An open letter from Amanda Jernigan

May 12, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Seems Mount Allison University has decided to bestow an honourary degree on Heather Reisman, president and CEO of Indigo Books & Music. This has prompted a bit of a backlash. One of the most vocal critics of the university’s move is Amanda Jernigan, editor of The New Quarterly and a Mount Allison alumna. Jernigan feels so strongly that she sent an open letter to the university administration. The letter reads in part:

I studied English literature at Mount Allison University from 1997–2001, and have since returned (in 2009) to teach in the English department here. In the intervening years, I worked in the world of Canadian small-press publishing, and so had a front-row seat on the depredations of Chapters/Indigo in the Canadian book trade. A recent article in THIS Magazine paints the picture: “Some 350 indie bookstores closed across Canada in the past decade, and, according to Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Booksellers Association, much of that had to do with the arrival of the Chapters chain. ‘Those closures happened very quickly when Chapters opened,’ Dayus says. ‘The leadership of Chapters was very predatory – they opened across the street or kitty-corner to successful bookstores. And those who didn’t have strong financial backing went under.’”

It wasn’t just the independent bookstores that Chapters threatened; small publishers felt the squeeze as well. It wasn’t that Chapters didn’t buy our books (I say “our” because I was working for Porcupine’s Quill, Printers & Publishers, in Ontario at this time): they did buy our books — and then returned them, in ruinous numbers.

The full text of Jernigan’s letter is online at Bookninja.

Comments

One Response to “An open letter from Amanda Jernigan”
  1. Thanks for posting this, Steven.

    In the context of Vancouver losing the final Duthie Books store and more recently Sophia Books I have been thinking a lot about the slow chain of events that lead to the circumstances of their closures.

    There’s lots of factors – and not all of them external in nature – but without a doubt the arrival of the mindless and predatory Chapters/Indigo chains was hugely influential.

    Their treatment of independent publishers is legendary and their vicious encroachment on the territories of indie bookstores is repulsive.

    I lived and worked in indie bookstores in both Vancouver and southern Ontario in the mid/late 90’s and witnessed the bloodletting first hand.

    An honourary degree won’t change any of that.