Some years back I was talking to an editor. At the time I was a pretty bright-faced newbie. We were discussing the job of acquisition editors—in other words, the choices publishers make in deciding what books they buy and what books they don’t.
The guy described the final assessment as this: “If we can make money, we’ll publish it.”
That was it. It didn’t matter about content. Write about anything you want to write about. Drugs, violence, perversion, sex, mother, fathers, assholes, brilliance, human sacrifice, how to vivisection a mouse, mah jong…whatever, and the only question on his mind was how much money the publisher could make from it.
I remember this disturbed me. And, to be fair, it disturbed the editor, too. He understood what that was saying about the moral position of the company he worked for. Of course, that’s the moral position of every company in existence. Companies are not people. Companies, when pushed into a corner, will almost unanimously make decisions that result in them acquiring the most money. This is what they do.
Note, though, that through it all, the editor in question was clear and adamant that this was not about freedom of speech and not about censorship. The concept that the content itself made no difference in the decision was something he was quite committed to, and he would brook no argument on these kinds of political grounds. “We do not censor,” he specifically said. “We, frankly, do not care about anything except how much money we think we can make with a book.”
I’m thinking about this today specifically due to the news that Simon and Schuster has cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos’s controversial book Dangerous, for which he was paid a quarter of a million dollars in advance of royalties.
I have no idea of what’s going on in the background of this decision. I have no idea of the discussions that Simon and Schuster have had. I understand Yiannopoulos has been found to have made comments regarding activities that most everyone would consider to be in support of pedophilia. It’s easy to link the two and say S&S suddenly got some kind of an ethical backbone and decided Yiannopoulos had finally gone just way too far.
But seriously, all I could do when I heard this comment was remember the pained look on this guy’s face as he said “We don’t care.”
So, yeah, maybe S&S made a moral or ethical decision.
But the fact that Simon and Shuster already gave Yiannopoulos a quarter million dollars says they do not censor. That fact alone says they do not care. So the fact that they are taking back that quarter of a mil tells me that something else happened–something that almost certainly has more to do with the pocket book than any reflection in any mirror. My purely wild-assed guess is that someone with big pockets called someone else and threatened to pull a plug somewhere else.
But what the heck do I know?