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In blow to small publishers, Literary Press Group loses federal funding

The Literary Press Group, the sales and marketing co-operative representing independent Canadian publishers, confirmed today that it has been denied funding by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The federal agency represents the LPG’s single largest revenue source and accounts for about one third of its operating budget. According to LPG executive director Jack Illingworth, the cuts to the 37-year-old organization will be devastating and result in layoffs for the bulk of its staff.

Funding for the LPG’s distribution arm, LitDistCo, has not been affected. It will continue to be headed by general manager Julia Horel.*

The LPG learned on Monday of DCH’s plans to suspend the organization’s funding for the current fiscal period. In 2010“11, the LPG received $235,000 in DCH funding via the Canada Book Fund, plus an additional $17,000 for professional development.

The LPG was not given an explanation for why its most recent funding application had been denied.

As a result of the disruption in funding, the LPG’s sales force will be dismantled, with all five field reps being let go on Aug. 31. On Nov. 30, most of the remaining head-office staff will be laid off, with Illingworth and marketing manager Tanya Snyder staying on board.

Said Illingworth in a statement, “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 LPG sales force currently represents nearly 225 fall titles from about 45 firms, which it will continue to sell until the layoffs occur. After that, publishers will have to decide on a new course for national representation.

We will be seeking to establish an agenting relationship with another sales force for publishers who wish to be a part of a collective or who can’t get representation elsewhere, Illingworth told Q&Q in an email. After Nov. 30, publishers will be free to go with us or to seek alternative representation.

Illingworth added that LitDistCo’s operations will continue as usual: “Booksellers can place orders in confidence that they will be delivered.”

Peter Matwychuk, general manager of Edmonton’s NeWest Press (a LitDistCo and LPG sales force member), said he’s surprised and dismayed by the news.

The LPG is just one of those resources you kind of assume [will] always be there, he said. To hear that the ground has opened up beneath them “ I never thought it would happen.

Matwychuk added that the LPG forms a vital link in the chain connecting small, independent presses with a mass audience: It’s not just authors and publishers that need to be funded, but that infrastructure ¦ that gives those books a fighting chance at appearing on bookstore shelves and reaching people.

Insomniac Press publisher Mike O’Connor, an LPG member for about 15 years, was equally surprised.

The sales force in particular has been a fantastic program, he said. It’s how we’ve been able to sell into the trade in Canada. A big chunk of our revenues have been derived from those sales reps.

O’Connor said it’s still too early to predict what impact the dismantling of the LPG’s sales force will have on sales, but it will have an immediate effect on Insomniac’s publishing schedule.

At this point, what we’ll do is drastically reduce the [number] of titles for the spring, and hopefully [the] LPG will be back with a sales force for the following season, said O’Connor, who plans to reduce Insomniac’s spring 2013 list from 10“12 titles to about four.

Late on Thursday afternoon, Illingworth told Q&Q in an interview that, of 47 publishers that are currently members of the LPG sales force, 26 have either opted in or showed interest in joining a new sales collective. He has already been in touch with several agencies that may be willing to take them on.

We have a respectable collective to go forward with, he said.

Illingworth stressed that the most crippling factor in losing its DCH funding was the delayed notice, which prevented the LPG from enacting any contingency plans. The LPG had originally submitted its funding application for the Canada Book Fund back in October; by necessity, it had been operating under the assumption that it would be approved.

Illingworth also noted that the LPG’s cash reserves could potentially be wiped out in dismantling its sales force, leaving the association in a vulnerable position as it tries to rebuild.

Illingworth was careful not to lay blame for the cuts at the feet of Heritage Minister James Moore, but he did interpret the disruption in funding as a sign that arts organizations should not rely on the federal government for year-to-year support for any crucial operations.

If something is so important that it shouldn’t be disrupted, that you can’t put it on hold while you wait for a contribution agreement, that it needs to keep running year in year out ¦  it’s almost imprudent to use money that is subject to the whim of someone anonymous in Ottawa, he said.

As O’Connor points out, the winnowing away of the LPG’s clout is another blow to independently owned firms. For us, it’s another bad bump on a difficult road, he says.

[This story has been updated from an earlier version.]

* Correction: June 11: An earlier version of this story contained a misspelling of Julia Horel’s name.