New Can-Lit ‘indie’ book imprint is anything but

Despite its rhetoric of innovation and experimentation, the indie-style imprint Strange Light is brought to us by a company that is already dominating the country’s literary space.
Amine Rock Hoovr /Unsplash

Jody Mason, Carleton University

As a book buyer or reader, you may have recently encountered the new literary imprint Strange Light — a project spun off from the hugely successful digital literary magazine Hazlitt.

Although the fact of its ownership is muted, Hazlitt magazine and the new “indie” Strange Light are both owned by Penguin Random House. Penguin and Random merged in 2013 to become Canada’s largest book publisher and the world’s largest trade book publisher. Seventy-five per cent of the shares of Penguin Random House are owned by Bertelsmann, a German multinational media corporation.

Instead of its corporate identity, the magazine’s mission emphasizes its open, experimental, creator- and reader-driven environment.

“Hazlitt is a home for writers and artists to tell the best stories about the things that matter most to them … Hazlitt is … humane, diverse and committed to stories and writers not heard anywhere else.”

Random House Canada launched Hazlitt as part of its digital strategy in 2012. According to Brad Martin, then president of the company, the goal was to use websites for more than just the traditional purposes of sales and marketing.

In 2012, digital self-publishing ventures such as Amazon Kindle Direct loomed large. As Canadian journalist John Barber noted in an article on Hazlitt in 2012, Random House Canada’s forays into digital publishing constituted an effort to stay relevant — and profitable — at the edge of a “frontier pioneered by innovative outsiders.”

The publishing sector has only grown in size since then, as the previously unthinkable success of startups such as Canada’s Wattpad attests.

Strange Light

This year, Penguin Random House Canada launched the Hazlitt imprint Strange Light, a project dedicated to the work of “unpredictable, innovative authors telling personal and provocative and experimental stories, even — and especially –– those that defy easy categorization.”

Strange Light’s debut title, Sara Peters’s I Become a Delight to My Enemies, mixes poetry and prose. In a literary field utterly dominated by prose fiction — the novel — this is indeed “innovative” and “experimental.”

The embrace of generic diversification at Penguin Random House can only be a good thing. Regarding this embrace, however, we might hold our collective breath.

Strange Light plans to release two memoirs, a work of literary non-fiction, and a novel in 2020. Where is the poetry? The prose poem? The graphic novel?

Book buyers in Canada choose novels over poetry. According to Book Net Canada’s statistics, fiction represented just under 30 per cent of all unit sales of books in Canada in 2016. By contrast, poetry represented less than one percent.

Yet even if it could make Canadians read more poetry and mixed genre work, would Strange Light work to serve the diversification of Canada’s literary field, as its mission statement suggests?

Experimental stories

When thinking about how to introduce experimental stories and diverse points of view to readers in Canada, the primary issue is not one of genre or form. It is also not exclusively a question of publishing writers from a diversity of cultural backgrounds. Both of these factors matter, but they relate to a larger one.

The main issue is a question of ownership. According to the Book Net Canada statistics for 2016, 95 per cent of fiction, non-fiction (including poetry), young adult and juvenile books sold in Canada were published by foreign-owned publishers.

Penguin Random House Canada is the biggest of these, followed by HarperCollins Canada. Together, these two companies dominate literary publishing in Canada. According to investigative journalist Elaine Dewar, Penguin Random House Canada had cornered 32 per cent of the Canadian trade book market in 2016.

We do not have a diverse literary ecosystem in Canada; its diversity has shrunk rapidly in the past two decades. Two recent accounts amply demonstrate a narrowing of Canada’s publishing activity: Rowland Lorimer’s Ultra Libris analyzes the role of cultural policy in this process, while Elaine Dewar’s The Handover, reveals how “The Canadian Publisher” McClelland & Stewart was sold to Random House despite foreign investment rules that should have prevented it.

Resilience of small houses

Since at least the early 1970s and the introduction of the Canada Council’s block grants to Canadian-owned publishers who are actively producing and marketing Canadian books, a modest small-press ecology has managed to survive in this country.

Publishers such as Kentville, Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Press; Windsor, Ontario’s Biblioasis; and Penticton, British Columbia’s Theytus Books bring Canadians books that would not otherwise see the light of day.

Book cover for a reissue of b.p nichols’ ‘beginnings.’
Book Hug Press

Although now fairly well known as Michael Onddatje’s first publisher, Toronto’s Coach House Books might also be remembered for its early forms of experimentation. The house made its mark in 1967 with b.p.nichol’s Journeying & the Returns, a slim volume in a blue and purple cardboard case that also contained assorted objects to be experienced alongside the poems, including a thumb-flip poem the size of a stack of sticky notes.

More recently, Québec’s Mémoire d’encrier offers us the unique poetry of Joséphine Bacon: French and Innu-aimun sit on each twinned page, giving the reader access to a language few in Canada have any opportunity to encounter.

