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To the editor,
With my lack of charity for big corporations I was perversely amused to read Maria Francesca LoDico's article "Pressed for distribution" about the bankruptcy of General Publishing Co., the distributor for McGill-Queen's University Press (Reporter, Oct 24, 2002, p. 11). Publisher going bankrupt? Sounded strangely familiar to me.
Last year I had my first novel, Return to Oxford, published by Pentland Press in Durham, England. Large, clear print, solid hardback, a picture of Tom Tower (a phallic symbol) designed by a Mr. Geoff Hobbs on the jacket. Very nice production. How about the distribution? I was informed that Blackwell's and John Smith had taken copies to sell in the shops.
I don't know how many copies Blackwell and Smith had sold. I haven't received a penny. Instead I received a notice that Pentland Press had gone into "liquidation." I was wondering what to do about it when I received a letter from a company calling itself Carnegie Publishing (funny for a British company to call itself by such an American name). They informed me they were in possession of all unsold books printed by the now "liquidated" Pentland Press. They offered to arrange the distribution if the authors would agree to make a contract with them, details to be discussed later. That would take time because they would have to look at every title to work out an appropriate "promotion strategy." Meanwhile, sorry, they would have to charge us storage. I felt I had no choice but to accept.
Some six months later I received a letter from Carnegie saying they were backing out of the whole distribution business. They gave me the following 3 choices:
1. They would deliver the books to me in Canada at my expense.
2. Since I had paid my warehousing fee they would deliver them at their own expense to any UK address I may indicate.
3. They would dispose of the books. As good ecologists they would recycle them, not just garbage them.
I was given less than two weeks to make up my mind. I chose option no. 2. UK address? I had no time to start bargaining with Blackwell's or any other British bookshop. I didn't want to impose boxes of books on any of my British friends. So I decided to make a gift of the books to Oxford University Development Fund. Let them sell them or do whatever they want with them and all proceeds will go to the university.
You may ask me with some justification why I am making such a donation to Oxford, not to McGill, especially since the protagonist of the novel is a McGill Islamic Studies professor. Well, I don't think McGill Development Fund would be willing to pay for the postage, and I cannot afford to be so generous. Sorry, McGill!
Jan Witold Weryho
Islamic Studies Cataloguing Librarian (retired)