100 years of BC books

“Two literary mavericks appreciated on May 22: publisher & author Howard White (left) and bookseller Don Stewart. Details here.” FULL STORY


Christopher (Kip) Plant (1950-2015)

July 01st, 2015

When Judith Plant published her first book, Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism with New Society Publishers in Philadelphia, she and her partner Christopher (Kip) Plant wrestled with a publishing decision that changed the course of their lives, leading them from the backwoods of B.C. and to the forefront of the Sustainability Movement by becoming the owners of the New Society imprint.

The couple was well ahead of the curve, having organized the third-continent-wide North American Bioregional Congress in 1986. Later they were on the cutting edge of the sustainability movement, leading the way by publishing books with recycled paper.The initiative resulted in his acceptance of the Jim Douglas Award for an outstanding publishing house in B.C.

Now the dedicated staff at New Society Publishers have lost a friend, coworker, mentor and guide with the announcement of his death at the end of June.

Kip was publisher of New Society Publishers, alongside his wife Judith Plant, until retiring in 2013. “The legacy that he and Judith built and cared so deeply about will continue,” says EJ Hurst, marketing director of the press, “as we take up the torch of sustainability and social justice.”

Plants, Chris & Judith 2003

Chris & Judith Plant, 2003

To hear Judith Plant tell the history of New Society Publishers, you can watch this talk given by her earliet this year.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z4uJe4FRsw

Kip passed away peacefully on Friday June 26, 2015, in Nanaimo BC, after courageously living with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Multiple System Atrophy for the past 9 years.

Kip is survived by his soul mate and loving wife Judith Plant, and will be forever missed by his family Julie Raddysh (Sandy) and grandchildren Benjamin, Thomas and Hannah; Shannon Dubroy (Ken) and grandchildren Samantha, Connor and Paige; and Will Dubroy (Julia) and grandchildren Isis, Emma and Arya.

Kip was born to Patricia and Jack Plant in Birmingham, England in 1950. He leaves behind two brothers: Peter Plant (Sue) and nieces and nephews Robin, Kate, Owen and Jo; and Nick Plant (Sue), and nieces Rebecca, Laura and Sophie.

Kip dedicated his early life to social justice movements. He organized the first Nuclear Free and Independent South Pacific conference. He worked tirelessly for the independence movement in Vanuatu, working closely with Father Walter Lini, who later became Vanuatu’s first prime minster. Kip attended Simon Fraser University where he completed his Masters degree in Communications and met the love of his life, Judith. They were married on May 7, 1979 in Vancouver BC, and together their passion for a more just and sustainable world grew. In 1996 they incorporated New Society Publishers in Canada, beginning a legacy that will forever carry on Kip’s dream of giving a voice for activists and providing tools to change the world.

The extended family of New Society Publishers will dearly miss his amazing mind and sense of humour.  He has been an inspiration to so many, and the publishing work he did and cared so passionately about continues.

A Celebration of Life was held on Friday July 6, 2015. The outpouring of support and love from family, the Gabriola community and from publishing colleagues was tremendous — a truly amazing celebration for a wonderful man who lived a short but powerful life.

In lieu of flowers or cards, please consider instead a donation in Kip Plant’s name to Gertie, Gabriola’s Community Bus Service: www.gabriolacommunitybus.com  or gabriolacommunitybus@gmail.com.


[Here is an article by Chris Plant written especially for B.C. BookWorld to tell the story of his publishing activities:]

by Chris Plant

When Judith Plant published her first book, we were living in the mountains north of Lillooet, where we had published The New Catalyst magazine for four years.

Perched on a rocky bluff by the side of a mountain stream, we generated enough electricity from a micro-hydro system to power our household and our fledgling business.

Having to sometimes type by the light of two candles placed on either side of our portable Osborne computer, we called this our Paleotechnic era.

That summer we received a visit from the chief New Society editor and his partner, who was the finance manager for their book publishing operation. They had recently left the East Coast to open a West Coast office in Santa Cruz, California.

