Racially Charged Books Send Booksellers Soul-Searching
The American political division has become extreme. You can even see it in places like the Amazon bestseller’s list. Recently topping the list: 1984, the dystopian novel of a totalitarian political regime, and Dangerous, the upcoming memoir by former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos. When Simon & Schuster announced it had acquired the rights to Yiannopoulos’ book, there was an immediate firestorm. Bestselling author Roxane Gay cut ties with the imprint and the Chicago Review of Books declared it wouldn’t review any Simon & Schuster books for as long as it worked with the author. Rebecca Scott has more on how the publishing industry caters to a divided America as an industry that relies on the patron dollars of both.
SCOTT: The publishing industry is in the business of selling ideas from the left and the right. . You can see this at the Barnes and Noble on 114th Street and Broadway. There’s a table of bestsellers at the front of the store and Tony Coleman, one of the store employees, says that’s where Yiannopoulos’ memoir Dangerous might end up.
TONY: If it were to be a bestseller or something like that, we would totally have it up there.
SCOTT: But selling books from both sides of the political spectrum can cause problems.
SISSON: We’ve gotten backlash from our customers over our decision to feature LGBTQ characters in our books.
SCOTT: That’s Laura Bryn Sisson, an assistant editor at Scholastic.
SISSON: I’ve read comments written in from customers who say they’ll never buy a Scholastic book from us again because of these decisions. And we stand by our decision to publish books that represent these diverse characters.
SCOTT: Simon & Schuster has a conservative imprint, Threshold Editions. Its published authors like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Trump. But none of these releases elicited the same kind of reaction that Dangerous has. That’s according to Jane Friedman, former CEO of Harper Collins. She says this is a unique moment in our country’s history.
FRIEDMAN: The political climate feels very different now. Prior to Trump’s winning the election, things felt more like business as usual. And now that a shock has been delivered, people are justifiably concerned, upset, and feel that they need to be much more active.
SCOTT: Friedman says it’s unlikely that boycotts will affect sales of Dangerous but concern over its brand might lead Simon & Schuster to reconsider publishing such an inflammatory author in the future.
FRIEDMAN: It’s really the bad publicity and worried stockholders that bring the company to heel. I think a lot more questions are going to be asked before they sort of cavalierly make an announcement like the one that was made with Milo’s book.
SCOTT: Back at Barnes and Noble, Tony says the bookselling business isn’t about making moral decisions for your consumers. He points to the feminist literature section of the store.
TONY: It’s okay to sell the book. I don’t think it makes us horrible. Roxane Gay is right there so it’s not like we’re favoring someone. It’s more what people want I guess.
SCOTT: And it seems like the people do want Dangerous. The book shot to number one on Amazon during pre-sales last week. This weem Yiannopoulos announced that the book release, originally scheduled for March, has been pushed back so that he can include material about the recent campus protests against him.
Rebecca Scott, Columbia Radio News.