids' books, citing particularly Bolingbroke's in Vancouver and Mable's Fables in Toronto. Both specialize in handselling--though, surprisingly, Costco is their second biggest customer for the 15-odd titles they produce each season, in a range that goes from board books to YA titles. Essentially, she says--and John Winskill, sales director, agrees--the children's side is "running things" at the publisher.
The pair also agreed that the three positive elements in the current market are the recovery of the independents, the slower recovery of Chapters/Indigo and the new emphasis on Canadian titles. John Winskill, however, remains worried about the near future. The GDS problems came, he said, because they were "buried in returns" from overbuys by the old Chapters, and they still had many clients on consignment: He thought it could be as long as five years before the reconstituted chain is healthy, and he sees in the immediate future "more pain."
Agents in Action
There is a lively enclave of agents in Toronto, whose fortunes are obviously entangled with those of the book business, and who have been affected by the uncertainties of the past couple of years. Denise Bukowski, for instance, finds things have settled down, "but in a more conservative way." It's still possible, she says, to get decent advances, but publishers have been cutting back severely on promotion. The fact that Air Canada now has a monopoly on airline routes in the country means that fares have gone up, and as a result author tours have been curtailed. Author launch parties have virtually disappeared, she said.
More and more foreign publishers now visit the city, though they come when it's convenient for them--not necessarily for an event like Book Expo Canada, which is why the attempt to launch a rights center there last year proved fruitless. The big Harborfront author festival in October is a draw, but that's too close to the Frankfurt fair for many European visitors.
Bukowski always tries for sales in New York, but finds that it's been much harder since September 11--and discovered, talking to American agents in London recently, that they were finding it harder, too. Smaller publishers, with fewer people who have to approve a purchase, are easier, but the advances are often so small it's hardly worth the effort. "I feel I'm giving up on New York," she said. "I used to flog it like a dead horse, but now I just hear too often that something that's admired and bought elsewhere is 'too quiet.' " She finds the buying more buoyant in London, and in fact in Europe in general, because Canadian lists tend to be more literary, and that aspect travels well.
Bukowski is the agent for Leo McKay's Twenty-six (see above), which she hopes can sell in the States, too, and Simon & Schuster, which did David Bergen's See the Child, has an option on his next, Reading Kierkegaard.
Westwood Creative is the biggest Toronto agency, an all-female one apart from president Bruce Westwood. The team here--Jackie Kaiser, Hilary McMahon, Linda McKnight and foreign rights specialist Nicole Winstanley--agreed that Canadian publishers were now buying with more caution, and felt that some, particularly the more literary ones, were suffering from cash-flow pr0blems. "The last couple of years have been really tough," said McMahon.
They are worried, like their American counterparts, about the increasing conglomeration of the business, feeling that the new merger between Penguin and Pearson in Canada will take a player out of contention in some fields. They also agree that the mass market in Canada had pretty much ceased to exist, with the Seal mass imprint that used to be the principal one when it was at Doubleday now subsumed into the Random family.
As to the foreign market, Winstanley found Germany was still the strongest buyer, with Spain now making better offers than it used to, and France also competitive; to Dutch publishers, she said, Canada is North America. Though they shared a distaste for Frankfurt with Bukowski (all resent the price "gouging" at the city's hotels), and prefer London, the German fair is still essential--and both are more so than BookExpo America, in their opinion.
Other Publishers Heard From
The ever-ebullient Kim McArthur, who has built her own small firm, with backing from London's Ori0n, into a significant commercial player (with current annual sales of about $11 million), has long been an advocate for better statistical reporting in the country. She is a member of a group of publishing and bookselling folk (see below) that will make recommendations at BookExpo Canada for a new approach. She is keen on Britain's BookTrack approach, and has been asking companies like Bowker and Ingram how they would approach the question of getting better reporting of figures.
McArthur is more reserved than some other publishers about the "new" Indigo combine. "I don't feel it's really got better yet." She experienced heavier-than-expected returns in November, and wonders why; and she expressed apprehension about what would happen at the end of March (the end of Indigo's fiscal year).
Her star author is Maeve Binchy, who gave her the number one bestseller in Canada last year, and whose next, Quentin¸ she will publish in September, slightly ahead of Quentin's publication in the U.S. She'll also have a new book of exotic travel adventures by Monty Python star Michael Palin, called Sahara, and has boldly taken on a mammoth history of women by Marilyn French (The Women's Room), which she will do in three volumes, starting this spring with the first, From Eve to Dawn.
