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the state of the civilization

Canadian Content Blues

creative nonfiction by Kurt Halliday

jack Stoddart.

He fell apart.

It says that in The Globe And Mail. And (their policy is) they can’t be wrong. They’re Canada’s national newspaper. (And they’re for Paul Martin.)

And it says. In the article. Jack blew it. General Publishing and Stoddart and the distribution arm. Jack was hands-off. And. He was the kind of guy who pushed the envelope. At the same time. He was hands-off and he pushed the envelope.

He had this publishing committee. And they had a committee-style policy, plan, procedure or process. They were markedly (perhaps even notably) unlike the planned, procedured publishing directorate established by those like McClelland & Stewart (The Canadian Publishers). He gave them room.

There is a terrific diagram in the article. A handsome and functional diagram, it is. Most of its point is to illustrate what which parts of the company of companies did. "The Fall of the House of Stoddart" it’s called.

Just to the right of the diagram is a thing about the “anorexic margins” Canadian publishing has to operate on. In the United States, it says, a publisher can make money even if 50% of the copies of a given title are returned. In Canada, a 25% return rate means the publisher is losing money. Chapters, the Titanic-ish book seller which has been allowed to occupy seventy percent of the market, could return up to sixty percent of a single title.

The interesting thing - the useful thing - is left out. The article talks about the US and Canadian market “models”. It doesn’t investigate who is responsible for the conditions, for failure to change the structure, for anticipating the death of so much good work.

It is, in fact, a literary piece - ending on the personal, the tragic, the hopeless and stuck.

The “unseen hand” (of the market) is firmly up its butt.

When I read it, I thought two things: 1) how goddam pretentious and Canadian, and 2) I’m getting the hell (publishing-wise, at least) out of here.


Kurt Halliday will be survived in Kingston, Ontario by two near-novels, eighteen sorta-stories, creative non-poetry, wife Janet Anderson, sons Ross and Geoff, three cats and five computers

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