Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Canadian Publishing Blues

At my neighbourhood Chapters Store on the weekend, looking for Susan Delacourt's new book Shopping for Votes. But where is the book? Not at the front of the store. Not on the 'New Arrivals' shelf. Not even on the 'In the News' section despite the fact that the book was all over the news last week.

It seems that Harbour Publishing (owners now of Douglas & McIntyre, who published the book) haven't paid the good folks at Indigo Chapters enough money for the book to show up near the front.

I did eventually find this important book in the back of the store under Canadian Political Science.

So far, it's well worth a read. The first chapter is actually a nice undergraduate lecture on the emergence of a consumer society in the postwar years - citing folks like Mona Gleason on psychology, Richard Harris and Valerie Korinek on suburbanization, Donica Belisle on department stores, and Russell Johnston on advertising. Though she, like me when I've written lectures on the topic, really has to search to fill in the many, many holes.

I do think, though, that Andrew Coyne had a good point in his critique of the book. The basic argument is that politicians have come to treat voters more as consumers than citizens. They just now want to give these people goods (policies, politicians) that the consumer/voter will buy. There is very little about convincing citizens about important issues or ideas. Coyne says that this has always been the case, only the techniques have improved.

I found myself thinking much the same thing. After all, that was always the line on Mackenzie King. He never led, he followed. He appeased. He caved in to the lowest common denominator - whether it was his illiberal Catholic supporters in Quebec, or the scions of industry from Montreal. Sounds a lot like Harper. King had 'instinct' and 'intuition' they said. Harper has marketing and polling companies to 'intuit' for him.

Coyne is a bit too dismissive, though. Delacourt is telling us an important story about the relations between politics and citizens. Even if the overall argument overlooks some continuities, the book is still essential reading.


  1. this is a total guess, but maybe d+m is in not in chapters good books following its bankruptcy or restructuring or whatever you want to call it earlier this year... no cash or swag for favourable brand positioning?

  2. More than likely chapters/indigo is more concerned with all their merchandise products; candles, mugs and such drek, to care about books anymore. I find it's becoming very unreader friendly to shop at their stores - like they just expect you to shop online if you really want a book.
    ~ j.

  3. yes, chapers's policies are more than a little frustrating. I don't know what I find more frightening - a world with only chapters, or a world without chapters OR any other bookstores...