McArthur is also going to bat for Joanna Trollope's latest, Girl from the South (Viking in the U.S.), eagerly looks forward to Ian Rankin's next, and has a highly unusual title in Songbird, an illustrated memoir of Eva Cassidy, a remarkable American singer, born in Washington, D.C., who died tragically young and whose family, for whatever reason, did not seek a U.S. publisher; she has taken this on from Orion, which bought it in manuscript from the family.
At Knopf, Louise Dennys still detects "an air of uncertainty,", though she feels that Heather Reisman is "much more dependable to deal with" than previous management at the chain. In fact, the past year has been one of the best for the house, which got the Anchor imprint securely launched, and is about to celebrate Vintage Canada's 10th year. Pace the agents quoted above, she assures us that Seal is still active as an imprint, has just done Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin and is beginning a series of P.D. James, all at a $9.99 (Cdn.) cover price, inexpensive by American standards. Mass market sales manager Duncan Shields adds that his business is going through "dramatic change," with sales flat at chains, but with independents still "cherry-picking" the lists, and the biggest growth is in mass merchandisers, such as Costco and Walmart. Airport book racks are also significant outlets, and Chapters/Indigo has most of those, with others owned by Hachette's HDS. Overall, said Shields, fewer mass titles are being done because of lack of display space.
Dennys discloses details of the Canada Reads campaign, organized by CBC Radio, which aims to get the entire country centered on one book, in the same way a number of American cities have succeeded in doing (and which New York signally failed to agree on). There are five judges, each of whom picked five favorites, which would ultimately be reduced to five and finally, after a national radio debate, to one, which was to be announced on April 23 (after this report went to press), with very considerable fanfare. There would also be a People's Choice, chosen by write-in popular vote. All the candidates would be duly stickered.
Knopf will publish the next novel of Ann-Marie MacDonald, whose Fall on Your Knees was so phenomenally successful as one of Oprah's last book club choices. The new one, about the world of childhood, called Where the Crow Flies, is being worked on for publication next spring (S&S has an option in the States) and an upcoming movie of Fall will bring a big extra printing. One of their recent finds is a book called Shakespeare's Face, that tells of the discovery of what is believed to be a new portrait-from-life of the elusive Elizabethan.
Dennys describes the Random family in Canada as "a very creative place," noting that (as seen at Penguin) most of the imprints are run by women. Like Random in the U.S., the imprints are allowed to compete for a book up to a certain level, at which bidding stops and the final choice is made by author and agent (such a competition was in progress during our visit, with an unidentified American author and agent looking to sell world rights on a book with an Arctic theme).
As a former independent publisher who has enjoyed her share of government support, Dennys sees much less such support today, though the Canadian industry is much larger and stronger, and probably doesn't need as much hand-holding as it did 20 years ago. "But there's a strong sense of Canadian nationalism even within foreign-owned companies like ours," she declared. "I think we all do a bloody good job at publishing our best authors." In this she includes, of course, McClelland & Stewart, now part-owned by the Random group, but still independent in structure, though it enjoys some shared marketing with its larger partner.
Dennys feels independent bookstores shone when Chapters was "falling apart" in late 2000, and those that have survived are stronger than ever. "They have a strength and hopefulness that has an impact on us all, because they're key to the kind of books we sell here."
John Pearce, who buys for Doubleday and the Random imprints in general, describes how they work. Random itself, for instance, is more journalistic, with books on issues, politics, celebrity memoirs, but also including cookbooks, health books and self'-help. But they also do some literary fiction (Carol Shields, Graham Swift and Peter Carey) as well as a line of specifically Canadian commercial fiction: he mentions names, not much known in the States, like Giles Blunt and Susan Moloney. Pearce himself ranges far afield, and his recent international purchases for Random have included Robert Moore's book on the Kursk Soviet submarine disaster (Crown in the U.S.), and Boris Starling's thriller Vodka (Dutton in the U.S.).
