Friday Wrap #11 – The “My country for a book store” edition

I love book stores. The smell, the tactile feel of bound printed pages, the veritable rainbow of colourful covers and dust jackets. And I love magazine stands. Same reason. Sadly the book store is going the way of the Do-Do, and the biggest chain of book stores in Canada is largely responsible for it.

Indigo, which bought Chapters, which bought Coles, which bought Smithbooks/W.H. Smith (or vice-versa) has moved from selling books to selling lifestyle brands. Go into an Indigo and you are hit with more kitschy products, housewares, and towels than books. The toy section is in the back, the books are off to the side of that. Yes I am jesting a bit there, but not by much. The checkout line at an Indigo is a bombardment of chocolate, cute writing pads, and nostalgic ‘90s TV show themed coffee cups.

This wrap starts off about book stores thanks to Indigo, which sent me a marketing email titled “What’s For Dinner?” The email began with some feel-good imagery of a model eating food, some dishes, linens, cutlery (brass no less… I feel special), appliances and cookware, cookie mix, tea, two cookbooks, and more kitsch. At least there were two books, even if one is Jamie Oliver throwing a bunch of food in one pan and calling it a day.

Kenneth Whyte has been writing about the slow demise of Indigo and its book stores in his Sutherland House Inc “SHuSH” newsletter, like at the bottom of this newsletter here:

SHuSH, by Kenneth Whyte – The dog ate my homework

It angers me, as someone who works with printed words on a daily basis, that book stores are being run into the ground by this conglomerate retailer. It kind of reminds me – but on a slower burn cycle – to the abject destruction of Canada’s newspaper chain Postmedia.

Now I comment on this as someone who has worked intermittently for the company and its predecessors as a freelancer (probably no longer after they read this) and as a former member of the community editorial board of one of the company’s small market former daily newspapers.

Quite frankly, what Postmedia and their corporate stooges have done is borderline criminal. The company has maxed out every dollar it can finance, and then stripped the assets to the bone in order to pay it back. Physical assets like headquarters sold off to become U-Haul locations, or retail storefronts and gyms. Leases terminated, and newsrooms shuttered. Postmedia is circling the corporate drain and it is not going to be long before the company shutters most of its print opertations for “online only” or just pull the plug altogether.

Now with the latest round of garbage cuts from the company, more people who write the news have been cut, and so have advertising people. As you get closer to the drain, the faster it swirls. Cutting newsrooms and advertising departments does not win you corporate success, it’s cannibalization to the point the patient can no longer live.

Other media entities are guilty of this. My former employer, Corus Entertainment, blazed new frontiers shuttering AM radio stations, cutting successful programs because it made under-performing big city operations look bad, and axing departments and newsrooms, when these ideas were just a gleam in the Postmedia braintrust eyes. Postmedia has taken this inspiration to new heights though.

Of course it didn’t have to be this way. Newspapers across Canada have given the news away for free, hoping fractional click revenue would make up in volume what display ads in print would earn in quality. People won’t pay for news now because 20+ years of giving away the milk for free means no one will buy a cow. Some properties are successful with paywalls or metering how much free content you get before paying. Other properties are successful with giving a small amount of news away for free, and making you go out and buy a physical newspaper (WHAT???) to get the rest.

The solution to this is not switching to only online media as some suggest. Nor is it heavy-handed government legislation to make companies like Google and Facebook pay for news (note, news organizations that don’t want these “Social Media” companies stealing your news, don’t post it on their platforms. Read the fine print!)

The solution, in my view, is two fold: 1) More relevant news content for readers, meaning you need reporters to cover stuff; and 2) tease but institute an industry wide standard for paywalls, print and online advertising.

In far too many places across Canada news deserts are forming. That has a lasting and detrimental effect on communities. Media performs a necessary check and balance to government at all levels.

Sadly I think many journalists are resigned to the fact that our industry is dying. Rarely are there those speaking out about newsroom closures, job losses, and community news dying. That also comes from our representative groups like the Canadian Association of Journalists. While groups like the CAJ provide a valuable service to journalists, it is not speaking out against newsroom closures and job losses. For that reason alone, I resigned my CAJ membership earlier this month in protest – a protest that when sent to the president of the association, was ignored and not responded to. The CAJ is focused on diversity – which is essential for any newsroom to represent the community, and for press freedom – that which has been trodden on by police and other authorities in recent years. But without publications (online, print, radio, television), journalists have no JOBS or venue to tell stories. Every time Postmedia or Metroland announce cuts, there is a perfunctory statement about the cuts, then nothing. Thoughts and Prayers would be more helpful. So until the organization starts calling out this BS, I will not send my membership feels to it.

Meanwhile I’ll call out the BS. We need better bookstores that sell books, and we need news outlets to remain in existence so we have venues to tell stories in.

What I’m reading: Get out of my head – Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World by Meredith Arthur.

Listening to: Fire for You by Cannons.

Three things of interest:

  1. The photography website DPReview is shutting down after 25 years. For a long time this was my go to site after my switch to digital. I forgot about the site in recent years. I guess this makes the closure understandable. Still a great site for information.
  2. The Wit’s Guide to Rudeness – I enjoy reading Benjamin Erratt’s Get Wit Quick Substack channel… and his guide to Rudeness was great this week.
  3. I like hot takes as much as anyone else. And I’ve been a fan of sportscaster Mark Hebscher since Sportsline on Global TV in the 1980s. Hebsy has a great podcast called “Hebsy on Sports” and this week he has a take on the “controversy” over pre-game warm-ups and Pride Nights. Recently, a handful of NHL players are refusing to wear Pride jerseys and the like during events to promote diversity and inclusion in the sport. These have been due to religious reasons primarily. Now clubs are refusing to run these events out of fear of repercussions for their Russian players. BS. I agree with Hebsy on this. If a player doesn’t take part a promotion of the league, like Pride night, suspend them and fine them. Better yet, fine those players and donate the money to local LGBT2S+ organizations. Yes people have freedom to express their beliefs, but freedom is not free. If your employer requires something, then you need to do it too. Have a look at Hebsy’s take here.

That’s all for now. Taxi driving teens and working for the weekend is on tap, maybe even some painting (wall touch-ups, weeeeee!)