What is fascinating about this dynamic is that, morally speaking, companies have been overwhelmed by their employees. The moral vision set out in the open letter to Simon & Schuster, for example, is much clearer than that provided by Karp, whether you agree or not. “By choosing to publish Mike Pence, Simon & Schuster is generating wealth for a central figure of a presidency who has argued unequivocally for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-darkness, xenophobia , misogyny, ableism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and violence, ”the letter read. “It’s not a difference of opinion; it is to legitimize sectarianism.
On the one hand, you have employees who make the kind of value-based argument that publishers have been making for decades; on the other hand, you have an executive who puts forward questionable arguments of “cancellation culture” in the service of profit motivation. This conflict only underscores the artificial nature of the market for book publishing ideas. As The Washington Post‘s Ron Charles wrote earlier this week, “ppublishers have always made very selective judgments about who they print and who they don’t, ”a calculation that historically has strongly favored white men.
The disconnect between the publishing base and its leadership is huge right now. What you hear over and over again, talking to employees at Simon & Schuster and Norton, is the same thing you hear when you talk to media professionals: they feel like they are not being listened to and want more voices in the media. decision making. This may be more likely at WW Norton, which is owned by employees, than at Simon & Schuster, which is in the process of merging with Penguin Random House. In largely unorganized publishing, gaining that kind of influence will be difficult unless the wave of organization we’ve seen in journalism spills over into book publishing.
Publishing is unique in the American arts in that its largest corporations claim to be guided by a set of values in ways you don’t see in the music and film industries, for example. Publishers may say they cling to these values, but they haven’t lived up to them for some time.