Entering the publishing business was something we (Karen and I) discussed for some time before taking the plunge. At the time, I was an out-of-scope term appointee at the University of Saskatchewan as Director of the Native Law Centre. As a term appointee one is always looking at what next. The Native Law Centre ran a small publishing program (still does), I had authored 6 published books by then (with various Canadian publishers), was keen to try a business opportunity, and publishing is a creative enterprise, but also a business. And as director of the Native Law Centre I realized that at that time (not so now) there was a dearth of good books of Aboriginal–governmental relations. So in 1992 Purich Publishing took shape.
When I told a friend of mine, the late John Hylton, of my decision, he told me I must be crazy and deserved a good kick in the behind. Nevertheless, he put together a proposal for Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada. That became our fourth book and one of our great publishing successes.
And from the start, Karen contributed on a part-time basis. In 1999 after 19 years practicing law, Karen decided it was time for a career change and joined Purich Publishing full time. This was a momentous decision – being partners in life as well, publishing became our main family income.
Was this a wise decision? First there is the satisfaction in knowing that you have helped create something permanent that will influence other people, will inform them and perhaps even entertain them. As a publisher, there is the pleasure of working with wonderful people. Be it Harold LeRat, the Indian rancher who simply wanted a small book on his community (now the successful Treaty Promises, Indian Reality) or our most recent author, Marie Battiste, a leading scholar and educator, (Decolonizing Education) we have learned much about the human condition and human relations. Especially exciting is working with a first time author who is so excited to see his book in print (we’re trying to keep Ernie Louttit whose book, Indian Ernie: Perspectives on Policing and Leadership, will be out soon, calm). We have worked with several wonderful editors and all have become friends. We had the opportunity to learn about a whole different business – one which neither of us had thought of as a career possibility. And all of this has provided us with a living wage, even while I battled two rounds of cancer over a decade ago.
Would we do it again? Years ago I remember reading memoirs by Jack McClleland and Mel Hurtig, both successful Canadian publishers, who both wrote they didn’t want their children going into publishing. Incidentally, our son is a successful accountant. Nevertheless, the answer is a resounding yes. The satisfaction of producing a permanent product, a book, that may impact on other people is indeed rewarding. Get rich no – satisfaction yes.
Oh yes, how can we forget the early days when printers still used oil based inks – you opened the box and could get a high just from sniffing the ink.
Of course today the challenges in being a niche publisher mount – that’s next.]]>
One global economic meltdown later, and the joke gets more complicated.
Where once the arts student’s hubris ridden idealism may have been the punchline in a running joke of depressed finances, high youth unemployment rates across academic disciplines have rendered the burger-flipping philosopher into a modern day cautionary tale. Less funny and more spooky is the suppressed suggestion that it is not hubris so much as economic determinism which is preventing university graduates from finding employment in their various fields.
In a study authored by CIBC’s deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal, Canadian youth are facing ‘the risk of chronic employment despite being more educated than ever.’ Having only ‘decreased slightly since the beginning of the recovery’, Philippe Bergevin maintains that the figure of 14% youth unemployment reflects a potential workforce burdened with skills that ‘are not well suited to the new economic environment’ wherein ‘a large legion of unemployed’ in possession of ‘previous work experience’ and ‘better job-market skills’ are competing against young and untried graduates for similar positions.
To address the challenges of the emerging economic order, the role of post secondary educational institutions has become the subject of public debate, as has the decision making processes of individual university students. With some economists touting a shortage of skilled laborers as the reason for high youth unemployment, universities have been urged to develop more skill-specific curriculums, and students, for their part, have been encouraged to pursue co-op placements and internships on top of full time academic education. On the other side of the debate are university educators and economists such as Don Drummond, who found the skill-gap argument ‘not credible’, and Wilfred Laurier university president Max Blouw, who maintains that ‘if indeed the statistics don’t bear out a serious mismatch between skills and jobs in Canada, the conversations should move away from turning universities into job training centres and toward the role employers can play in preparing graduates for jobs.’
With both universities and potential employers reluctant to carry the costs of skills training for new graduates, anxiety has coalesced around the legality of student internships. What exactly is the purpose of an internship, what kind of relationship is it, and who is it structured to benefit? Without a clear legal definition of an internship under Canadian legislation, Americans have maintained their own tumultuous debate on the subject, carried out in courtroom spectacles, and no more definitive in their sluggishly emerging legal outcomes.
At the social level, internships have been flagged as vehicles of corporate exploitation, with companies accused of farming out traditionally entry level paid positions to cycles of interns who trade relationships of mentoring for menial unpaid employments characterized by coffee fetching. The recent death of 21-year-old Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt, connected by speculation to harrowing working hours, has raised the question of internship ethics to a pitch of cultural seriousness. Are unpaid internships denying lower income students the ability to attain the adequate skills training to remain competitive? Are students being exploited? Or is the unpaid labor of young people justified by the money and risk employers exert on their behalf?
