Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Industry Disgracefully Challenges Free Speech

It seems like the issues of book bans, censorship, and boycotts never seem to go away.  Even in America, where free speech is discussed, taught, encouraged, and praised we continue to come across cases that challenge us.  The latest such firestorm is over the announced book deal for conservative loudmouth Milo Yiannopoulos.

I must profess I never heard of this guy before last week.  From what I have discovered about him, there’s little to like but I’m prepared to defend his right to be published and the right of his publisher, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to publish him.  Free speech is more important than any one person or book.

So what’s the controversy?  Well, it is two-fold.  The initial controversy is over whether Milo deserves a platform.  The Donald Trump supporter has compared Islam to cancer, mocked transgender people, and suggested women who are harassed online should stay off the Internet.  He’s a senior editor at Breitbart News. Over the summer Twitter banned him because he violated the platform’s rules on hate speech and harassment.

He got a six-figure advance. I say, so what?

If you don’t want to buy or read it, don’t.

It’s that simple.  The publisher sees an opportunity to make money by publishing his diatribe.  That’s capitalism.  The publisher also helps create a dialogue, which is what books should do.  It people read it and disagree with the book, they will be inspired to act.

But when one person or group says someone doesn’t have the right to talk or publish the words of others, we sink far lower than Milo’s actual words.  The reaction to the planned publishing of the book has been swift.

Some of it you expect – fellow authors criticizing the deal or experts questioning what he could offer readers.  But some of the reaction is an overreach.  Not only are some calling for a boycott of the book, but a boycott of the publisher’s catalog of books.  One misintentioned media outlet, The Chicago Review of Books, said it would not review any of the company’s books this year.

Once you get into punishing the publisher beyond the targeted book you cross the line.  What you are then doing is punitively going after free speech itself.  Those in the book world who engage in or endorse such behavior are barbarians, hypocrites of the highest order.  We don’t just publish or read books that we like or agree with our views; we engage in the thoughts, ideas, experiences and opinions of all in order to properly make an informed conclusion.

It pains me to have to bitch-slap those in the book publishing and news media world.  But anyone who shits all over the First Amendment is asking us to go back into tyranny, anarchy, and the Dark Ages.

Luckily, others are speaking out against the haters.  English PEN and these groups have defended the Milo book deal:  National Coalition Against Censorship, American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Foundation, American Booksellers Association, Association of American Publishers, Author’s Guild, Index or Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

The passion behind the boycotts is understandable.  The reaction is not, however, in proportion to the situation.  No book, however offensive, controversial, or ugly, should be banned, and no publisher, printer, bookstore, or author should be threatened for its role in publishing and selling the book.  Further, to take the argument beyond that specific book, and to issue a war on all books of a publisher, store, or author is to turn the argument away from one book and to threaten all books.

Yes, free speech allows for others to criticize the publisher and author, and I encourage such behavior.  But when we look to extort a publisher, we’ve gone too far.

The controversy, of course, has sparked the exact opposite outcome that protestors were hoping for:  the book is a big seller months before its scheduled release.  Amazon said it became the No. 1 seller one day after being announced.

Twitter, where he’s banned, noted its number one trending topic was Milo in the U.S.

Do I plan to buy his book?  No.  I don’t have an interest in reading the misinformed opinions of a right-wing hater.  I didn’t buy Glen Beck’s books, nor those of Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, or Rush Limbaugh for the same reason.  But I support their publishers for choosing to publish them and would never think to call for a backlash against the publishers or stores that produced or sold such books.

I care more about free speech than the contents of that speech. I care more about protecting all of our rights then concerning myself if a bad apple benefits as s result. The best way to contain speech we disagree with is to let it get published and use your free speech rights to counter, correct, and place it into context. You can protest by not buying the book, by encouraging others not to buy it, by criticizing the book publicly, by countering with a book of your own, and by helping others to learn why this book is wrong in facts or intentions. 

Free speech is challenging, but we should keep it simple.  Just acknowledge that writers can say what they want, provided it’s factual and doesn’t violate copyright, libel, or slander, or defamation laws.  Publishers have the right to publish all viewpoints.  Stores can sell such books.  Readers can choose what to buy and they reserve the right to protest and to criticize.  But keep it contained.  Once we raise an issue that goes beyond a specific book, we create a nuclear war scenario that no one wins.

All-New 2017 Book Marketing & PR Toolkit 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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