In a body blow to Canada’s independent literary publishers, on Monday, June 4, 2012, the Literary Press Group (LPG) of Canada received word that the Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH) has ended its financial support of the LPG’s activities for the fiscal year that began on April 1, 2012. As a result, the LPG will be obliged to shut down its sales force, an essential operation that brings hundreds of new Canadian-authored books from 47 Canadian-owned publishers to bookstores and libraries every year. Without the LPG, authors and publishers lose their access to their readers, and Canadian readers lose easy and affordable access to Canada’s literary culture.
The DCH funding represented approximately one third of the LPG’s operating budget and was its single largest revenue source. While the LPG’s finances are otherwise strong, a loss of this size means that the LPG will not be able to continue operation in its current form. The LPG is committed to selling publishers’ fall 2012 titles, but it will have to lay off all field sales representatives as of August 31, 2012 and most head-office staff will be released on November 30, 2012.
Beyond November 2012, the LPG will look to establish an agenting relationship with another sales force for publishers who wish to be a part of a new collective.
LPG Chair Karen Green said "This sudden news has been devastating, for our staff, several of whom will lose their jobs; for our members especially those in the sales force – 47 publishers are faced with sudden instability, and for Canadian literary culture, readers and writers – a large branch has fallen in the path between them."
According to LPG Executive Director Jack Illingworth, what’s most harmful about the news of the loss of funding is the timing. “The LPG is two months into our fiscal year, with a contractual commitment and a duty of care to represent publishers’ books well into the fall. If we had received this news in January or February of this year (applications were submitted in October 2011), we could have made the transition in an orderly way with much less harm to our association, our members, or their authors.”
The LPG has been instrumental in the development of Canadian literary publishing and culture. It has proven to the market at large that Canadian literary books can reach a wide and diverse audience. Some of Canada’s top literary publishers, including Talon Books, Goose Lane Editions, Arsenal Pulp Press, Coteau Books, and Biblioasis are “graduates” of the LPG’s programs that have moved on to more commercially focused sales and distribution. The LPG is often the first stop for promising new firms seeking access to readers, and it remains the way that dozens of literary publishers, from seven provinces, get books into independent bookstores, retail chains, libraries, and online booksellers across Canada. Without the LPG these publishers could not access their readers as effectively or efficiently.
Defunding the LPG puts all of these publishers, and their authors, at risk. Most of these publishers receive support from federal and provincial government departments and agencies, including the Canada Book Fund. According to Illingworth, “We believe that this decision is seriously misguided and has the potential to irreparably damage literary publishing in Canada. It just isn’t good public policy to fund the production of books and attack their connection to readers in the most destructive way possible.”
The Literary Press Group of Canada was founded in 1975 as a project of the Independent Publishers Association (which was later re-named the Association of Canadian Publishers). The goal of this affiliate was to further the promotion of Canadian publishers producing primarily literary works. Its sales force and distribution operations were initiated in earnest in 1987 and 1988. In 1995, the LPG was incorporated as its own organization, in recognition of its importance as a sales and distribution agency, and in 1998, it shifted from using part-time, commissioned sales representatives to full-time, salaried sales staff, with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Since that time DCH has been consistent in its support of the LPG’s sales activities, recognizing their importance in being the bridge that brings Canadian-published literary books to their readers.