The link below is to an article that is worth considering in the library ebook lending controversy – for Amazon is probably the worst offender when it comes to this.
The story is all too familiar – yet it should command more attention from Canadians.
Recently, the Globe and Mail reported the Ben McNally bookstore, located on Bay Street a stone’s throw from Union Station, would close in 2020. Two days later, Rupert McNally, the founder’s son, confirmed the news on the store’s website. It had been open since 2007.
The reason for the closure is simple: the store will be replaced by an alleyway linking Bay Street to the alley behind it. This redevelopment is part of a project that the owner calls (ironically?) “The Bay Street Village.”
It is therefore a stupid example of gentrification that pits a modest shopkeeper against a greedy landowner.
The increase in the value of Toronto’s real estate is not exactly new. But we can see here an example of a paradigm that is not reassuring for the future of large cities: the profitability of businesses devoted to cultural property is hardly compatible with the overbidding in real estate.
Montréal is facing the same problem, and it affects all independent businesses. In August, the City gave the Commission on Economic and Urban Development and Housing the mandate to conduct public consultations on vacant space on commercial arteries. Several of these areas have rates ranging from 10 to 15 per cent.
A “hygienization” of urban centres
It has already been demonstrated that gentrification is largely based on a city’s ability to offer an interesting and diversified cultural life. Some, such as Richard Florida, have linked this phenomenon to the emergence of a “creative class.”
Geographer Oli Mould, in his excellent book, Against Creativity, published in 2018, attacks the very notion of creativity. He criticizes Richard Florida with virulence by brilliantly showing how “creative” gentrification can also act as a form of hygienization in urban centres that, ironically, hinders spontaneous citizen initiatives. To put it bluntly, once gentrification is completed, culture is more or less eliminated from the central districts.
We are interested in the case of the closure of the Ben McNally bookstore because it shows the consequences of real estate speculation on the vitality of a city and, ultimately, on culture on a national scale. Very quickly, after the announcement by the owners of the bookstore, many players in the Canadian publishing ecosystem expressed serious concerns.
That is because independent bookshops, Ben McNally in particular, do not belong to a large group or chain and aren’t limited to the sole function of selling books. They are truly a place of cultural mediation.
The purpose of booksellers is to introduce readers to more complex works that have received less media attention. In Kingston, Ont., the city where I live, the Novel Idea bookstore is part of the community life. It organizes meetings with local authors and federates a community of readers. In Montréal, bookstores such as Le port de tête, L’Écume des jours and Gallimard also have a clearly established cultural function.
Independent bookstores are places where demanding literature or radical essays can find readers. In short, the exact opposite of a virtual library where algorithms – certainly effective – guide readers’ tastes. There is no doubt that these algorithms favour books that are already selling well, regardless of the careful work of smaller publishers.
For a “bibliodiversity”
Why defend the independence of Canadian literature? Out of pure nationalism? Not exactly.
Rather, it is a question of how the bookstore can, in an era of advanced globalization, be a place of defence for the diversity of cultures, what some have referred to as bibliodiversity: a diversity of languages (in the case of Canada, English, French and Aboriginal literatures), but also socially equitable modes of production and dissemination. In this case, it ensures that cultural property produced with our public funds finds takers.
To put it simply, a book in Canada will sometimes be subsidized at the time of writing through creation grants, in its production through operating grants to publishers, and then sold by Amazon or, in the worst case, unsold due to a lack of suitable distribution locations. The Canadian book system provides a relatively good framework for its authors and publishers to deal with the horrors of the free market, in a spirit of cultural and economic protectionism. But in the current configuration, booksellers seem to be abandoned.
Make the less visible visible
But it is not simply a matter of defending a blurred Canadian identity. It is also a matter of making a diversity of identities visible. Think of the Racines bookstore in Montréal North, which highlights the culture and history of racialized authors. Or, the bookstore L’Euguélionne, which, by settling in the gay village in Montréal and adopting a cooperative structure, has made it its mission to offer a wide selection of literature on women and LGBPT2QIA groups.
An independent bookstore is therefore a meeting place for people from the neighbourhood but also, possibly, for affinity groups. Bookstores can be, in some contexts, sources of resistance. André Schiffrin states in L’argent et les mots – the third volume of a trilogy essential to understanding the effects of cultural globalization – that the number of New York bookstores has been divided by 10 since the post-war period.
