Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Handover, Part II



No one ever knows what to expect when a book is launched into the world. In the case of The Handover, knowledgeable people said things like "Elaine, who do you think is going to read this book? Two people?" One former publisher, who is a central figure in it, said no one would. Another guessed maybe a few hundred publishing nerds might pick it up. Apparently, the one big bookstore chain in the country agreed with that estimation. Beads of sweat could be seen on my publisher's brow as he sent it to press.

I said Kaddish for it.

And then a few people spoke to a few more people, who spoke to a few more, and when we held a book launch in a smallish bar on Toronto's Danforth, the place was packed with all sorts of people interested in the history and future of publishing in Canada, authors, agents, publishers, critics, and reporters.Some of them were people I had tried to interview for The Handover who had been too scared to speak with me, even off the record. Some of them whispered in my ear new bits of information that hammered home the facts I had managed to gather.

Since the launch, in early June, there has been remarkable coverage of a project I was sure would enter the world already dead, starting with a really good job of reporting and reviewing by Brian Bethune in Maclean's Magazine; a long interview podcast by Jesse Brown on Canadaland; a full page lead review in the Globe and Mail by Roy MacSkimming; a story about the launch and the making of the book by Mark Medley also in the Globe and Mail; an interview in Quill & Quire; three mentions in the US based Publishers' Lunch; another story this weekend in the Globe and Mail by Kate Taylor and a long excerpt in The Walrus all in the first ten days. Suddenly bookstores scrambled to get the book on front tables.

For me, the most interesting feature of this aftermath has been the number of leading writers and publishers who have contacted me with stories to tell--but who are still afraid to tell them in public.

The Handover has exposed exactly how controlled the marketplace for ideas in Canada has become, and exactly how frightened people in the business are to say that out loud.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Melanie Joly, basically ignored the issues of publishing while doing her so-called public consultation on Canadian content in a "digital world"  last year, in preparation for her brand new cultural policy to be delivered this coming September. Yet publishing was the point of origin for that policy, and publishing everywhere is in serious trouble, especially newspapers, thanks to years and years of governments signing off on ludicrous mergers and acquisitions. On the book side of things, the government of Canada has created a marketplace utterly dominated by one foreign-owned publisher whose main preoccupation is publishing works originated elsewhere that will sell in very large numbers, and one Canadian-owned bookselling chain whose choices are driven by the same requirements. In newspapers, there is only one major chain left, and it is in terrible trouble. That's why even the Toronto Star is frightened about the future. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage just asked for the government to tax Netflix and Google in order to be able to divert some of the money they suck out of this country into the creation of decent Canadian journalism. Before the ink was dry on the Committee's report, the Prime Minister himself shot that recommendation down. Canada's major newspaper association has also asked for a $350 million public fund to support journalism-- though Joly stomped all over that idea back in the winter.

We're in trouble.

The Handover shows how we got there.

If you are a democrat and care about this country, have a look at it.

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