From The New Republic:
On Monday, February 29, a judge in Monroe County, Alabama sealed Harper Lee’s will from public view. The motion was filed by the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, which was acting on behalf of Tonja Carter, Lee’s lawyer and the executor of her estate.
The decision to seal the will became public last Friday, and it was immediately controversial. This has been true of every legal move involving Lee and Carter over the last few years, even before the furor following the announcement, in February of last year, that Carter had “discovered” a lost sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.
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We may never know what Lee’s will stipulates, but the estate’s first action in the wake of Lee’s death is both bold and somewhat baffling: The New Republic has obtained an email from Hachette Book Group, sent on Friday, March 4 to booksellers across the country, revealing that Lee’s estate will no longer allow publication of the mass-market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.
According to the email, which a number of booksellers in multiple states have confirmed that they received a variation of, no other publisher will be able to produce the edition either, meaning there will no longer be a mass-market version of To Kill a Mockingbird available in the United States. Mass-market paperbacks are smaller and significantly cheaper than trade paperbacks—sometimes called “airport books,” mass-market paperbacks are typically available in non-bookstore retail outlets, like airports and supermarkets. The most popular mass-market paperback of the last few years is almost certainly the stout paperbacks of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Another place people are likely to encounter mass-market paperbacks is in schools, where they are popular due to their low cost.
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Why does this matter? Mass-market books are significantly cheaper than their trade paperback counterparts. Hachette’s mass-market paperback of TKAM retails for $8.99, while the trade paperbacks published by Hachette’s rival HarperCollins go for $14.99 and $16.99. Unsurprisingly, the more accessible mass-market paperback sellssignificantly more copies than the trade paperback: According to Nielsen BookScan, the mass-market paperback edition of To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 55,376 copies since January 1, 2016, while HarperCollins’s trade paperback editions have sold 22,554 copies over the same period.
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Of course, the book will still be available in any public library in the country, and used copies are available on Amazon for prices as low as 40 cents (plus shipping and handling). But the disappearance of the mass-market edition could have a significant impact on schools. The fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is both so accessible to young readers and so widely taught in America is crucial to its cultural importance. In 1988, the National Council of Teachers of English reported that To Kill a Mockingbird was taught in a whopping 74 percent of schools and that “Only Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Huckleberry Finn were assigned more often.” Today, To Kill a Mockingbird has almost certainly surpassed the controversial Finn as the most assigned novel in America’s middle- and high schools, and those often cash-strapped schools are far more likely to buy the cheaper mass-market edition than the more expensive trade paperback. According to the email sent by Hachette to booksellers, “more than two-thirds of the 30 million copies sold worldwide since publication have been Hachette’s low-priced edition.”
Without a mass-market option, schools will likely be forced to pay higher prices for bulk orders of the trade paperback edition—and given the perilous state of many school budgets, that could very easily lead to it being assigned in fewer schools.
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It’s unclear why Lee’s estate would make a decision that so directly threatens the legacy of To Kill a Mockingbird, by damaging the link between the book and schools, and the email from Hachette offers no answers. The text of one email obtained by theNew Republic suggests that the mass-market edition will no longer be published “per the author’s wishes,” while an attached PDF states something slightly different: “As of 4/25/16 there will no longer be a mass-market edition of To Kill a Mockingbirdavailable from any publisher in the U.S. as per the wishes of the author’s estate.” Neither Hachette nor HarperCollins would comment on the Lee estate, and requests for comment sent to both Tonja Carter and her attorney were not returned.
Link to the rest at The New Republic and thanks to Nathan and others for the tip.