Cancelers canceled at Simon & Schuster

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A small sign that cancel culture may have peaked, at least in book publishing, is worth noting. The president of Simon & Schuster, Jonathan Karp, has announced that his firm will ignore a petition from its staff (reportedly, 216 employees and thousands of sympathizers) demanding that plans to publish an autobiographical memoir by former V.P. Mike Pence be canceled.

Thomas Lipscomb, a publishing industry veteran, takes note and celebrates the act of courage in the Asia Times:

[T]he internal petition being circulated by Simon & Schuster employees is far more extensive. It is demanding categorical censorship irrespective of any underlying editorial merit. It wants to employ a heckler’s veto to override the judgment of some of the finest editors in publishing in multiple imprints, even extending it to canceling totally independent distribution clients.

Simon & Schuster’s president, Jonathan Karp, announced that his firm would go forward and publish Mike Pence’s memoir. In the same letter he reminded his employees “… we come to work to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives.”

Simon & Schuster’s petitioners have now reached outside their own community looking for “solidarity” throughout publishing for their position.

President Karp’s assertion of the importance of publishing a diversity of voices is welcome, particularly since such thinking was lacking just four months ago:

On January 7, Simon & Schuster decided not to publish US Senator Josh Hawley’s The Tyranny of Big Tech. It was quickly picked up by Regnery and scheduled for spring publication.

Is Hawley beyond the pale but Pence barely acceptable? Or is there a new commitment to resisting those who would narrow the range of discourse? We don’t know.

What stood out for me, though, was the insight on the role of independent bookstore-owners in pushing cancel culture:

[W]hile the number of independent bookstores is actually growing, book sales in this area, after impressive growth in the early 2000s, have fallen back to 1990s levels.

The occasional cancellation of a controversial book is not “Orwellian,” as an understandably irked Senator Hawley called it. It is a commercial byproduct of concerns about irritating a vitally important distribution chain into a limited number of book outlets.

With the activist liberal inclinations of many booksellers, one or two of those can dampen the sales of hundreds of a publisher’s own new titles and those of its distribution clients as well — and for more than one season. That can be a tremendous competitive handicap.

Your friendly local independent bookstore may be worse than Amazon when it comes to censoring book publishing. At least when Amazon acts to ban a book, it is highly visible and can be protested — and, on occasion, Amazon can back away from censorship.

What gives Lipscomb hope is the precedent of an earlier wave of book cancelation that crumbled, thanks in part to his own actions:

This has happened before as well. In the aftermath of Watergate, a number of publishers organized a “don’t buy books by crooks” movement. No publisher was supposed to publish any book by members of the disgraced Richard Nixon administration. Later a separate activist group in Washington, DC, created posters, bumper stickers, even T-shirts.

I was president of Times Books at the time, then the New York Times Book Company. My editors thought this was ridiculous. How was history served by stifling the various testimonies that might emerge? We broke the boycott and published a book by Nixon’s chief of staff, H R Haldeman.

Haldeman’s The Ends of Power went to the top of the best-seller list and to the front page of every major newspaper with its revelations. The dam broke … we were soon followed by memoirs from John Ehrlichman and others, almost all best-sellers. It was a reminder that successful publishers serve the interests of their markets, not their own staffs’ predilections.

I wish I could be more confident that history will repeat itself. The media today are far more homogeneously left-wing and devoted to the destruction, not just the defeat, of their enemies. And generations of brainwashed products of left-wing higher education have been weaned away from any understanding of the Constitution and the importance of civility.

I’ll keep watching S&S and Amazon, and all the other organs of cultural dominance over which the left exercises control. Let’s hope Mr. Lipscomb’s optimism is warranted.