David Albert suggested that instead of publishing our quarterly magazine on tabloid newsprint, we should consider packaging the material in book form. That way it would last longer and have more shelf appeal.

It was an opportunity we couldn’t refuse. We decided to open up a Canadian office for New Society Publishers, acquiring editorial projects ourselves and marketing the whole of NSP’s list to the Canadian market.

That’s how New Society Publishers Canada officially opened for business in 1990.

The first project we undertook was to edit, with our good friends Van Andruss and Eleanor Wright, the first anthology on bioregionalism, Home! A Bioregional Reader.

As promoters of the bioregional idea (we had organized the third continent-wide North American Bioregional Congress in 1986), this was a project close to our hearts. We then got to work on the new series. The first volume involved the transformation of some past New Catalyst material into book form. Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future comprised a collection of interviews we had conducted with key characters in the sustainability movement that had appeared in the centerfold of The New Catalyst magazine. The book came off the press at the very time that we moved from the Lillooet area to our new home on Gabriola Island, and we spent many hours around the dining room table packaging up copies to send out to our 2000-odd subscriber list, conscripting my visiting aunt into the mailing process.

Other volumes followed in close succession—including Our Ecological Footprint, by Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel. We released two titles per year, sold by subscription and direct mail, as well as through the conventional book trade. We originated other B.C. titles, too, including Colonialism On Trial, something of a pre-Manga cartoon record of the Gitksan Wet’suwet’en land claims court case, and Clayoquot Mass Trials which documented a watershed phase in the environmental movement.

For the next couple of years or so, we learned the basics of book publishing, alongside advanced study in business cooperation. New Society was organized as a collective and our task was to insert ourselves into their management structure from a distance. There was no e-mail at the time and communication was a challenge, to say the least. Nevertheless we managed our tiny transnational corporation from three locations with remarkable ease.

The fax machine was a revolutionary tool that simplified our lives tremendously. We gathered once a year at an annual face-to-face meeting, and governed ourselves by means of a very unusual mutual aid agreement. We were publishing books to build a new society and running our lives according to the same values we espoused in our publications. These were heady times indeed.

At a face-to-face meeting in Philadelphia in 1995, we learned very suddenly that the Philadelphia office was basically bankrupt. Unless someone stepped up to the plate, the publishing operation overall would be forced to close. Unlike the key players in the Philadelphia collective who seemed tired, we were not ready to stop publishing—on the contrary, we were just getting going.

The only thing to do was to take over the whole operation. We were organized as non-profits at the time, and at first we tried raising the necessary capital through charitable means. But good fortune stepped in at the right time in the form of an angel investor, Joel Solomon (this angel had been on our mailing list from the beginning of The New Catalyst days), and so in 1996 Gabriola Island became the international headquarters of New Society Publishers.

We bought just over 50 percent of the NSP list along with the U.S. distribution infrastructure and a whole lot of goodwill. Not everyone was entirely pleased that New Society had become a Canadian enterprise, however, and our task became that of convincing authors and others that we could continue to be an effective social change publisher from north of the border.

New Society had started as a social movement, opposing the war in Vietnam, nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and publishing pamphlets on peace and nonviolence, civil disobedience, conflict resolution and social change. Their early books focused on nonviolence, feminism and alternative economics.

When we entered the picture, we added an environmental focus. Now we needed to reinvent the company and did so around the emerging idea of sustainability which, in our eyes, combined all of these interest areas and more. The question was whether we could sustain a values-based publishing operation while making sustainability successful in the business world.

It didn’t help that, not too long after we purchased the company, InBook, our U.S. trade distributor, went bankrupt. It also didn’t help that postal rates climbed dramatically as mail subsidies were gradually eroded—a kiss of death for the direct mail sales on which the company had been built.

Switching to Consortium for our U.S. trade presence was a major relief: they were well-organized and effective. But our attempts to support trade sales by religiously attending BEA, ALA and the like drove us to despair.

Slowly, we realized that, as an activist publisher, we had to be where the activists were, not try to compete in the glitzy corporate world of trade bookselling. We switched strategies, making it our business to be at renewable energy fairs, Green festivals, natural building colloquia and a myriad other events where we could network with the people who needed the material we were publishing for their organizing work—and who were writing the material we wanted to publish.