Amid this cultural din, I found myself (indeed, an English major), fleeing Montreal for better economic prospects out West. I had found myself a potential internship with a small publishing company in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It was the kind of opportunity that seemed impossible in a bigger, more competitive metropolis like Toronto, and I looked forward eagerly, and gratefully, for what would come next.
Justice as Therapy
Can criminal law be therapeutic? It definitely affects people’s emotional and social lives, but could we imagine that it sometimes affects a person’s well-being in a positive manner? Can the law have a therapeutic effect on people who are subject to criminal sanctions?
The definition of “therapeutic” is telling. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means “contributing to the cure of disease” or “contributing to general, especially mental, well-being.” “Therapeutics,” in turn, can be defined as “the action of remedial agents.” Law is one remedial agent in our society. Health and education are two more.
The type of therapy envisioned is based on the idea that law can become therapeutic by incorporating the insights of the behavioural sciences. Therapeutic jurisprudence provides a philosophy of law that attempts to ally the behavioural sciences with legal processes and procedures:
This approach suggests that the law itself can function as a therapist. Legal rules, legal procedures, and the roles of legal actors, principally lawyers and judges, may be viewed as social forces that can produce therapeutic or anti-therapeutic consequences. The prescriptive focus of therapeutic jurisprudence is that, within important limits set by principles of justice, the law ought to be designed to serve more effectively as a therapeutic agent. . . . The therapeutic jurisprudence “lens” enables us to ask a series of questions regarding legal arrangements and therapeutic outcomes that likely would have gone unaddressed under other approaches. Therapeutic jurisprudence leads us to raise questions, the answers to which are empirical and normative. The key task is to determine how the law can use behavioural science information to improve therapeutic functioning without impinging upon concerns about justice.
The approach has applications in terms of guidance to the legal system at a philosophical level, but also at the individual case level, the court level, and the policy level. At the individual level, the judge may incorporate principles from the behavioural sciences into the legal process by requiring that sentenced persons acknowledge and describe their offences, using the principles of behavioural contracting, or engaging offenders in the process of problem-solving to encourage their adherence to the conditions of their probation. Like the “teachable” or “therapeutic” moment that can occur in educational and mental health interventions, therapeutic jurisprudence seizes on what have been dubbed “psychojudicial soft spots” — areas in which the judicial system’s unchecked actions could lead to negative consequences — when interacting with individuals in the court-room. At the court level, it may mean the development of special programs or specialized courts whose underlying legal theory is related to concepts from therapeutic jurisprudence, reflecting “a more responsive and involved judiciary.” Examples of these “therapeutic courts” would include mental health courts, drugs courts, and restorative justice programs, whose “intent is to reduce criminal behavior and recidivism by treating the illness that is causing illegal behaviour. . . . Mental health courts, by embracing the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, become dual agents, representing both treatment and justice concerns.”
In The StarPhoenix on Nov. 18, 2013, Hannah Spray reported:
Court docket focuses on mental health issues
“If the criminal justice system has ended up, and in some ways it has, on the front lines of mental illness, this is really sort of saying, ‘Let’s recognize that’s the role we’re playing,’ ” said law Prof. Glen Luther, one of the people involved in developing the court’s new mental health strategy.
The first phase of the strategy involves a dedicated docket at Saskatoon provincial court, twice a month, for cases involving mental health issues. The court will use a therapeutic approach that focuses on support and supervision. A nurse who works in addictions and mental health services will be stationed in the courtroom, as well as a consistent judge, legal aid lawyer and Crown prosecutor.
Individuals will be referred to the court by a judge or on the recommendation of the Crown.
Saskatoon isn’t the first jurisdiction in Canada to take a run at mental health issues in the court system, Luther noted.
Manitoba, New Brunswick, British Columbia and Ontario, for example, already have mental health courts.
Judge Sheila Whelan said the idea for Saskatoon’s mental health strategy grew out of an education event held a year ago, spearheaded by the courts, that focused on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Whelan said the strategy is best described as a “long-term project” with the mental health docket as the first phase.
At this stage, the mental health strategy is working with existing resources, Whelan said. Partners include the court, the Ministry of Justice, Saskatoon Health Region, Legal Aid Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan FASD Support Network, which will also have a representative at each of the court sittings.
“The approach we’ll take in court will be respecting the mental health conditions the best we can. This takes time, to learn new approaches,” Whelan said.
“We want to slow it down, change the tone, make the effort to be sure there’s understanding, not just superficial nodding agreement, discuss needs openly and come up with some problem-solving solutions.”
And of course, the goal is always protection of the public as well as protection and support of the individual, she said. The court will be primarily a sentencing court, for people who choose to plead guilty and consent to the assessments and supervision that may follow. It may involve delaying the actual sentencing and bringing people back for regular court appearances to monitor their progress.
There are many gaps in the provision of care to people with mental health issues, said Dr. Mansfield Mela, a forensic psychiatrist. When those individuals get into trouble with the law, they find themselves in “no man’s land,” he said.
