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UPDATED: H.B. Fenn initiates bankruptcy proceedings

[UPDATE: Read Q&Qs updated coverage of H.B. Fenn’s restructuring here.]

H.B. Fenn and Company, Canada’s largest book distributor and owner of Key Porter Books, has initiated bankruptcy proceedings. According to a press release sent out this afternoon, the company “today filed a Notice of Intention to Make a Proposal pursuant to the provisions of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.”

According to the release, H.B. Fenn “has encountered significant financial challenges due to the loss of distribution lines, shrinking margins and the significant shift to e-books, all of which have significantly reduced the Company’s revenues.”

“We have worked extremely hard to build the Company and keep it going even under today’s adverse conditions,” said founder and CEO Harold Fenn. “My heart goes out to our over 125 employees and to the many publishers we represent, as well as the customers that have supported us over the years.”

H.B. Fenn provided Canadian sales and distribution services to nearly 90 publishers and imprints, including publishing giant Macmillan. It was the Canadian distributor for Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Courtship (Forge), William P. Young’s The Shack (Windblown Media), Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series (Hyperion), Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key (St. Martin’s Press), and Chevy Stevens’s Still Missing (St. Martin’s). It was also the distributor for Vancouver’s Whitecap Books.

H.B. Fenn suffered a major setback two years ago when its largest sales and distribution client, Hachette Book Group, opened a Toronto publicity and marketing office and took over sales for major national accounts including Indigo, Costco, and wholesalers North 49 and BookExpress. (H.B. Fenn continued to handle sales for Hachette’s independent and library accounts.) Hachette also moved fulfillment from Canada to its Indiana warehouse.

A further sign of trouble, H.B. Fenn closed down Key Porter’s Toronto offices last September and laid off the bulk of staff. In early January, Q&Q learned that Key Porter had laid off its remaining editorial staffers and had suspended publishing operations indefinitely.

Still, news of H.B. Fenn’s insolvency will come as a shock to many. The dismantling of Key Porter had seemed like an extreme measure, but it now appears to have been the symptom of much graver underlying malaise.

Meanwhile, the fate of Key Porter’s extensive backlist hangs in the balance.

Keep watching Q&Q for more coverage and analysis.

  • Wayne Arthurson

    With a book coming out this spring and it being distributed in Canada by Fenn, I really hope this doesn’t screw things up.

  • Robert J. Sawyer

    I owe a huge amount of my career to Harold and Sylvia Fenn. Absolutely wonderful people, and a great company.

  • Peter Greene

    Well! Goodness. Times do change. Luckily words themselves are still useful

  • Anon

    Why, yes, Wayne. Because it’s all about you. Never mind those 125 people who don’t have jobs tonight. God forbid something happens to your book.

  • Paul

    Anon says: “…God forbid something happens to your book”

    Perhaps Anon is forgetting that books are a writer’s job, and that when books don’t get distributed, the writer is out of work too?

  • Ruth

    I am with Robert Sawyer (good company to be in) on this one. My best regards to Harold and Sylvia and to their employees. I had the pleasure of meeting Sylvia in Frankfurt a few years ago and she gave me one of the best pieces of advice ever for surviving tade shows — wear sensible shoes! I am very sad to hear that business is so bad for such a good company.

  • anon2

    Is e-book volume really that big that it’s putting print companies out of business? The last numbers I saw lead me to believe it was a drop in the bucket.

  • Anon

    Anon isn’t forgetting anything. Anon works in publishing, on the editorial side, and knows all about what authors give to their books. Anon is just thinking that a little compassion for those most immediately affected – 125 people who were forced to clean their desks and leave yesterday – would be nice.

  • Barry

    anon2, e-books can’t be blamed for this any more than they can be blamed for the GDS situation. I don’t think Fenn has even mentioned e-books as a source of trouble. The Hachette and Key Porter developments were huge, and those had nothing to do with e-books.

    e-books could ultimately provide difficulty for printers, distributors, and booksellers (publishers themselves will, hopefully, be able to continue to be successful in various formats), but at the moment it would be wrong to blame e-books for situations like this one.

  • TheGuyWithTheBook

    It is evolution. At one time people stood around the water cooler and discussed the radio show they listened to last night or the book they read. Soon after they start to discuss the movieshows seen at the theatre, with the story played out in words along the bottom of the screen. Awhile later they stand at the water cooler and talk about the television show they watched last night and the book they PLAN to read. Later still, they stand at the water cooler and talk about what to do with all the space the encyclopaedias took up on their shelves and marvel at all the information so readily available within reach of their keyboards. No more trips to the library with this bad boy sitting on their desk. Soon enough conversation turns to retelling of all the email jokes and “interesting” websites they visited last night. And then suddenly there is no more water cooler. Why meet up at the water cooler? They can just tweet the fascinating events of their lives to all who care to know these life altering events that occur every 10 minutes. And if they missed out, they can read all about it or look at the pictures, video’s and musical versions on FB when they get home. Might as well, there isn’t a book to be seen anywhere. And besides, who has time to read anymore?

  • Fennite

    I have sympathy for the authors stranded by these happenings and also for my former colleagues, who worked extremely hard and didn’t deserve the quick chop they got on Thursday last. I don’t blame the Fenns for pulling the plug – clearly things were not going to work out. I do think this is a case of evolution, not as ‘TheGuy’ has it, to a non-reading society, but that the old distro model is dead and gone. You can’t protect an in-country distro company from the will of the international conglomerates and their whims. Hachette and MacMillan made a business decision that made sense for them, without considering the consequences to a family-run enterprise – why would they, after all? Does it matter whether Fenn or Raincoast distributes / sells in Whitecap or MacM? No, but sadly it has an impact on me – where do I find another job in publishing / book sales in Canada? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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