Perhaps there is room for many different kinds of initiatives committed to boundary-pushing books in Canada’s literary field.

I hope that is the case. But do not be fooled: despite its rhetoric of innovation and experimentation, the indie-style imprint Strange Light is brought to us by a company that is already dominating the country’s literary space and that is clearly not indie.

This is one more sign of the desertification of our media ecology, not its diversification.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter. ]The Conversation

Jody Mason, Associate Professor, Department of English, Carleton University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘King Penguin’ designer David Pearson heads south

Zoe Sadokierski, University of Technology Sydney

I feel in love with the Penguin Great Ideas books the second I saw them:

David Pearson’s designs for volume 1 of the Penguin classic ‘Great Ideas’ series
Type As Image, David Pearson

I bought the box set immediately. Almost a decade later I’m still reading my way through them all, but I bought them to have and to hold as much as to read. Created by British designer David Pearson, each book is a handsome object; embossed typography and graphic elements on white uncoated stock, printed only using red and black ink. The typographic treatment of each cover reveals something about the content of the book. It is a deceptively simple looking series design that, on thoughtful reflection, is a work of genius.

I show Great Ideas, as well as Pearson’s design for Penguin’s Great Journeys, pictured below, as a way to explain series design to my students. Each cover must work aesthetically on its own, but also as part of a collection. To make each book unique but still comfortably part of a series is a difficult design challenge and as with all excellent design, when it works perfectly we can’t imagine it being done any other way.

David Pearson’s design for Penguin’s Great Journeys series
Type As Image, David Pearson

The Australia Book Designers Association (ABDA) invited Pearson to be the international judge for this year’s Book Design Awards held in May alongside the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Pearson joined local designers Kirby Armstrong, Allison Colpoys, Vince Frost and Fabio Ongarato, along with book buyer Meredith Drake, literary writer Stephen Romei and publisher Lou Johnson, to award excellent Australian book design across 15 categories.

ABDA was formed in 2014 by a group of 8 book designers and a business person, to take over running the Book Design Awards after the Australian Publishers Association announced it would no longer run the annual awards. In March 2014 the non-profit organisation was officially incorporated as the Australian Book Designers Association.

Beyond running the awards, the Association’s mission is to promote Australian book design and foster a design community through public events and educational programs. Inviting international judges is the first step in achieving this goal, with legendary UK book designer Jon Gray (better known as Gray318) joining the local judges in 2014, and Pearson this year.

In addition, ABDA has collaborated with the Australian Graphic Design Association and the Melbourne Writers’ Festival to bring David Pearson to Australia for a tour of Sydney and Melbourne next week.

Poster for David Pearson’s Australian tour designed by WH Chong
WH Chong

Pearson will deliver three public lectures in Australia. The first titled ‘We Are What You Read’ will be in Sydney at 6.30pm on Tuesday 25 August, at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, co-presented by ABDA and AGDA.

The second titled ‘The Book Look: Contemporary Cover Design’ will be held at Deakin Edge as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, 7pm on Saturday 29 August. Pearson will be in conversation with WH Chong discussing the role design plays in current and future publishing.

Chong’s exclusive interview with Pearson on his Culture Mulcher column on earlier this week is a fantastic appetiser for the upcoming event, including philosophical design quandries such as ‘Are you symmetric, or asymmetric? Centred or ranged?’.

In a second MWF event, Pearson will hold a workshop at The Wheeler Center at 2pm on Sunday 30 August. Participants will be given an insight into his working process and be able to ask questions.

Check the links embedded above for tickets to these events.

The Conversation

Zoe Sadokierski is Lecturer, School of Design at University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Amazon and Penguin Random House Dispute

The link below is to an article reporting on the latest dispute involving Amazon – this time with Penguin Random House.

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Scribd & Audiobooks

The link below is to an article that reports on an audiobooks partnership between Scribd and Penguin Books/Random House.

For more visit:

Website: Penguin Australia Launches New Teen Website

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the new Penguin Australia website for teens – ‘Penguin Teen Australia.’

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European Commission and Penguin finally wrap things up in Apple ebook pricing case


Over six months after the European Commission reached an ebook pricing settlement with four publishers and Apple (s AAPL), the EC has approved a similar settlement with Penguin. Penguin, which was trying to clear the decks for its upcoming merger with Random House, had offered its proposed settlement terms in April.

According to an EC press release:

“Penguin offered substantially the same commitments as those proposed by the other four publishers and made legally binding on those companies in December 2012…They include, in particular, the termination of on-going agency agreements and the exclusion of certain most-favoured-nation (MFN) clauses in Penguin’s agency agreements during the next five years. Penguin also offered to give retailers freedom to discount e-books, subject to certain conditions, during two years. After a market test (see IP/13/343), the Commission is satisfied that the commitments offered by Penguin remedy the competition concerns it had identified.”


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