“When you look at the mental health side, the people there will say, ‘Oh, he’s offending, so we can’t look after him.’ He goes to the legal side and the legal people say, ‘We don’t do mental illness.’ He goes to the group homes, they say, ‘This guy has a history of fire setting, so we won’t accept him.’ So you end up not having any one person to care for you,” Mela said.
Family members of offenders who participated in a study published in December 2012 also said there’s a need for a mental health court in the province, according to a report entitled Needs Assessment of Forensic Mental Health Programs and Services for Offenders in Saskatchewan, published by the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science and Justice Studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
Almost all of the family members surveyed (98 per cent) “believed that such a court could help address the various addictions and psychiatric issues underlying the criminality of their family members or help to prevent a lifetime of addiction and mental health issues leading to criminality for other people, especially youth,” the report said.
Ideally, the strategy will bring together the resources needed to help the offender in the long term, Mela said.
“The benefit of that is not only to the offender, it is to the offender’s family, it is to the staff who work with him ... but more importantly, it is to the society, in that the cost of keeping him in the justice system is now reduced because he will have the support he needs.”
While books are still important to many people, there are many competing forms of escapism and sources of information. The result? People are reading and using books less. I remember some years ago, when I was also a columnist for the Western Producer, taking out books to write about the World Trade Negotiations; then not reading them because I found so much more information on the net (including several contacts who graciously shared their knowledge).
While readership is difficult to measure, most reports we’ve seen show a clear decline in book sales. This depressing fact is trotted out regularly at publishers meetings.
Coupled with the decline in book sales are the dramatically changed book sales channels. Independent book stores are rare indeed (two in Saskatoon). Retail book sales are dominated by Chapters/Indigo (also the owners of Coles) and Amazon. Is the decline in book sales due to fewer channels, or is the decline of bookstores a result of fewer book buyers? A chicken and egg question. And these sales outlets, along with some university bookstores, have changed their focus; books are but one product. Go to any Chapters store or Amazon on-line. There are plenty of other things to buy.
Adding to the challenge is the introduction of the ebook. Much to be said for the ebook, but its production presents many problems to a small niche publisher (more on this in a future post). Depending on whose statistics you read ebooks have somewhere between 15 – 20% of the market. From the publishers I’ve spoken to (granted, not large multinationals but independent Canadian operators) the investment in ebooks is extensive, but the returns are small.
So how does a publisher survive? Of course, in the last few years we’ve seen many publishers disappear or phase out (Douglas and McIntyre – a great Canadian success story – went bankrupt earlier this year).
As a publisher we’ve decided that the key to survival is to stay small and specialized. We developed a targeted mailing list (direct mail still works) and e-mail list. And now we’re trying social media and we have released 16 books in eformat.
Where do we go from here? Books will continue to exist. Perhaps there will be a few fewer print books. And hopefully, small independent publishers can survive. It has often been the small Canadian owned independents who have taken the risk on unknown authors, and have produced books that may not make the commercial best sellers list but make a significant contribution in defining our society and our lives.
Not that long ago the book selling world operated in pretty simple terms. Most cities and towns had a well established, or in some cases more than one, independent bookstore. And of course, throughout Canada, we had the Coles chain of stores. In addition many drugstores had a reasonable selection of books, as did some of the department stores.
Today, with the odd exception the independent bookstore in English Canada is a rarity. Book sales are dominated by on-line sellers like Amazon and Chapters Indigo. And the physical bookstore market is very much dominated by Chapters Indigo stores (who now also own Coles) and retail giants like Costco, Walmart, and the distributors who handle airport sales. Often these retailers control the market by offering deep discounts on titles. Thus our firm’s newly released book with a suggested retail price of $25.00 is offered by an on-line retailer “starting at $15.68.”
Recently, the Quebec government announced that it wants to do something about the dominance of retail giants. It is proposing legislation that would prohibit booksellers from discounting a title more than 10% from the suggested retail price for the first nine months after a title is released. This would apply to digital books as well. According to Quebec’s Culture minister, Maka Kotto “…hopefully this will allow independent booksellers to regain some terrain in the book market…[and] allow book stores to face up to increasingly ferocious competition.” What impact such a provincial law might have on large retailers, especially those operating on-line sales outside of Quebec remains to be seen. What is important in this proposal is recognition that small independent bookstores do play a vital role in prompting and maintaining our literary culture.
Of course, large retailers continue to change the landscape. At the same time that the Quebec government announced plans to impose limits on discounts booksellers could offer (as reported in the December 3, Globe and Mail and elsewhere) Amazon announced a plan to have deliveries made by drones. Thus you could order the hottest best seller and have it delivered to you by drone. As reported in the same December 3 edition of the Globe, the Amazon CEO hoped to have the drones operating within three years. I heard a CBC Newsworld critic dismiss this as pure science fiction. Perhaps, but twenty years ago no one thought Amazon would become the retail powerhouse that it has.]]>