Canadian Doubleday, he says, is moving more in the direction of good fiction and belles-lettres, particularly from a newer generation. Nonfiction shows a concentration on Canadian history, biography and memoir; in fiction there are stars like David Adams Richards, along with such younger names as Nino Ricci, Lynn Coady, Michael Crummy, Camilla Gibb and Michael Turner. There are also a few sports, business and media books. Pearce's own recent purchases for the line include Crummey's River Thieves (Houghton Mifflin in the U.S.), a golf memoir by Curtis Gillespie called Playing Through ( S&S in the U.K.) and a story collection called All Men Are Sleeping by D.R. Macdonald (Counterpoint here).
Anna Porter at Key Porter rejoiced in a big surprise bestseller last year--a book called The Dog Rules (Damn Near Everything), a humor title by William Thomas that won a lot of independent support before catching on at Chapters and going on to become a major bestseller, selling over 40,000 copies in a market a fraction of the size of the United States'. She has all rights, and though there are offers in already from the U.K. and the U.S. she hasn't yet sold it on.
The big news recently for Key Porter was, of course, its purchase of the assets and inventory of Somerville House, a children's publisher and toy producer that filed for bankruptcy last year. There were some very big sellers among the inventory, said Porter, and she as thinking of going to the BEA show in New York shortly to meet some of the American publishers of Somerville titles, including Workman, Andrews & McMeel and Adams Media, to talk to them about mutual interests.
Among recent international deals she talks about are ones with Constable Robinson of the Daily Telegraph imprint in London, and for Martin Gilbert's next book, Righteous Gentiles, which she will publish in the fall. There's also a big fall fiction list, with most of the writers, coincidentally, coming from the Canadian maritime provinces, including Down the Coaltown Road by Sheldon Currie, about the Canadian internment of Italians during WWII; and a first novel by a noted playwright and short-story writer, Beatrice McNeill, called Butterflies Dance in the Dark. There's also a new novel by noted author Joseph Skvorecky about a Latin scroll found in a Central American tomb, called The Inexplicable Story. Skvorecky and his wife fled to Canada from Czechoslovakia in the late '60s.
One of Key Porter's writers is Dennis Lee, a popular children's poet and one of the candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen award given by IBBY, and the house got a lot of publicity from a national effort to recite one of his most popular works, Alligator Pie, as a good luck gesture in the competition. This took place on April 2, International Children's Book Day.
On the general situation, Porter says she is relieved to find that Reisman is not "combative" with publishers the way Chapters used to be, and thinks "she will make it work for all of us." Returns have diminished, and "there is no longer that pressure for huge numbers we used to get.."
Nestled behind a fraternity house in a dilapidated coach house near the University of Toronto is the edgy Coach House Books, an independent publisher that has been in existence for over 35 years. Coach House Books has traditionally focused on innovative and experimental poetry and fiction. Many venerable authors launched their careers with Coach House, including Michael Ondaatje and the late poet bp Nichol, who acts as the press's in-house saint.
One of Coach House's titles, Eunoia by Christian Bok, an avant-garde work in which each chapter uses only one vowel, has been a huge success for the press, garnering a place on the Griffin Prize shortlist this year. "It's selling incredibly fast. At this point it probably one of the best-selling books of poetry in Canadian history," said Coach House's poetry editor, Darren Wershler-Henry, adding that 4500 books have been printed and 3500 of them sold over a six-month period.
"Our aim is to produce a list of writing that is innovative and experimental without being exclusive or elitist, and I think we are proving that we can do that," said Wershler-Henry. "We've had a Governor-General nomination and a Griffin nomination in less than six months," he beamed. The Governor-General nomination was for Steve McCaffery's Seven Pages Missing Volume 1: Selected Texts 1969-1999.
Coach House publishes approximately 15 books a year but it may have to reassess the number of books on its list after the industry fully settles down in the wake of the Indigo-Chapters merger. "Everything we are dealing with now is fallout from a year and a half to two years ago," said Wershler-Henry. "There is no way to know what this new regime is going to be like. All we have are a vague set of promises to go on and not much else."
