Celebrating the Book Publishing Tradition
While working on this issue, I was struck by two things. The first was the comment by Eric Miller, president of the National Association of Independent Reps (NAIPR), in Gene Schwartz’s column “Deconstructing Distribution” (page 34), about why many people in the book publishing industry persist despite facing many significant challenges. “To have a bookstore is part of the American dream,” he said.
Shortly after reading his comment, I stumbled upon another very powerful quote along similar lines on the Web site for Independent Publisher magazine (formerly called Small Press). In the magazine’s first issue in 1983, Allan Kornblum, founder and publisher of Coffee House Press, was quoted as saying:
“We are part of a long tradition, we publishers, printers, editors and booksellers. Our shops have been destroyed, books have been censored and burned, and we have been imprisoned, exiled, sent to concentration camps, hung
and burned at the stake. … We have also helped fan the flames of noble revolutions, both political and social. A working knowledge of the history of printing, the book arts and the book industry can help establish a vital sense of identity that can sometimes keep a harassed publisher from giving up.”
In every issue of Book Business, we talk about book publishing as a business, and share insights on overcoming challenges and pursuing new opportunities, all to help publishers succeed in their businesses. But it’s not so often that we celebrate what the industry does—the fact that it continues to do all of the things Mr. Kornblum mentioned more than 20 years ago.
The book industry has always spread information that helps enrich people’s lives, and it continues to do so today—whether through the joy and cultural enrichment of reading a great piece of literature or through professional books that help people do their jobs better, make more money and improve their quality of life. Maybe it’s through religious or self-help books that enrich people’s lives spiritually, or through educational books that help educate our nation. Or maybe it’s by spreading political insights that help shape our nation’s political culture and inform its people. The list goes on and on.
Fortunately, despite the many challenges, criticisms, protests and sometimes danger, the industry does persist. Unfortunately, so does book burning and banning.
In 2001, a group of people in New Mexico burned “Harry Potter” books, alongside books by Stephen King and other books they considered to be works of the devil. Other groups have targeted the J.K. Rowling books as well and called upon their members to protest at bookstores, organize book burnings and even grab the books from people’s hands to set them aflame. Last year, someone set fire to a section of gay and lesbian literature in the Chicago Public Library. And these are just a couple of examples. There are many more stories that could be told.
HarperCollins—the subject of this issue’s cover story (page 18)—has, like many other publishers, faced its share of protest and controversy. The company’s children’s group even has a Web page (www.HarperChildrens.com/Features/Banned.htm) that continues to promote the “Freedom to Read.” It says:
“People have been banning books since 387 B.C. Today, in all 50 states, individuals and groups alike continue to attempt to restrict our freedom of access to written works they deem objectionable. We here at HarperCollins Children’s Books are committed to discussing and defending issues surrounding the First Amendment to the Constitution. This site was set up to promote Banned Books Week 1995 (Sept. 21-28), and will remain as a permanent resource for those who want information about censorship.”
While we don’t celebrate it enough, the world owes an immeasurable debt to this industry.