A Role for Publishing in the Healing of our Nation

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From Publishing Perspectives:

The Association of American Publishers has announced this afternoon (January 27) that its directors have reelected Wiley president and CEO Brian Napack as AAP’s chair, with Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch chosen as vice-chair.

The board’s actions coincide, of course, with a sea-change in Washington, where the AAP is seated. With the American publishing industry for the most part having weathered the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic better than some thought it might, the coming months of political and public health challenges include uncertainty at many levels.

. . . .

“A vibrant, independent publishing industry plays an essential role in our democracy,” Napack says, “and this year, more than most, it will play critical role in the healing of our nation.

“It’s a privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with AAP and its member companies to pursue our critical mission, one that enables discovery, learning, creative expression and, overall, the advancement of society worldwide.”

. . . .

“We look forward to collaborating closely with the administration in the years ahead as we work to ensure that the publishing industry continues to make major contributions to our culture and economy, and that our members can fulfill their missions, promoting literature and poetry as engines of enlightened understanding, supporting education as a proven road to prosperity, and advancing scholarship and science as means of expanding our understanding of the world around us, and effectively addressing issues ranging from the current pandemic to climate change, in the process uniting our country.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that Wiley is largely a scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals publisher, a member of a group that, per several of PG’s prior posts, is well-known for charging very high prices for journal access to the colleges/universities that comprise a significant portion of its market. Such publishers typically don’t pay anything most of the authors who write the books/articles/etc. because those authors are often working in a publish or perish environment where the publication of their works in scholarly journals is vital to their continued employment.

PG suggests there’s not much that sounds independent to him about Wiley and its counterparts. They’re part of the establishment and, arguably, part of the problem.

The new vice-chair is, of course, the head of a subsidiary of a large French holding company, headquartered in Paris, which means the US subsidiary is anything but independent.

As far as healing the nation goes, PG would not advise counting on these two for much. They’re mostly into PR speak.

PG is, of course, hiding out from Covid and hoping he doesn’t need any healing from anything in the foreseeable future.

24 thoughts on “A Role for Publishing in the Healing of our Nation”

  1. Healing? The Reddit mob just clawed its way out of the soil to take on the Twitter mob. Ain’t no healing in sight.

  2. “It’s anticipated that the Biden administration will be fully supportive of the publishing industry’s First Amendment rights.”

    Brought to you by the people that pulled Josh Hawley’s book.

    • Among many…
      If it were just Hawley you could blame it at fear of the new admin.
      But their history of caving in to politically correct pressures *before* the pressure is long and craven.
      (Without going far, there’s the YA twitter mobs.)

    • Umm, also brought to you by the people who picked it up at Regnery (on relatively reliable scuttlebutt, without reading the manuscript), demonstrating that this wasn’t about government suppression of expression, which is the only thing that the First Amendment protects.

      The First Amendment has a “freedom of association” right, too; and if the “freedom of speech, or the press,” aspect applies to private parties, so too does the right of S&S to no longer be “associated with” Hawley (whom I hold well below minimal professional regard). And that is precisely the point behind why the First Amendment does not restrict nongovernmental actors.

      There are times that the private actor is so transparently and directly being controlled by a government entity that the private actor is, or should be, subject to at least some First Amendment skepticism when it suppresses opposing views. (Hello, Voice of America, a nongovernmental corporation!) This… is not one of those times; and even if it was, the proposed purchase of S&S by a foreign entity rather undercuts that, doesn’t it?

      • Actually, the First Amendment can restrict private actors, if the government has pressured those actors to restrict others’ First Amendment rights (so instead of the government doing it directly, it forces or entices others to restrict).

        • Tony, technically, the First Amendment doesn’t restrict a private actor under the circumstances you’ve described; the First Amendment restricts government actions as to that private actor. The “Can a social media provider allow a government official to block constituents?” mini-controversy is a good example: If you carefully read all of the opinions, none of them relate to what the social media platform can (or cannot) do, but to what the government actor may tell the social media platform to do (or not do).

          The hairs, they be split mighty fine. (And anyone who brings up the example of “the phone company” is going to have to delve into the history of “regulated natural monopolies,” and will then discover that it’s still about what the government can/cannot tell Ma Bell to do, and what Ma Bell agrees to do in return for its regulated natural monopoly. Besides, “common carrier doctrine” is largely out of date!)