Alana Wilcox, Coach House's fiction editor, elaborates by saying there are positive and negative aspects to the new Indigo. On the one hand, they've decided to include Eunoia on their National Poetry Month poetry table across the chain, whereas in the past that decision would be made on a store-by-store basis. "They ordered 500 copies from us, on the other hand, we have to worry about returns," fretted Wilcox.
|What Canada's ReadingBestsellers are similar on both sides of the border, but, particularly in fiction, Canadian authors make a strong showing at home, with four out of the current top 10, and there are some quirkily local choices in nonfiction. Here are current hardcover fiction and nonfiction lists, with Canadian publishers/distributors, reprinted from Quill & Quire: |
Wershler-Henry believes the future of his press, and other small literary presses across the country, will be dictated by Indigo's sales decisions. "The survival of the small Canadian small literary press will depend on what kind of bookstore Indigo decides it wants it to be...scented candles and picture frames are highly fungible, you can stock 500 scented candles and send them off to your stores and you don't have to worry about inventory. But literature is the exact opposite end of the spectrum because a good bookstore has one or two copies each of 250,000 books. If Indigo decides to go the route where all it wants are big piles of glossy bestsellers on tables, that's very bad," declared Wershler-Henry.
"What literary culture needs is depth and I think the next year or so, after they get all the issues of the other company out of the way, that will have a lot to do with whether or not everyone is going to survive," he added.
Historically, Coach House had a good relationship with Chapters, which was supportive of them. "Now, it's hard to know because the spring orders haven't come in yet, although it is the end of March," said Wilcox, adding that it was unusual but she chalked it up to issues with their reorganization.
"The industry as a whole has had a tough time adjusting to an entirely different marketplace," added Wilcox, citing that they've had problems with their distributor, General Publishing. "But we're making good strides," she added optimistically.
One of the saving graces of Coach House is that they own the means for their production--they print their books in house--making it easier to reprint books if it becomes necessary. "We have a turnaround time of about a week. Most publishers don't have that luxury. It's one of the things that has kept Coach House afloat over the years," said Wershler-Henry.
Coach House also keeps itself open to additional sources of revenue, specifically by selling content online. They have been publishing on the Internet since 1997 and have 60 full-length titles online in html format for all to see. "As far as I know, we're still the only publisher in the world to have done this. A few people have messed around with pdfs and e-books, but no one has made a commitment to it and in the last six months, most of the people who did have backed off," said Wershler-Henry.
Currently, Coach House is teaming up with the On Disk alliance, an organization that provides online course material for colleges and universities, to establish a licensing pool of content where users pay a small sum in exchange for usage.
A Smaller Niche
Sam Hiyate, the hip, party-throwing publisher of Gutter Press, is a busy man these days. In addition to running Gutter Press, which focuses on esoteric, avant-garde literary works, Hiyate also publishes Blood and Aphorisms, a literary magazine where many young writers get their start. An art aficionado, Hiyate also mounts art shows in the living room in his sprawling downtown apartment and plans on entering the agenting business.
But those additional ventures don't detract from his focus on Gutter Press, which is now entering its 10th year. Gutter publishes around six books a year, although last year it only published three after running out of funds. Known for publishing books that push boundaries, Gutter has carved a niche for itself as a press bent on taking chances.
"I don't want to do books that are highly risqué, although risque falls into the category," Hiyate said of his list. Certainly, works such as Lie with Me by Tamara Berger, an erotic novella designed as a children's book, fall into that category, as does I Was Hitler's Cat by N.J. Dodic. This follows the story of a cat adopted by Hitler in the waning days of his regime as he and Eva Braun are holed up in his bunker. The novel is already garnering attention, though it will not be released until next month.
Although a small, independent publisher, Hiyate prides himself on spending a lot of money on designing his books--as much as large publishers, he claims. When the resources cannot be found to adequately support a book, Hiyate opts to wait to publish.
Due to the turmoil in the industry, Hiyate decided not to have a fall season. Gutter had approximately $40,000 worth of books returned over an eight-month period in 2000. Rather than remainder the books, Hiyate opts to keep them. He stockpiles about 2000 books in his bedroom alone.
But there were some positive aspects of last year. Hawksley Workman's Hawksley Burns for Isadora proved to be a hot title for the press. The work is composed of personal ads originally published in two Toronto weeklies. And the novel Burnt Orange Lipstick was listed in the Globe and Mail's 100 best books of 2001--an accolade Hiyate strongly cherishes.
Hiyate recognizes that the press will have to adapt to a changed bookselling environment. "I'm trying to be really realistic about my print runs, for the first time. At one point there was a guarantee that every book that was published would get in [to Chapters], that they would take two copies in every store. But I think now that it has been consolidated under one owner, some books will just not get in," Hiyate mourned.
"Now, they're selling yoga mats and candles, they're selling a lot of crap, they don't have room for every book anymore. And they want to have a table with Oprah's picks and Heather's picks, and award winners, so where is the room for the first-time young poet?" he asked. "The next Anne Carson has to start somehow."
In response to the changed marketplace, Hiyate feels it would be prudent to publish fewer books. "People always say that there are two ways to succeed: you either get very big and become the biggest player and buy everyone else, or you get a niche, get small. So, that's our approach."
Hiyate takes solace in the fact that even if Indigo doesn't decide to sell his books, they can find a steady stream of buyers online on their Web site.
"I think it is great that Amazon has established this book-buying presence online. It is the greatest thrill for me to get orders from Rome or London. I think it's the future of publishing that no one wants to talk about."
Fine Weather for Raincoast
The last few years have been kind to Raincoast Books, buoyed by being the Canadian publisher of J.K. Rowling, and this last year seemed just as rosy. Just when it seemed that the Harry Potter phenomenon couldn't last forever, some new reason popped up for the books to continue flying out of the stores.
"It's been a very good year, because of the movie," explained Raincoast president Allan MacDougall. "We pushed out a lot of books in October, November and December. It was quite incredible. We did lots of reprinting. It is such a challenge, with so many books and so many editions in print, but we got them all organized so when the movie broke there was lots of stuff in the various outlets."
MacDougall wouldn't release any numbers but admitted that they were "way, way above" what they expected. "You have to wonder how many more books we could sell, and we didn't do movie editions. We were ready and the regular books just found more and more of a market," he explained.
Even the fundraising titles, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, published in order to support Comic Relief, have done quite well, admitted MacDougall. The publisher sold a couple of thousand of each of the nonrefundable titles and has already sent the charity a large check.
"The book did not cost a dime so 100% of whatever we brought in went to the charity," said MacDougall, explaining that the printers, shippers and paper companies all chipped in. Indigo and other retailers took no discount on the titles.
What puzzles MacDougall--and other publishers as well, undoubtedly--is how to keep tapping into this group of children who are proving to possess an insatiable desire for books. "The mystery out there is what is going to happen with this huge number of kids who have read Harry Potter, because once you read a book, you can't stop reading. We have, from a historical point of view, the largest potential market ever sitting out there, so we have to somehow target all those kids as new readers--and they are getting older every year. I think this is a huge opportunity and everyone realizes it, but they are having a hard time marketing to them," he admitted.
A major event for the publisher this year was its acquisition of the Canadian division of Publishers Group West. PGW Canada will be run as a wholly owned subsidiary of Raincoast Books but will continue to operate as an independent business from its current location in Toronto.
"We're excited about the PGW Canada deal," enthused MacDougall. "Raincoast will remain the same and PGW will be run as a separate company, but we'll share resources. In a sense, it just gives publishers another opportunity to have additional distribution for PGW." He added that the deal will help Raincoast break further into the American market. "Now, with probably the best distribution there is around, there should be a big leap for our books in the States," he said. "We see the States as a big opportunity for us to increase our sales and publish books specifically for the American market."
In the last year, Raincoast also acquired Press Gang, which will be run as an imprint. They plan on publishing a select number of Press Gang titles every year, titles that have historically focused on lesbian and feminist themes. Raincoast intends to stay true to that theme while trying to bring the books more into the mainstream.
MacDougall describes Raincoast's relationship with the new Indigo as "very good" and credits Heather Reisman with helping to save the industry. "It's quite incredible, a year later, to see the change. Heather is really working hard and continues to amaze everyone with her energy. I think she saved the Canadian book business. I think she saved the Canadian publishers' ass. I don't think there is any doubt about it."
As for September 11, MacDougall said it didn't really affect sales in Canada. "People cocooned more than they were already suppose they to be cocooning." The addition to the distributor's warehouse of the books of Douglas & McIntyre (see elsewhere in the report), although this happened after we spoke to MacDougall, obviously didn't hurt.
ACP: Focusing on Supply Chain
While last year was spent hammering out the details of the Indigo-Chapters merger, this year the Association of Canadian Publishers has focused its attention on ensuring that the publishing business runs more smoothly, particularly by concentrating on the supply chain.
