Vancouver book publisher Scott McIntyre never made it to the International Festival of Authors in Toronto this week to receive the first-ever Ivy Award, presented in recognition of his “passionate representation of Canadian publishing.” The reason: He was too busy helping to place his namesake company, Douglas & McIntyre Publishers, into bankruptcy protection.
Following the demise of several other once-thriving Canadian-owned publishers, the abrupt and unceremonious death of D&M this week marks the end of a 40-year dream to create an independent industry to publish and promote Canadian authors. With the largest Canadian-owned publisher now gone, what remains is a cottage industry with little ability to generate bestsellers or sign notable Canadian authors, virtually all of whom now publish with multinational companies.
The news is “a major catastrophe for Canadian publishing,” according to Anna Porter, former owner of recently deceased Key Porter Books. “What it demonstrates is that all the measures governments have come up with over the years to help the industry survive haven’t been successful,” she added. “Nothing has worked. It’s sad.”
“Douglas & McIntyre is a very special publisher,” added D&M author and industry historian Roy MacSkimming. “They were always determined to publish to an international standard. There was always a consistent standard and high quality right across the list,” he said.
The company was especially known for its non-fiction titles, with David Suzuki its most reliable bestseller. Its latest success was Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt, which won the B.C. national award for non-fiction last year and remains a bestseller.
In addition to announcing that it is seeking bankruptcy protection and hopes to restructure, D&M laid off an unspecified number of employees in Vancouver and Toronto Tuesday. The company will continue operations while it searches for a buyer, a spokesman said. Neither McIntyre or current company owner Mark Scott was available for comment.
With royalty cheques due to be delivered to D&M authors this month, Writers’ Union of Canada chair Merilyn Simonds, also a D&M author, advised her members to “stay calm and watch for developments.”
“They’re still selling books,” she added. “They’re still open for business.”
Although many in the industry expressed hope that the company will find a buyer for some or all of its assets, few expect it to survive as anything more than an imprint of a larger firm.
“The deed is done, it’s too late for angels,” Porter said. “I see nothing positive about this.”
D&M’s demise means “that if you get to a certain size you absolutely can’t survive in competition with the foreign-owned firms,” said Rowland Lorimer, director of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University. What remains, he added, is a “little-brother industry” with a strictly limited role.
“To cut off your book industry from the role it normally plays in other countries is a shame,” Lorimer added. “It’s like foreign ownership of all kinds. It just changes the whole nature of the country.”
Putting the company into bankruptcy improves the chances that the federal government will permit a foreign-owned company to absorb the remains, according to Lorimer. He named HarperCollins, which currently distributes D&M books in Canada, as the likeliest suitor. The company declined to comment.
“D& M had such a strong program you have to believe there is some future for it,” MacSkimming said. “This story is not finished.”
But the same cannot be said for the dream of an independent Canadian publishing industry.
Perils of publishing
The decline and fall of the independent Canadian publishing industry began 12 years ago when the owner of iconic publisher McClelland & Stewart donated a majority share to the University of Toronto, entrusting a minority share and operational control to Random House of Canada.
It accelerated two years later with the bankruptcy of Stoddart Publishing. Various Canadian investors picked up the pieces, including House of Anansi, which survives today as the largest independent Canadian publisher.
History repeated itself almost two years ago when Key Porter Books went bankrupt, leaving unpaid authors in the lurch.
Earlier this year, Random House of Canada took over McClelland & Stewart . The former standard-bearer of CanLit survives as an “imprint.”