          • About common carrier: a lot of the griping about Amazon by the publishing establishment often seems driven by the assumption that Amazon is one such and exists solely to advance the economic interests of the BPHs. It got pretty silly back during the Hachette catfight with people that should’ve known better making ludicrous accusations.

            The borders of economics, politics, and rights tend to overlap in a nebulous zone where nobody can pin down exactly what is going on without telepathy. (Or smoking gun emails.) Or wants to out of self-interest.

        • PBS receives a grant from the government. It is a separately chartered corporation, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to be. (It is not separately chartered in the same way as the USPS.) My recollection is that the American Red Cross is similar, but it’s been a while since I’ve looked at that and I know that there has been at least one major charter change for the ARC.

          “Funded in part by the government” isn’t enough to force that particular actor to be “an arm of the government” for First Amendment purposes. It would require things that PBS doesn’t have, like Senate confirmation of membership on the Board of Directors and such. (That’s what is constantly getting some Texas “corporations” in trouble — under state law, those “outsourcing” corporations have their Boards appointed by the Governor and/or Legislature.)

          • That’s part of the fun.
            Universities also receive funding from the government but, boy, does it come with strings.

      • Re: “…without reading the manuscript”
        Maybe they read the proposal. Publishers sign authors all the time without reading the manuscript.

        Correct that S&S did not commit legal a violation but certainly crossed an ethical threshold just as Twitter had. Free speech value goes beyond the First Amendment. It’s far from black and white. I served four years in the Navy and can assure you I did not have free speech, free press, or freedom to assemble. I can cuss my boss and get fired. No free speech there. S&S made a “cancel culture” decision and their free to do it.

        In doing so, I hope they don’t publish any book that could even possibly contain violence or speech that might encourage another to act with violence. They should go through their entire catalog and clean that up. Unpublish those thousands of books that might trigger someone. I hope they’re that woke. I’m sure they’ll do that just as Twitter has suspended all those on the Right and the Left that spews hate.

        • This is incredibly mixed. That is the nature of arguing about free speech, by the way, so don’t take that as “you’re wrong.”

          What we’re actually dealing with here is, in the abstract, brand association. Consider athletes who lose their endorsement deals — deals that purportedly arise from their athletic excellence alone — due to a domestic-violence arrest/conviction (I’m thinking specifically of a certain former Baltimore Ravens running back, but there are more examples than I could shake a stick at… presuming that “shaking a stick” isn’t just a bit reflexive). That is precisely what happened here, with the distinction that the “product” is more closely wound up with legitimate free-speech concerns.

          Now if all of the commercial publishers out there had banded together and determined that Mr Hawley was no longer entitled to a commercial publishing venue, that would be different. Here, we’ve got one actor; and, ironically, S&S distributes Regnery’s books, so at least some parts of S&S will continue to be associated with him!

          My comment about “not having read the manuscript” was both imprecise — the scuttlebutt I’m hearing is that nobody looked at anything related to the content except the year-old half-page pitch letter vaguely describing the subject matter — and pointed at the primary value of associational branding, not actual speech, that’s reflected in this incident.

          I was subject to Article 88, so do I ever know about voluntarily accepted restrictions on speech as a condition of “employment.” This really doesn’t have anything to do with “wokeness” any more than it has to do with, say, a Christian school expelling an entire family because a second-grade girl expresses that she has a “crush” on another second-grade girl. It’s about associational branding.

  3. They forgot to add the question mark at the end of the title.
    Then we could answer: no.

    The writing establishment is too insular and think too highly of themselves to have anything positive to contribute to any public discourse, regardless of subject. They are so far out of touch they don’t even see the next populist stepping up to the battlelines. The 2024 election will be over beford they realize what the issues even are.

    • Another excellent point, Felix.

      I was reminded of an ancient phrase, Medice, cura te ipsum, better known as “Physician, heal thyself”, from Luke 4:23.

      However, Big Publishing is purposefully unaware of any shortcomings on its own part, so it’s not going to be much good in healing anything.