"I think the industry is in much better shape than it was a year ago," claimed Monique Smith, the ACP's executive director. "With the new money that was announced by the federal government last spring, one of the things they've decided to focus on, that everyone is supporting, is changes to the supply chain, which will make more data and point-of-sale information available to everyone, cleaning up the bibliographic data for the Canadian industry and looking towards electronic transactions for the industry."
The department of Canadian Heritage has compiled two different committees. One is a steering committee made up of heads of firms from multinational and Canadian companies alike, including Random's John Neale, Valerie Hussey of Kids Can, Kim McArthur of her eponymous company, as well as Heather Reisman and independent bookseller Nicholas Hoare. A technical committee, comprised of members of the larger houses, distributors, Indigo and independents, focuses on technology and change in the industry. Particularly, it tries to figure out how to implement a standard for bibliographic data, establishing some standards for electronic data interchange (EDI) and point-of-sale information.
"I think people are very optimistic that those initiatives will improve the whole system, and people will have more information and be able to make more educated decisions and it will improve and streamline the industry," said Smith. "I think there has been a huge improvement in general information among publishers about supply-chain issues, and we are poised to move forward and really make some changes."
Altering her focus from the onslaught of returns publishers were experiencing and dealing with the merger has been a refreshing change for Smith. "It's nice to be able to devote time to this and not to crisis management. We're actually looking at something forward-thinking and productive," she observed.
With regards to Indigo, Smith believes publishers' relationship with the retailer are very stable. "Things are improving, Indigo is improving its technology, returns have stabilized somewhat, the highs are a little less high and the lows a little less low. It's not straight sailing yet, but we're getting there," said Smith.
One of the improvements Smith would like to see is a stronger focus on promoting Canadian literature. Currently, the ACP and Indigo are working together on a couple of children's book initiatives, hoping to make consumers more aware of the high quality of Canadian children's books. Although Smith believes that Indigo is no less focused on Canadian literature than Chapters' previous owners, she does admit that some publishers are concerned that certain titles, if not purchased by Indigo, will not reach the public.
"Obviously, since Indigo represents 60-70% of the market, depending on who you talk to, it is a concern when they don't take certain books, and we try to work with them whenever our publishers have a concern about that," said Smith.
But, due to the upheavals of the last couple of years, Smith acknowledges that publishers are expanding their horizons in order to be less dependent on Canada's retail market. "Over the last two years, because of the real ups and downs, the publishers have looked at alternate markets. A lot of them have looked to exports and have placed a new focus on it; there has been a huge increase for Canadian publishers in exporting abroad." The ACP is working with the Association for the Export of Canadian Books (AECB) on some export initiatives, since exports continue to become increasingly important for publishers trying to weather the crisis. They are also looking at different initiatives for the better marketing of Canadian books abroad.
Another issue plaguing the industry this year is distribution. "There has been some problems with the distribution section of the Canadian publishing side and there have certainly been some changes in distributors, but we're hoping that too will settle down once things improve at GDS," said Smith.
CPC: Working Toward WIPO Ratification
Jacqueline Hushion, the Canadian Publishers' Council's executive director, who claims that advocacy is in her blood, has also been involved with the supply-chain project.
"It's a mammoth project and we're hoping we'll have something to unveil at BookExpo Canada in June," said Hushion. "It won't be anything that shines and glitters when you take the wrapping off, but it will be impressive, and it will be a big reassurance for the industry."
Hushion also believes the industry has moved from crisis mode into a more functional one. "I think the industry on the trade side was dysfunctional for a long time and I think now it is in fact feeling much more stable. But there are still some issues that remain, including the financial problems that plague General Distribution."
The CPC has spent the last year and a half focused on two areas, one being the drafting of the consent order that governed the Chapters merger, which took "hundreds and hundreds of hours," admitted Hushion. "It was difficult, as you would expect, because if I were Heather Reisman I would be resentful that both the government and the industry, in terms of my suppliers, were so insinuated into my business, but she was very good about it," Hushion said.
Maintaining a good relationship with Chapters-Indigo continues to be a main objective of the CPC, and Hushion states that her members have witnessed improvements since the Chapters merger. "They've seen their receivables go down--their receivables with the old Chapters were devastatingly high--and they're seen their returns as a percentage of sales reduced. It's not good enough, but it's a beginning."
