Archaic thinking at Canada Council for the Arts

Against my better judgement, Five Rivers applied this fall for a Canada Council Grant, under the Book Publishing Support, Emerging Publishers division.

As I knew would occur, our application has been summarily denied. In our application we submitted 22 books, and a line-up next year that would make many publishers examine 50 shades of green. Five Rivers’ application, however has been denied without even cracking the cover of any of the worthies which thus far create the foundation of a legacy we aspire to build.

Why? The answer is quite simple. Canada Council does not support an environmentally sound business model designed to minimize a publisher’s risk. In short, no Print-on-Demand (POD) in our hallowed halls, thank you very much.

Now, a publisher has to ask why Canada Council does not consider POD a viable commitment to publishing  longevity? There is no warehousing, thereby reducing costs. There are no remaindered books, thereby reducing costs. Books never go out of print, thereby maximizing sales potential. So where’s the problem?

It is made abundantly clear in the application’s requirements fiduciary responsibility must be demonstrated. So, I don’t see how creating a liability by committing to offset printing and a run of hundreds or thousands of books, with the hope of future cash flow, is in any way meeting that financial criteria of fiduciary responsibility.

As a micro-press (apparently you have to have the cachet of houses like Dundurn, Anansi or Coach House in order to even be considered small press), the likelihood of garnering shelf space in that expensive and finite world of booksellers’ real estate is nigh unto impossible, unless, like some micro-presses I know, have made a deal with the devil known as a distributor, and thereby sacrificed an even greater portion of a minuscule profit margin for that privilege. And then, because of that questionable privilege, have succumbed to the pressure of opting for expensive small runs, all so you can experience returns (more warehousing or remaindering and thereby loss of profit).

So, show me the equation that clearly demonstrates risking capital on an offset print run, versus POD, is a viable economic business model?

Ah, perhaps the underlying message is all about perceived cachet, status, prestige? Perhaps because a publisher seriously embraces fiduciary and environmental responsibility there is an attendant malodorous perfume which cannot be tolerated in the atmosphere of Art?

Well, excuse my stink.

It is simply not logical for a publisher to lay out considerable sums of cash, on a product that comes with no guarantee of return, all so they can mainline into the methamphetamine known as grants support.

As always, my first instincts were correct. Ignore the business model that has seen publishers and booksellers fall like soldiers committed to a forlorn hope. Use modern technologies and methods that minimize risk and maximize profit and viability. This latter does come at the cost of battling ignorance and elitism. But in the end, if you don’t succumb to a rage of frustration, you will succeed.

So, thanks, Canada Council, for this reinforcement of Five Rivers’ commitment to stand solidly on our own foundations. Your mandate — bringing the arts to life — has been achieved, not quite as you expected, but achieved nonetheless.