On hypocrisy in publishing

Here’s an interesting question: what do publishers do with conservative books now? And I’m not talking run-of-the-mill financial books or think-of-the-children pearl-clutchers. We all know that the conservative books that sell the best are the most vile, racist, misogynistic things you can find. How does an industry that’s trying to talk-the-talk right now walk-the-walk going forward? And don’t give me that “free speech” nonsense. There is no “right” to be published by a professional house. It’s a business contract. If they feel market forces or corporate philosophy goes against publishing your work, you have to look elsewhere. The world is asking to move on from these hateful voices. Will publishing follow, given that there will always be money in hate?

Publishing such authors was once uncontroversial. The conservative publishing industrial complex has been a mainstay ever since Allen Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind topped the bestseller lists. Free speech has always been a slippery concept in book publishing. At times it is presented as a badge of honor—we stand by Salman Rushdie!—but mostly it is an excuse to publish something that is profitable but otherwise valueless. Beleaguered publishers have understandably cast themselves as slaves to the marketplace: They publish whatever it is people want to buy.

The imprint model helps publishers from collapsing under their own contradictions. The large houses are federations containing many largely autonomous fiefdoms. The right hand rarely knows what the left is doing, which enables Big Five CEOs to claim innocence when one of their imprints acquires a controversial book. But that is less true than it was in the past. The idea, for instance, that Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch wasn’t aware of Woody Allen’s controversial memoir—which had been acquired a year earlier but concealed from the public and nearly all Hachette employees—is laughable. When Threshold Editions acquired Dangerous, it was Simon & Schuster, not Threshold, that got the heat.

At the same time, these publishing houses are, like many corporations in the country, being asked by their employees and customers to live up to a set of values. And that would seem to be impossible while also publishing the likes of Tucker Carlson, who declared on his show earlier this week that the protests across the country are “definitely not about black lives.”

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