Quite apart from the merger, Hushion has been focused on Canada' s ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaty. Canada has been lagging behind in ratifying the treaty. "It's a huge issue. The purpose of the treaty is to empower creators and producers to effectively conduct e-commerce in a secure environment--to exploit their copyright for commercial gain," explained Hushion. "If your country hasn't ratified, then there are questions floating around about you. People frequently ask me, what's wrong with us?. Why haven't we ratified yet?"
Black Bond Books: The Other Chain
While attention has been focused on the new Indigo chain, another book chain has been steadily growing in British Columbia. Owned by Cathy and Mel Jesson, Black Bond Books has grown to 11 locations--their last store opened two months ago--making it this country's second-largest chain, with some locations as large as 6,000 square feet.
"We're fairly content with the size we have. This last store was an opportunity in a location we have been looking at for three to four years so we felt the need to get a little bit bigger," said Cathy Jesson. "We're not out to expand just for the sake of expansion. We're quite happy with the size of our company."
Black Bond Books is also not interested in moving outside of British Columbia. "There's more opportunity than we could even explore in this province. And it's good to know your market and this is a market we know," said Jesson.
Are independents experiencing a revival? Jesson thinks so.
"I think people have come back to independent stores. They appreciate the knowledge that our staff has and the love of books that shows through by what they are able to recommend. It's been very good. A lot of people I've spoken to in the industry claim it has been a healthy year as well."
A survey conducted by the Canadian Booksellers Association concurs with that sentiment. In a survey comparing 2001 holiday sales to those in 2000, 69% said business had improved, and 59% of those respondents said sales improved by 11 % or more.
Jesson said she's happy with the direction of the Canadian Booksellers Association. "There have been some great changes there that have helped pull everybody together," said Jesson. "There is a good strong leadership in touch with what booksellers are really concerned with--shipping costs, co-op issues, really basic things that sometimes get brushed over but that are very important," she insisted, adding that "there's a lot to be said about being a big force rather than one lonely voice in the wilderness."
Many booksellers reported that sales improved because booksellers took a more proactive approach, offering more readings, more advertising and taking care to know their products better.
Specifically, Jesson says there has been an increased emphasis on spirituality and children's literature and books geared at teens.
"I don't know if it's all a part of this feeling of wanting to be closer to home, but it's been a good year and I think this year will be good as well."
Black Bond Books' primary concern is not Indigo but Amazon.com, which is slated to launch its Canadian site after BookExpo Canada. "They are definitely very aggressive with their pricing but we have a strong remainder component, so that gives us a good selling feature. Hopefully we'll get through that one as well."
Despite the Amazon threat, the chain is not interested in expanding its own Web site. "We've gone with a basic-looking site but that's not where we're at. We're bricks-and-mortar, it's been successful for us. The site is just a way for us to communicate with our customers."
|Phyllis Bruce's 10-Year Harper ImprintOne of the most respected names in Canadian publishing today is that of Phyllis Bruce, whose imprint under her own name at HarperCollins Canada has published a remarkable number of award-winning authors, many of whom have gone on to international fame: people like Bonnie Burnard (A Good House), Richard B. Wright (Clara Callan) and Dennis Bock (The Ash Garden). That imprint is 10 years old this year and, although Bruce has achieved her greatest renown as a fiction editor during that time, it was in fact her first venture into fiction. |
She had a rounded publishing background before that, but not one that included any fiction: as publisher at Van Nostrand Reinhold, she oversaw mostly reference and illustrated books, and then while editor-in-chief at Key Porter Books, the house was doing only nonfiction. Still, she had always been keenly interested in literary fiction, and had in fact served on the boards of several literary magazines and writers' groups--contacts that became invaluable when she came to Harper in late 1992 with a mandate to publish serious fiction as well as nonfiction.
Bruce began sounding out agents with that most difficult-to-sell of all literary artifacts--short story collections--and also let it be known that she was interested in "very serious high-end literary fiction with specific Canadian themes. I'd always had a great interest in Canadian history, and that helped on the nonfiction side, too." She got to know Burnard initially through her stories, and recalled Richard Wright from the 1970s, when he was appearing in literary magazines, but had made no kind of name. "I wanted to take on good people who hadn't really made it, and break them out to a larger readership."