Capitalism has its own rhythm, but also its own specific geography. Urban space is profoundly transformed by financial capitalism. Urban spaces are becoming expensive, and the closure of cultural spaces is, metaphorically and by extension, a reduction in the space for ideas and expression.
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I start with a disclaimer: I am a UWA Publishing poet. I have published a book of poetry with them (as well as a novel), and have two books forthcoming with them in 2020 — The Weave, a collection of poetry co-written with Thurston Moore, and an edited and introduced volume, The Collected Poems of C.J. Brennan, the great, Sydney-dwelling, symbolist poet (1870-1932).
Now, with UWAP on the verge of being shut down, partly through what I and many others see as a misguided sense of what constitutes an interface between universities and the broader public, the fate of these books is unclear.
The University of Western Australia has proposed that “UWA Publishing operations, in their current form, come to an end” to be replaced by an open-source digital publishing model. The jobs of its employees and director Terri-ann White would likely be “surplus to requirements”. In a statement released late last week it said
Current publishing works already in train this year and next year are expected to continue, as will consultation on innovation that will assist UWA Publishing to adapt to the demands of modern publishing, with options to examine a mix of print, greater digitisation and open access publishing.
But even if contracted books are published, the closure of this publisher would be catastrophic for Australian poetry. It would be as if those books didn’t exist as something connected to a future vision of writing with purpose and community. It’s a way of killing a humanistic, inter-cultural conversation. It ignores the people who do so much to make these conversations happen.
UWAP, especially since 2016, publishes many poetry books a year — a very unusual act of creative support and belief. Its dynamic list includes such essential voices as Ania Walwicz, Candy Royalle, Peter Rose, Quinn Eades, Kate Lilley, David McCooey, and so many other voices of the now, along with collected and selected “greats” like Francis Webb, Lesbia Harford, and Dorothy Hewett.
Yes, I speak here from the inside, as an author. Yet I also speak from the outside as a reader of poetry, and with the incredible feeling of loss I get as a reader, at this ill-thought out proposal.
UWAP publishes many “big name” writers and scholars, but also many marginalised voices and/or voices that might find it hard to publish through purely market-driven publishing houses. It is part of the country’s literary and scholarly collective conscience.
Poetry is an active ingredient of social justice not only in what it can say and talk about, but in the way that it places language under pressure, and questions how expression is used in general discourse, and why. Words of oppression are so easily accepted — poetry questions the uses and “deployment” of language.
UWAP, under Terri-ann White, is part of a clutch of poetry publishers in Australia — and there are not many — who make a commitment to poetry beyond the canonical, and with a strong sense of the need to enact this scrutiny of language. What is said in poetry is seen to matter, and I believe it does.
I will never forget speaking to the late Fay Zwicky in 2017, in her last weeks, about her forthcoming Collected Poems (UWAP, edited by Lucy Dougan and Tim Dolin) and her discussion of proofs and the book itself. A life’s work — one of the great bodies of poetry produced in Australia.
Zwicky had published volumes of poetry with other vital publishers in the Australia poetry community, University of Queensland Press and Giramondo. And then the collation of a life’s work — a big project that required so much attention and goodwill. It was clearly necessary, if not essential, to her.
One of the many titles on the UWAP list that had a remarkable effect on so many readers, and which I noted in the Australian Book Review’s 2018 Books of the Year feature, was a collation of Lisa Bellear’s poetry — Aboriginal Country. As I said then, “the emphatic, committed voice of this remarkable Goernpil woman, feminist, poet, photographer, and activist shines through.” Not to have had access to Bellear’s work is unimaginable now we have encountered it gathered in this way.
There is huge engagement in seeing such a work through to press. It was edited (by Jen Jewel Brown), supported and seen onto the shelves via UWAP. An act of belief and support, among many such acts in a given year; all necessary.
Vitally, UWAP’s poetry list effectively manages that seemingly complex interaction between local work and that from the rest of the country. It seems too often assumed that a WA publisher will necessarily only publish WA work. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a total believer in local publishing, but there’s also a strong necessity for a publisher that brings many localities together, as Magabala Books in Broome does with Australian Aboriginal writing.
UWAP publishes poets (and writers in general) from all over the country, and brings in some overseas titles as well. Terri-ann White actively takes her lists to readers and publishers outside Australia, and is an energetic and steadfast voice in international publishing for her authors, and for Australian and world literature.
To close UWAP would be a damaging of shared difference, of making community and discussion out of diverse voices.