In the early years of this period, we continued publishing The New Catalyst as an occasional free broadsheet, distributed in tens of thousands of copies. Inside was our catalog of New Society books. Direct mail continued to be a major source of revenue, and early employees—and the occasional family member—took phone orders and packed books in the crowded little office next to our home.

We nervously borrowed money against the property to build the company, and slowly added staff. I was doing the editorial and production work; Judith masterminded finance and marketing; and we both made acquisition decisions.

Sustainability was a hard sell but we relentlessly released books on sustainable communities, simple living and eco-cities alongside critiques of economic growth, manuals on progressive leadership skills (facilitation, mediation, group process and the like), and parenting and education resources.

Thinking of ourselves as a progressive business, we even ventured into business publishing with a series called Conscientious Commerce that highlighted the ways in which the corporate world could contribute to environmental and social sustainability. Importantly, we walked the talk ourselves, committing, in 2001 with the release of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change by Guy Dauncey, to printing all of our books on 100 percent Post Consumer-Waste paper and, a few years later, going carbon-neutral. We estimate, as of 2008, our pulp nonfiction business has saved over 13,000 trees.

For many years we existed on a very uncomfortable financial edge. But we were slowly building our market and our reputation. When peak oil first emerged as a crucial topic for the future of industrial society, we were there with one of the first books on the topic, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Society, by Richard Heinberg.

When 9/11 happened, we released a major exposé on the topic, linking the event to peak oil, that sold strongly. We added important renewable energy books to our categories of interest, as well as a line of natural and green building titles that caught the emerging Green building wave before it became merely fashionable.

Sales increased. We added staff. We added buildings. We almost doubled our output of titles per year. We gained some recognition for our efforts through two Ethics in Action awards for our social and environmental initiatives, and the BC Publisher of the Year award in 2003. In a note attached to the award, Jim Douglas praised “the international quality of our list.”

And we began to make money. Always five to ten years ahead of the mainstream, our books rapidly gained relevance for a wider audience as the early years of the new millennium came to pass, and sustainability was suddenly the name of the game. As “green” became the color of choice, sales rose steadily, and we realized we had moved into a new phase.

At last, the sustainability publisher had become financially sustainable. But we were tired. We wanted our freedom back—including freedom from the anxiety of running a publishing business in a volatile market. So with considerable trepidation, we put New Society up for sale.

It was a relief when the final purchaser turned out to be Douglas & McIntyre. Their list had integrity and we had obvious compatibilities with their Greystone imprint, David Suzuki’s publisher. More to the point, they were demanding no radical changes in the way the company was run. With our on-going mentoring, our loyal and highly capable staff will gradually take over the management of New Society. It looks like a win-win situation.

Judith and I never really intended to be Publishers for Life, and we certainly weren’t business people at heart. In 1990, we had made a conscious decision to do our bit for the “turn-around decade” that was called for by David Suzuki and others. But somehow that turn-around decade has turned into almost two decades…

Now it’s time for us to be doing more of the things we were publishing about. So we’re forging ahead with a new chapter…

[BCBW 2009]


Also from B.C. BookWorld

Much admired as leaders of the sustainability movement, Chris and Judith Plant are recycling themselves, buying back their New Society imprint from D&M Publishers Inc. Here’s the three-part story of how their healthy, homemade New Society imprint continues to live up to its name.

In 1985, Chris and Judith plant were back-to-the-landers of sorts, seeking the communal experience twenty miles down a gravel road from Lillooet, producing an environmental newspaper called The New Catalyst, a let’s-fix-the-world endeavor that soon led them into publishing books.

Started in 1990, their fledgling publishing imprint called New Society eventually took over its sister company—New Society Publishers, Philadelphia—with whom they had worked for six years.

“We made a conscious decision to do our bit for the ‘turn-around decade’ that was called for by David Suzuki and others,” says Chris ‘Kip’ Plant, “But somehow that turn-around decade turned into two decades.”

