Book Value

Redemption, shame and the bargain-bin sale of a cultural icon

In 2016, while researching her new book, The Handover: How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of Our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational, Elaine Dewar interviewed retired accountant Ronald Scott. Years earlier, while at Ernst & Young, Scott had penned an opinion on the market value of Canada’s most venerated publisher, McClelland and Stewart. Developer-turned-publisher Avie Bennett had just given a 75 percent share of the company to the University of Toronto, and Scott’s valuation would help dictate the size of the charitable receipt Bennett would get for tax purposes.

Dewar wisely brought along her copy of Scott’s opinion, the most salient point of which was that Random House was paying Bennett $5.3 million for the other 25 percent of M&S. Hence the $22.3 million valuation that Scott put on M&S as a whole, which...