  4. Two side comments on Wiley that demonstrate just how screwed up “publishing” is:

    (1) A number of Wiley academic journals are actually vanity presses. Just ask an academic about “page charges” some time. Indeed, in some academic grant programs one is required to set aside money from the grant for the page charges expected when results are published!

    (2) Wiley also has trade books. Trade books just about as far from high-end academia as one can expect. This series in particular. Whether Wiley is still trying to impose (unlawful) work-for-hire contracts on freelance authors for that series is not known to me.

    So, if anything, PG has been much too generous and polite here.

    • “page charges” in themselves do not indicate an academic vanity press. They are just one of the alternative business models publishers are adopting in the face of pressure from the open access movement. This should not matter as long as the standards for acceptance of an article and for its peer review are not compromised (they should be the same as those applying where the journal is funded by subscription, other than the initial “can you pay” filter that is now applied to the detriment of academics from poorer societies). The set aside from grant money should only be a shuffling around of resources previously going to the institution’s library budget.

      Of course, there are hundreds (thousands?) of academic vanity journals out there who will publish anything that comes with money attached. I can’t say where Wiley’s open access journals fall in this ecosystem, but I doubt that they really fit the “vanity” model, though things like the “Manuscript Transfer Program” do feel a little like some of the things trade publishers have got up to. At least they do not seem to be making their money by selling expensive and useless marketing packages!

      I’ve always felt that the real problem with academic journals was the huge profits that are being extracted by the publishers for work paid for by the public purse and written up and reviewed for free.

      • Dunno.
        Isn’t the definition of a vanity press an operation that makes its money off the author instead of the reader? If the product isn’t profitable by itself why publish it? At least the BPHs only publish what they think will sell and only charge in IP currency. There is *some* validation in it (for those that care about it) that they are willing to invest even minor sums in the product.

        Vanities don’t care about sales or lack thereof.

        One is tempted to associate the declining quality of published science reports and the regular retractions to the business model.

      • No.

        If the author pays to be published, and doesn’t have legal title to the material as it comes off the press, it’s vanity publishing. (If the author does have legal title to the material as it comes off the press, it’s self-publishing.)

        Whether gussied up as “page charges” or “editorial process fees” or “mandatory offprint purchase” or anything else, it’s still vanity publishing.

        • We’ll have to agree to disagree on this.

          If we were talking about trade publishing of books I’d have no problem with your definition of vanity publishing, but as applied to genuine academic journals I don’t find your approach useful. If you still want to call it vanity publishing then fine, but to my mind it just obfuscates what is going on.

          Whether the payment to the publishers comes from the institution paying subscriptions or “page charges”, the only thing that really changes is that in the latter case the paper becomes freely available (and that when the author sends someone a copy they are no longer pirating the journals work in editing and formatting the document).

          • The academic publishing industry has been making this claim for about forty-five years, since several publishers were reprimanded by Thatcher’s government for misleading aspiring academic authors — primarily newly-minted PhDs seeking academic appointments, and needing publishing credits to get considered for them. Those efforts never took off Over Here because the class of persons protected from “deceptive acts and practices” is much narrower… although there were a number of scandals in the early 2000s for purported “journals” in philosophy, sociology, and history that ended up being quietly settled after the journals lost motions to dismiss or demands to arbitrators for declaration, proclaiming very much the theory outlined above.

            The actual charges by a vanity publisher can be called whatever they like (remember “cooperative fees”?). If one actually reads the publication agreements with the journals, one will find no correlation whatsoever between “page charges” and “author’s right to freely reproduce copies.” So I’m afraid I cannot buy this position without a lot of documentation otherwise… and functionally, it’s still “pay to be published,” which is what a “vanity publishing agreement” is by its very nature.

          • Try this:
            If they are charging the author for putting a document on paper (or online) and distributing it, helping the author monetize their work (say, Ingram Spark), that is “publishing services”. If they take control of the IP and share revenues with the author, that is tradpub.

            If they charge the author *and* take control of the IP, that is vanity of the worst kind.

            Saying “we’re academic, we’re different” is a smokescreen. It’s the old “we’re special” scam the BPHs floated when they were caught price fixing.

            They didn’t create anything and they’re not paying anything to those who did. That is vanity, absolutely.

            It’s no different than this:


            If it walks like a duck and all that…

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