Bruce has succeeded in doing that, in spades. Burnard won the coveted Giller Prize, and Wright's Clara Callan took both the Giller and the Governor General's award, a most unusual double. Other notable writers she has launched include Helen Humphreys, Diane Schoemperlen and Greg Hollingshead. Wright's book is now a leading candidate for book of the year at the upcoming BookExpo Canada, and Bruce herself is a candidate for editor of the year. (It also seems highly probable that Harper will be chosen as publisher of the year.).
Bruce works mostly through agents, though she will read unsolicited material that is recommended by another writer or editor. She insists on doing all her own editing, and follows a book closely through all the publishing stages, including production and art direction. She has been particularly excited by the arrival of David Kent as chief executive at Harper Canada, feeling that he has helped the house mature into "a full-service publisher, and internationalized the list so that we now have notable overseas authors as well as our fine Canadian ones. He brings such flair to the place that he's set the bar higher for all of us." --J.F.B.
BookExpo Canada: More Glitz, More Glamour
Publishers are already gearing up for a great show at BookExpo Canada, to be held at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre, June 21-24. Reed has already resold 90% of the floor space and a new programs will enhance last year's highlights.
"We're looking for ways to expand the trade show for everybody concerned," said show manager Jennifer Sickinger
New programs for this year include a Multimedia Expo, where record labels and distributors of recorded music, DVD and video will be displaying their products.
"There is interest and some space has already been sold," said Rob Firing, co-founder of Rowland Firing PR.
Also new this year is the CookBook Nook, which will feature a working kitchen set up for live cooking demonstrations by the coming season's cookbook authors. "It is selling fairly quickly, there aren't many spaces left. It met with a lot of enthusiasm on the part of exhibiting publishers," said Firing of the program.
There will also be a Brochure/Program Cover Art Competition that will have publishing industry designers compete for the opportunity to have their work become the official image of BookExpo Canada 2002.
"Exhibiting publishers can have one of their designers submit work, either an illustration or an image, to judges at Reed Exhibition's BEC and they will chose among the submissions," Firing explained.
Returning this year to BookExpo is the program Book Television, hosted by Daniel Richler. Like last year, programs will involve people in the industry although specific topics for shows haven't been decided yet.
As last year, there will also be a Small Press Area. So far, there is no further headway towards a rights center.
At Harper, 'Stars in Alignment'
To say it has been a good year at HarperCollins Canada is to put it mildly. CEO Jane Friedman has already described how results outside the U.S., specifically in the U.K., Canada and Australia, helped pull the international giant out of what might otherwise have been a difficult year, and new CEO David Kent, who came over from the Random family about 15 months ago, is more than usually voluble about his pleasure at the way things have gone.
"The stars have really been in alignment for us this year," he says, enumerating successes ranging from the astonishing sale of the Tolkien books, aided by a dazzling promotional campaign tied in with the movie, to such apparently chancy, but in the end highly successful, moves as getting in early on Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. "It may have looked an unlikely bet for Canada, but I bought it from Jonathan Galassi [at FSG] in 10 minutes."
The change in publisher terms offered by the new management at Chapters enabled them, said Kent, to take risks on bigger and better promotions, which in turn led to such innovations here as full-page ads in the Globe & Mail. "I think we stepped into the promotion gap left by the events of September 11."
It was the marketing for the tie-in with the Tolkien movie that was particularly noteworthy. Kent showed us an amazing ad depicting a theater full of people all sitting and reading Lord of the Rings, with the caption "They Can't Wait." They joined with the movie producers New Line in cross-promoting with the movie everywhere--even to tray liners in Burger King ("I bet that's a publisher first"). No book or movie ad appeared without reference to the other entity; in the end nearly two and a half million Tolkien books were sold during the year--to a readership, as Kent points out, most of whom probably had a copy to begin with. It all worked out well in the end, but as he noted, "the movie could have bombed." As it turned out, he also wants to thank the Harper warehouse: "None of this could have happened without them."
Of course, after a year like this one, Kent finds himself reminded of what Dan Green, formerly at Simon & Schuster, once told him when he found Green sitting glumly in his office after the company had racked up a spectacular year of sales: "What are we going to do next year?"
In one way or another, though not perhaps always from such a pleasant perspective as David Kent's, that's a thought that haunts all Canadian publishers as they begin to emerge from their slough of despond.