Based out of Gabriola Island, the Plants parlayed their dedication to “bioregionalism” into a successful vehicle for promoting ecological consciousness and community action world-wide.

Having encouraged the use of recycled paper for books, the Plants received the James Douglas Award for outstanding publishing in British Columbia in 2003. By 2005, they were the first publishing company in North America, and only the second publishing company in the world, to declare themselves “carbon neutral.”

A family health problem prompted them to retire and sell New Society to Scott McIntyre’s Douglas & McIntyre, often touted as the largest publishing house in Western Canada It’s possible Lone Pine in Alberta might have greater sales worldwide. D&M was by then Vancouver businessman Mark Scott’s company, since his purchase of the majority of the shares just prior to the acquisition of New Society, but McIntyre remained on board.
“Their list had integrity,” Chris Plant said, “and we had obvious compatibilities with their Greystone imprint, David Suzuki’s publisher.”

So D&M Publishers Inc. became a consortium of three imprints; New Society, Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone. The new owner, Mark Scott, was an acquaintance of Scott McIntyre. “One of the trickiest challenges any company faces is getting succession right,” McIntyre said in 2012, “and I’m very proud of the path we are embarking upon.”

With McIntyre at the helm as its chairman, D&M Publishers Inc., filed for protection from bankruptcy in November of 2012, having accumulated debts exceeding $6 million, including more than half a million owing to authors.

The second phase of New Society—through no fault of the imprint—was in jeopardy. Judith Plant herself became one of D&M’s major creditors because the full purchase of New Society by the D&M consortium had yet to be completed.
So what to do?

The Plants opted to come out of retirement and buy back their press, with the essential help of their financial angel, friend Carol Newell of Renewal Partners who had helped them from the outset.

Whereas almost the entire staff at D&M in Vancouver was rendered jobless by the business failure, New Society has remained stable, staff-wise, and they’re now proceeding with a full spring list with the usual range of sustainability titles and one book with a distinctly local flavour.
Much admired as leaders of the sustainability movement, Chris and Judith Plant are recycling themselves, buying back their New Society imprint from D&M Publishers Inc. Here’s the three-part story of how their healthy, homemade New Society imprint continues to live up to its name.

Signaling the phoenix-like resurgence of New Society, Hollyhock: Garden to Table (New Society $24.95) by Moreka Jolar and Heidi Scheifley reasserts the presence of a unique B.C. institution, Hollyhock, a centre for learning and well-being, B.C.’s Findhorn, created in 1982 on the grounds of the former Cold Mountain Institute on Cortes Island.
Near its ocean-view kitchen, the world renowned learning centre of Hollyhock boasts a spectacular organic garden.

Based on thirty years of cooking, Hollyhock: Garden to Table provides more than 200 new garden-inspired recipes as well as growing tips from Hollyhock’s own Master Gardener, Nori Fletcher. Moreka Jolar has been a chef at Hollyhock for fifteen years and Scheifley is a certified gourmet natural foods chef who has cooked around the world.

The Plants’ first B.C.-grown book upon their return to ownership harkens back to their roots in Lillooet—all puns intended—where communalism was viewed as a healthy and natural necessity. It’s also a follow-up to Hollyhock Cooks (New Society 2004), co-authored by Jolar.

Now New Society also intends to deal head-on with 21st century technological challenges. “We’re already selling all of our books as e-books,” says Judith Plant, “and an increasing volume of sales are electronic.

“The real challenge is adapting as a publisher to the broader electronic culture. We must consider ourselves more as purveyors of information that can be parlayed in diverse forms than strictly as a producer of books alone. Being fluid in such a world is crucial.
“The intelligent, committed and passionate people on our staff, many of whom have spent most of their working lives with the company, are raring to go. So, yes, this amounts to a re-birth of sorts.”

This third phase of New Society will also provide an opportunity for a partial employee buy-in to the company. A portion of the shares are being made available for the staff to buy anytime, and a further portion can be bought at a very attractive price, provided certain sales and profitability targets are met. 978-0-86571-727-5

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