While I have had the good fortune over the years to publish with some of the major poetry houses around the English-speaking world, I am especially proud and excited when a book of mine is selected for the UWAP list.
Shutting down UWAP would sever many ties and disrupt many conversations just begun, or prevent other conversations, especially of conscience, ever taking place.
There has been no shortage of bad news for Australia’s literary and publishing sector in the last year. Major literary journals Island and Overland have been defunded. Only 2.7% of Australia Council funding went to books and writing. The Chair in Australian Literature at University of Sydney is not being renewed.
Two major projects by literary academics were recommended for funding by the Australian Research Council’s peer-review process in 2018, but were rejected by ministerial discretion. Melbourne University Publishing’s CEO, Louise Adler, resigned after the university asked for a change in editorial direction.
And now University of Western Australia has announced dramatic changes to its highly-decorated press, University of Western Australia Publishing. These changes involve not renewing the contract of Director Terri-ann White, deemed “surplus to requirements”, and an end to current publishing activities.
It would be hard to blame writers and literary academics for feeling paranoid. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
A decline in literary publishing
In 2006, Mark Davis published The Decline of the Literary Paradigm in Australian Publishing.
He argued that between WWII and the 1990s, Australian publishers embraced their role in shaping national culture by subsidising unprofitable literary works with profits from more commercial titles. But by the 2000s, publishers had become neoliberal organisations that sought to maximise profits rather than support literary culture.
We are now seeing this same logic applied by universities.
Universities are increasingly focused on metrics driving enrolments, international rankings and research excellence. This, in turn, supports government funding and research grant income. Universities increasingly prioritise these metrics over cultural contributions that are harder to quantify.
A statement released by UWA claims the changes will help “to guarantee modern university publishing into the future”, foreshadowing “a mix of print, greater digitisation and open access publishing.”
This statement might appear to mirror recent events at Melbourne University Press last year, but these situations are very different.
A leading literary publisher
Academics had long questioned Melbourne University Press’ publication of works with commercial and political appeal but no clear scholarly or cultural value.
Professor Ronan McDonald summed up this view earlier this year when he wrote that Melbourne University Press was “a trade press irritatingly obliged to publish a few academic titles”.
Melbourne University reaffirmed its commitment to the Press by hiring a respected scholarly publisher, founding director of Monash University Publishing Nathan Hollier, with a track record of producing scholarly titles alongside prize-winning works for a general readership.
UWA Publishing, on the other hand, is one of our leading literary publishers, cultivating authors and significant titles often overlooked by commercial publishers.
It published Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions, which won the Miles Franklin Award in 2017; is one of Australia’s foremost publishers of poetry; and has published scholarly works by leading Australian humanities academics, such as John Frow, Ross Gibson, and Ken Gelder. It has also published a series of traditional Noongar stories retold by the award-winning author Kim Scott
It has always balanced commitments to scholarly publishing with a significant literary list.
Open access university presses: a failed experiment
The notion that a respected publishing house can be replaced by open access publishing is disproved by examining other Australian university presses, such as the now-closed University of Adelaide Press, founded in 2009 with a mission to be an open access publisher.
While the press generated many interesting titles, it failed to have a cultural impact. Open access enables free and easy dissemination of work, but this does not meant that it engages with literary culture. Scholars can access works freely, but titles are isolated from bookshops, reviews, and cultural conversations.
Sydney University Press, which was relaunched in 2003 after closing in 1987, has employed a “hybrid approach” to open access. It is now returning to a more standard university publishing model, establishing a research series with dedicated editorial boards of academics, and even publishing a novel, Joshua Lobb’s The Flight of Birds, shortlisted for the Readings New Fiction Prize in 2019.
Open access has an important role to play in academic publishing, but it is laughable to claim UWA Publishing’s cultural impact can simply be replaced through open access.
Can it be saved?
There is a campaign underway to save UWA Publishing, including a petition with over 6,000 signatures.
It is hard to know at this stage if it will have any effect. It may be the publishing house is the victim of larger financial pressures currently affecting University of Western Australia.
This, of course, is the problem for the literary sector more generally: when cuts are needed, literature is always first on the chopping block.
The links below are to articles reporting on the continuing controversy concerning ebook borrowing at libraries.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that takes a look at 14 of the world’s best bookshops.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the ebook lending controversy between libraries and publishers.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at ‘The Book Industry Charitable Foundation.’
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the growing rift between ebook publishers and libraries over ebook borrowing.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at a French traveling bookstore.