As the force behind the first Canadian Studies programme in Ontario, it's not surprising that Kirk Howard was always interested in Canadian history. But it was a talk at the college by Canadian publishing powerhouse Jack McLelland (of McLelland & Stewart) that helped him connect the dots between a strong indigenous publishing industry and a vibrant, independent Canada. With that, Howard had found his new calling.
Since its foundation in 1972, Dundurn has published over 2500 works of Canadian history, from memoirs and biographies to children's fiction and reference works. The company has grown over the years by acquiring smaller publishing companies to keep them alive and their works in print. Sandcastle Books, Blue Butterfly Books, and Thomas Allen Publishers are now all part of the Dundurn family. Today, Dundurn employs a staff of over 25 at its Toronto headquarters.
Always willing to take technological risks, Howard purchased one of the first computers and printers, expensive equipment at the time. Dundurn moved into e-book production in 2004, three years before the first major e-reader, the Kindle, went on sale. In 2004, Dundurn published 40 e-books; now its catalogue counts over 1700 works. With support from OMDC's Book Fund, the company was able to convert its extensive hard-copy backlist into e-book versions. Today, Dundurn publishes an e-book to go along with every hard-copy book it publishes.
As part of its marketing efforts, Dundurn has begun bundling e-books to sell works on a similar topic or by the same author at a package price. This innovative approach has proven popular with consumers. Dundurn has also experimented with e-book “chunking,” offering the first chapter of a book for free and offering individual chapters for sale in sequence.
Dundurn was awarded the inaugural Wilson History Prize for excellence in Canadian history publishing in 2010. Howard used the $10,000 award to establish the Dundurn History Prize, awarded to the best unpublished manuscript of regional history (the region changes yearly).
While its origins are distinctly Canadian, Dundurn hasn't turned a blind eye to global markets. An active foreign rights strategy and aggressive marketing at major international book fairs, coupled with sales forces on the ground in the United Kingdom and United States, ensure Dundurn publications are distributed all over the world.
With Dundurn's appetite for innovation, it's no surprise that the company appreciates the more creative OMDC support programs. Dundurn representatives have attended both the Digital Dialogue networking conference and From Page to Screen, an annual event connecting publishers with television and media producers. They have used further OMDC funding to find new ways to market their works in Canada and abroad. OMDC funding also helped the company revamp its website and increase its visibility on social media, critical to marketing in a competitive environment today.
Celebrating history with a thoroughly modern approach: Dundurn Press' way of doing business is as creative as it is successful.
“Without Canadian publishers or Ontario publishers publishing Canadian and Ontario books, how would we know who we were?”
—Kirk Howard, Founder, Dundurn Press