McLelland and Stewart is synonymous with all things CanLit – publishing Margaret Atwood and Farley Mowat, to name a couple of venerated Canadian writers – but ever since Random House bought a 25% stake in the company (the University of Toronto owns the rest) there have been rumblings about the house’s ability to stay truly independent, as Guy Dixon of the Globe and Mail reveals. This was especially apparent earlier this year when M&S laid off three of its senior publicists and marketing managers earlier this year, just as the company was embarking on its year of centenary celebrations.
“You’ve still got a core of true believers in there. But I think that, generally, management [of the company] is sliding away from them,” said writer and Blackfish Press co-founder Brian Brett, who is also chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada. “It’s an incremental thing. You see it happening bit by bit, getting whittled down. They have actually held out, in many ways, longer than the other publishers. But they are following the general mass of major publishers, [which] are all becoming branch-plant operations that hire independent editors who try to create a brand.”
M&S CEO Doug Pepper begs to differ, saying that the ties only extend to “really high book deals” and sales & marketing decisions. “We share a marketing department, share a sales department and share publicity departments, although we have people on site here that only work on the M&S books. Do we bring in [Random House] people a little earlier now? Yes, but it doesn’t have to do with the decisions we make on books. It just is a smart thing to do to increase the lead time on any specific book in order to arrange book tours, ads and other sales strategies.”
But when there’s corporate influence of any kind, people are going to wonder, no matter what…