Thursday, May 24, 2007

Stockholders revolt!

Now this is kind of terrifying to me, folks.

Galleycat reports that CBS stockholders are unhappy about Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. (She is basing her link on a New York Sun piece, but I'm just not linking to them. I've already linked to other gross publications, and maybe even the Sun, but I have to draw a line somewhere.) CBS of course owns the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

So terrifying, yes. That stockholders, led by a woman named Carol Greenwald of the organization Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (surely there's dirt on THEM - what's their agenda?), are trying to dictate what to publish and how to publish it is just bizarre, but are we surprised? As a subsidiary of a big corporation, you have to take the benefits, such as "synergy" (read: 60 Minutes exclusives), with the nasty.

In fairness, they're taking issue with the fact that the book may be "error-filled," which it very well might be, and yes, that's a huge problem. And this does call into question the publisher's responsibility on fact-checking, which as I understand it has weakened over the years, along with contractual language putting the responsibility back on the author as much as possible. Publishers do need to step up and take more responsibility for the content of their books.

But it also calls to mind my general reaction whenever I flip through a catalog by one of these giant corporate publishers. It's a chore any author who may sign up with one should do. It's schizophrenic at best! HarperCollins, for examples, sends their batch of catalogs, with all their imprints, and my friends, your head spins as you flip. From business books appropriating language of revolution to tawdry novels to high-end literary fiction to books on adorable puppies, it's just a mess, with no mission or over-arching raison d'etre. It's page after page of product, full of whatever might sell. You can imagine a stockholder flipping through, seemingly unaware of this wild range of topics, of books that blatantly argue against each other within the same catalog, and thinking, "Now THIS STUFF will fly off the shelves!"

I'm all for a variety of voices, but this increasing corporatization of publishing leads to a loss in identity for publishers, which in turn weakens the consumer's ability to sort through books. More immediately, it weakens the bookseller's ability to build any trusting relationship based on quality of books over quantity that could move. I know there are economic realities, for booksellers and publishers, but in weakening brands, publishing house names, this corporate culture weakens the book world and will lead more quickly to the movement toward electronic books that are all about the final product and not about the process (editing, production). Soon, what we love about books is gone.

Go crazy stockholders, but the rest of us should see this as a warning. If you *have* stockholders, they'll weaken your list, force you to sell sell sell, and ultimately ruin book culture. That's my dire, dramatic, "why isn't anyone thinking of the CHILDREN!?!?!" moment for the day.

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