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January 11, 2012

The Canadian Publisher as "important component of civilization"

Here’s what sprang to my mind when I heard about Random House’s takeover of McClelland & Stewart:

“I arrive in Toronto on the day that Coach House Press goes out of business. (Coach House’s recent revival could not be foreseen at the time.) More startling than Coach House’s death is the reaction to its demise. Where past politicians, even those ill-disposed towards the cultural sector, would have felt it expedient to play lip-service to Coach House’s achievements, Ontario Premier Mike Harris launched into an attack on the press’s ‘history of total government dependence.’ Though Harris’ characterization isn’t strictly accurate, I am struck by how many of the writers and commentators who respond to Harris argue from the same set of assumptions: they defend Coach House’s accounting and marketing strategies, arguing for the press as a viable business rather than an important component of a civilization… Canadian public debate has changed in ways that make it increasingly difficult to justify, or even imagine, the sense of collective endeavour that fuelled the writing community only a few years earlier.” –Stephen Henighan, “Between Postcolonialism and Globalization”

(As you can see, I got a lot out of Henighan’s book, which I picked up just after the death of Josef Skvorecky, whose work he addesses in the essay “Canadian Cultural Cringe” and which certainly provided a counterpoint to the Skvorecky obits. And then this Random House news yesterday afternoon. Seems Henighan’s ideas are very relevant at the moment.)

One thought on “The Canadian Publisher as "important component of civilization"”

  1. Carrie says:


    My siblings and I (all five of us) work in the creative/cultural field. We were just talking about this very subject last night. The arts is really not an industry. Parts of it can be, and there can be ways to make money in the arts, but culture doesn’t fit into traditional business models, and never has. It’s always been a hardscrabble place in which to work, a balancing act between creative exploration and creating accessible material, between independence and paying the piper. Once upon a time there were patrons. Now there is gvmt support (shrinking), and the hope for industry success, for the success of the bestsellers to trickle down and keep the rest of us afloat. But taste isn’t predictable. And with so many ways to access culture without directly paying its creators … well, it seems simplistic to assume that building a better business model is the answer.

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