Key Porter’s communication breakdown

January 8, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

For the last few years, January has been a bleak month for Canadian publishing. In January 2008, the Vancouver-based company Raincoast announced that it was dismantling its publishing program to focus on its wholesale and distribution business. In January 2010, the Canadian-owned publisher McArthur and Company lost a major source of revenue when Hachette Book Group took over distribution of its own titles in Canada. And January 2011 heralds the announcement that Key Porter Books, one of the country’s largest Canadian-owned publishers, is suspending its operations while it explores restructuring options. The company, which began as a partnership between Key Publishers and Anna Porter in 1979, was bought by H.B. Fenn and Company in 2004.

Responding to press reports that the company was being shuttered, Key Porter issued a statement yesterday that read, in part:

Key Porter Books is considering a number of restructuring options, including the sale of certain titles in its valuable catalogue of Canadian works, all with a view to continuing as a leader in the Canadian publishing industry. In the meantime, Key Porter Books is supporting its authors through the continued marketing and sale of previously published works and distribution through H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd.

The restructuring follows the abrupt lay offs of 11 staff members last September. At that time, the downtown Toronto offices of Key Porter were closed and the remaining staff relocated to Fenn’s head offices in Bolton, Ontario. In the wake of the company’s latest setback this week, Key Porter publisher Jordan Fenn said that Key Porter’s books have “played a leading role in giving a voice to the Canadian story” and pledged to “do everything possible to ensure that voice continues to be heard.”

Rebecca Eckler’s debut novel for adults, The Lucky Sperm Club, which was originally slated for publication last fall, will be released by Key Porter this month. Other Key Porter authors are not so lucky. Mark Bourrie, whose non-fiction book The Fog of War was scheduled for release on January 25, found out that publication was suspended only on Wednesday, when he received an e-mail from Jordan Fenn. The e-mail, which Bourrie posted to his blog, cites “current market conditions” that forced the company to undergo “drastic changes … to adjust and strengthen [its] position.” As for why Bourrie, who as recently as this past week had been setting up media appearances in advance of the publication of his book, was only alerted to the situation on Wednesday, Fenn blames “a significant breakdown in communication”:

It would seem that several members of our team were all thinking that the other had spoken with you, while in reality none of us had. This is regrettable. This is embarrassing and I suspect this is incredibly upsetting, frustrating, angering, and disappointing for you.

In fact, it is more than regrettable. The fact that an author who was expecting the imminent release of his book – to the extent that he secured an excerpt on his own in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald – should not be made aware of the publication’s suspension until two weeks before the book is due out is unconscionable. And despite protestations to the contrary, when a publishing house suspends its operations, it is incumbent upon the publisher to alert the affected authors. No buck passing is allowed in this situation.

Although it probably will come as cold comfort to Bourrie, it appears he was not the only person affected by Key Porter’s communication breakdown. The Globe and Mail quotes agent Rick Broadhead, who has several authors signed to the house, as saying that of late he has not “received any official communication from [Key Porter] at all.” The same article quotes Julie Devaney, whose book My Leaky Body was scheduled for release in April:

So to not be in contact with us through that process … to let people go through the whole process of finishing our books, finishing our edits, talking about marketing, talking to people outside of the publisher about ways that we might be cross-promoting our books, things like that – and then letting us find out from the media … I think it’s totally inappropriate and disrespectful.

Indeed. Alternatively, it could just be January in Canadian publishing.