Controversy for Canadian Publishers Marketing Plan

By Carmen Comment

The Globe and Mail’s James Adams reported yesterday on a new pilot project that has many independent bookstores steaming mad – because the emphasis of this $120,000 project, which highlights themed books and backlist by notable small publishers like MacArthur & Company, House of Anansi, McLelland & Stewart (Random House Canada owns them, so they aren’t exactly small) and Raincoast Books is focused exclusively on the chain bookstores Chapters & Indigo, while also pleading for additional funds from the Canadian government.

One of the key figures in the consortium, McArthur and Co. founder and president Kim McArthur of Toronto, is unapologetic about the scheme, or at least its goal. Canadian-owned publishers have drastically declined in number in the past 10 years, she said last week, and those remaining lack the resources of foreign-owned firms such as Random House of Canada and Penguin Canada. Hence, the need for government support “for Canadian titles from Canadian-owned firms.” As for the emphasis on the Chapters/Indigo stores owned by Indigo Books & Music, “we can’t help it that Indigo is such a big part of our market.” Indeed, McArthur estimated the company, with its 230-plus stores nationwide, “accounts for 70 per cent of our business.” A pilot project “has to start somewhere, and why shouldn’t it be with a national retailer?”

But Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Booksellers Association, which represents about 1,000 bookstores, including the Indigo chain, wasn’t happy with the scheme. “We are adamantly opposed to the balance of that budget, the $80,000, going to one retailer, regardless of who that retailer is,” she said. “We understand it’s a pilot project, but it’s a pilot project for one bookseller.” Frans Donker, owner of the five-store Book City mini-chain in Toronto, agreed. “I don’t buy the ‘pilot project’ argument at all. . . . It’s just smoke and mirrors to try to keep the independent booksellers and their associations quiet.” Last week, he was threatening to sharply reduce the presence in his stores of any of the titles the consortium placed with Indigo, if the plan went ahead unchanged. “This one really irks me a lot.”