Monday, February 16, 2009

Corporate Interests in Publishing

I once again am curious about how much our current publishing crisis can be traced to all the corporate interests that bought up book publishers when they thought book publishing could be profitable. The crisis in newspapers has a similar story to tell, right?

Today, though, thanks to links over at BookNinja, I was going to mention the ugly story of McGraw-Hill deciding not to publish Bailout Nation: How Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy by Barry Ritholz (who is a blogger himself) because it was critical of Standard & Poor's, which is owned by McGraw Hill. It is fun to note the difference in reporting: here is the business take from Bloomberg and here is the publishing / author take from the Bookseller. But perhaps most interesting of all is the take straight from the author himself. This is one of those fantastic inside-baseball, behind-the-scenes posts where you hear how editors sometimes must act as corporate shills - and note, the editor in question was not rewarded for it: He told the author that "the ratings agencies discussions would have to be handled 'delicately and diplomatically.'" That was over the summer. This same editor, Herb Schaffner, would be laid off "in a big Q4 round of firings" at McGraw Hill.

It is well worth reading through the details as posted by Ritholz - it's a gruesome tale. He'll be fine, as he now has multiple publishers swooping in to publish this book and use its back story to further advance copies. (Fair play!) But this is a powerful example of the problematic ties between corporations that own a number of subsidiaries in a number of fields and try to keep them all friendly with each other. When one of those fields is publishing, something built on new ideas and free speech, we see serious problems. (As I've mentioned before, I do appreciate the mocking this kind of corporate insanity receives on 30 Rock, mostly in the form of fatcat Alec Baldwin.)

I feel bad for the editor, and all the editors that must balance corporate interests in with all the other issues they're trying to address in their work.

It's also interesting to note yet another example of an author going right online with his case, and with a whole lot of material, to prove his innocence. On this post, he includes revised versions of pieces of the manuscript and footnotes, all of which he has every right to post. He's making the case the he himself did not expose this story to the media but now that it's out there, he can explain himself and his position as an author at a massive corporate publisher. As more such cases emerge and more authors speak out and get attention for it, perhaps publishers will work more in partnership with authors rather than seeing them as disposable manufacturers churning out products they depend on. As authors are expected to do more marketing, more publicity, more leg work all around on behalf of their books, then publishers must also know that they are armed with tools to broadcast their complaints.

And for us? Sometimes it makes for some damn good reading.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

A small follow up on Brian's smart post here. In December the New York Observer ran an article about this very thing told from the perspective of a young hot shot named Erik Wolff. If you are curious or want more than we can do here feel free to go check it out at: