Publishing’s reckoning with so-called “cancel culture”

Alison Flood in the Guardian looks at where we stand in the culture vs business wars raging in publishing. It’s sure an interesting debate. One that I see two sides of. It’s more nuanced than just right and wrong. But one thing we lose track of in these sorts of debates is that right and wrong still exists.

Publishers today are teetering on a tightrope. Which voices should they amplify with a publishing deal – those their staff agree with, or those with an audience who agree with them? How far does an author have to go before their views are deemed unpublishable? What about when the personal views of an author, say JK Rowling, are condemned and staff object to working on her next children’s book? Where to draw the line?

It is a “watershed moment”, literary agent Clare Alexander told a House of Lords committee investigating freedom of speech online last month, highlighting the gap she saw between “older management” and “younger refuseniks”. Hachette chief executive David Shelley added that new staff needed to be told they “might need to work on books they don’t agree with … I think in the past possibly, not having seen this coming, maybe we haven’t been clear enough with people about what sort of organisation we are, what that is.”

But speaking to publishing staff for this article – particularly those at the big conglomerates, and more junior staff worried for their jobs – most are wary of speaking on the record regardless of their perspective, fearful of what one described as the “raging binfire” which followed on social media after the House of Lords hearing.

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