Letter to the Editor: House of Anansi VP Matt Williams responds to the Globe and Mail

John Barber’s “end of the dream” article in today’s Globe doesn’t add anything to a discussion about publishing in Canada. It guides it into a dead end. What is the point of “reporting” like this?

We, like everyone in the book business, were desperately sorry to hear the bad news about D&M. It is another blow to the industry and to our culture.

But for John Barber to extrapolate from D&M’s difficulties that independent Canadian publishing is dead is irresponsible and inaccurate. There are more than 100 active publisher members of the Association of Canadian Publishers. These publishers are doing the same thing today as last week, and indeed, as they will do next week — working like hell to publish books by Canadian authors and illustrators for Canadian readers. I suspect that those publishers, authors and illustrators are going to be somewhat non-plussed to hear from the Globe and Mail that it’s all a waste of time because the domestic industry has no future.

This business is getting more challenging. That much is clear. The litany of vanquished publishers is now starting to be familiar even to a casual observer: Stoddart, Key Porter, McClelland & Stewart, now perhaps D&M. But that is certainly not the whole story, and it is shocking that someone reporting on the publishing industry would equate “independent” and “Canadian” with “finished.”

John Barber does not mention that even as the D&M news emerged, Random House of Canada was laying off editorial staff, and from New York yesterday came the news that Simon and Schuster has announced a big lay-off that seemingly will shutter the Free Press.

It is not just Canadian independent firms that are scrambling — it’s everyone. The shift to digital in this business has been seismic, and it has been fast. And it has left publishers large and small, domestic and multi-national, faced with a massively changed marketplace, with far less retail space to display and market the print books that still make up, overwhelmingly, the bulk of our sales revenues and our authors’ livelihoods. E-book sales are important, and growing, and nice to put alongside sales of print books, but they certainly haven’t replaced them.

John Barber didn’t ask why D&M ran into trouble, or what troubles other publishers might be facing, or what these troubles mean in the long run for people who care about books. Are these not important questions to ask? Perhaps it’s just easier to keep it simple: “another year, another big Canadian trade publisher down.”

The “Perils of Publishing” sidebar notes that Anansi is now the largest independent Canadian publisher, and the verb used to describe our activities is “survives.” How incredibly pessimistic. We don’t come to work to survive. We come to work to publish books for readers today and into the future.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Williams
VP, Publishing Operations
House of Anansi Press / Groundwood Books

33 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor: House of Anansi VP Matt Williams responds to the Globe and Mail

  1. Great reply Matt. Thanks for setting Barber and the Globe straight. We could add: if Barber is right and ‘going down’ indicates a cottage industry, I guess the same could be said for Penguin and Random House deciding to merge rather than stay afloat on their own?? Wayne Antony, Fernwood Publishing

  2. Thank you. I run a small publishing venture and have found the response towards it to be enthusiastic, not just from Canadians, but from around the world. I put a huge effort in to promoting the work of Canadian artists and writers (we are not grant funded and so are not bound to publish a large percentage of Canadian work, but we choose to because there is so much talent in this country). People have been singing the swan song of publishing for so long. It would be more interesting to read some insight into what has changed and what new models have come along (go to a fair like Expozine in Montreal or Canzine in Toronto and witness hundreds of artists and writers self-publishing very professional, slick, high-calibre work). I very much appreciate your response to this pessimistic and simplistic article.

  3. I research the publishing industry, and I agree with this response to John Barber’s piece. Barber is being alarmist and either does not have or does not choose to report all the facts.

  4. I am 100% in agreement and feel that the doom and gloom reporting surrounding the book industry is disheartening, misleading and in some cases (this one!) downright incorrect. Thanks for a great article,

    Shelley Macbeth
    Blue Heron Books

  5. well said Mr. Williams let’s hope readers of good books find themselves in a bookstore or library to witness the wealth of excellent Canadian literary talent

  6. In July we opened an art gallery and book shop in a small(ish) town in BC. We carry Canadian publishers exclusively, because there’s a demand for it. Thank you, House of Anansi, for what you do. We expect to have your and other Canadian publisher titles for a long time to come. ~ Jeannette, owner (and apparently, dreamer)

  7. Dear Matt, Thanks for such a great letter! I will share it far and wide,during what has been a difficult week of conversations. This is surely a bright spot to be sure. Clearly, we must all go on, to thrive and do great things!

    Onwards!

    Trevor Battye
    Clevers Media

  8. Yes, thank you, Matt. There is incredible change, but this has always been the case in any industry. Anansi and other publishers remain inventive and intelligent, and there is no reason to predict extinction when what we are seeing in so many places is energized adaptation.

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