The Bookseller – Commentary – Publishers seek to smother raging fires at AAP meeting


Opening the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers, Chairman Michael Pietsch, chief executive of the Hachette Book Group, described the AAP as the “common meeting ground” to fight the “raging fires” of the “largest set of concurrent challenges that publishers have faced for a generation”. “: plague, war, supply chain, lack of diversity, climate change, “outrageous” book bans and “relentless” attempt to weaken copyright.

A roster of fine speakers, including actress Viola Davis, public health expert and psychologist Dr Arthur Evans, Jr, and Russian expert Anne Applebaum, recently in Ukraine, explained the challenges with urgency and insight.

First, a report from AAP CEO Maria Pallante. On Free Expression, she spoke of “thousands” of books surveyed “with spine-chilling scrutiny”. Parents and communities have a role in education, but this “has constitutional limits which do not extend to capricious actions”. She pointed out that the AAP supports the NAACP in its recent fight against a Missouri district’s attempt to remove books from school libraries, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Pallante quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, pointing out that the framers of the Constitution considered “copyright itself to be the engine of free speech.” Now Big Tech is threatening that engine; last year, its lobbyists spent $70 million to influence the federal government. In response, the AAP is working to help pass the U.S. Online Innovation and Choice Act, legislation that could begin to ‘crack down’ on tech companies’ self-preference, using data non-public to manipulate online sales, etc. Pallante also referenced the AAP’s role in combating technological misinformation, as well as ongoing battles against the Internet Archive and the State of Maryland over illegal scanning.

The International Prize for Freedom to Publish was awarded to Guatemalan Raul Figueroa Sarti, founder of F&G Editores thirty years ago, and harassed since for promoting the truth in a country whose political battles and corruption have claimed 200,000 lives and 40,000 missing. “This award encourages us to continue,” Sarti said.

Most fascinating was Poland-based Anne Applebaum, who published four books with Doubleday’s Kristine Puopolo – including Gulag and Twilight of Democracy – and answered her editor’s questions. Why this tendency to autocracy? “Remember the iPhone was invented in 2007. With the amount of information available today, it feels like we can’t keep up or know what’s true, and people feel nostalgic about it. a ‘simpler’ time.” This desire to “bring the past to life, make it real in the present, is what we saw in Putin’s Soviet-style parade on May 9 – the parody version.” In the United States, this nostalgia breeds a desire for a more “hierarchical” time – and authoritarian politics.

“The answer is not censorship, but the regulation of algorithms favoring constructive speech over emotion and anger.”

Applebaum spoke of déjà vu about Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine: it was “exactly what the Red Army did in 1944 in eastern Poland”, the same tactics, murdering and arresting mayors and journalists, attacking civilians. Further back there was the mass violence, murder and food withdrawal that caused the Ukrainian famine under Stalin. “I thought I was writing about the past,” she said, but instead “I discovered I was writing about the future.”

Three weeks ago, Applebaum interviewed Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine for The Atlantic. He made plenty of pop culture references, including Monty Python and Groundhog Day. We understand why, and not just because the Ukrainian president was a former comedian. The United States and its allies are finally stepping up, providing the weapons it needs, “getting closer to where we should be, understanding that Ukraine can win.” If not, Applebaum warned, Russia would be empowered to invade “Poland, the Baltic states, even Germany.” Deterrence prevented war in Europe for decades; “It’s a lesson I hope is learned around the world.”

As for what publishing can do, we should “give voice to Russians who have a different view.” The distribution of Western authors in Russia must be continued. China will be “even more complicated”, given its censorship of foreign writers. There are things we can do to keep Western books translated in China, but be “very careful” that “what you post there stays true” to what was written. Finally, in the United States itself, “the answer is not censorship, but the regulation of algorithms favoring constructive speech rather than emotion and anger”. And think about “what would public service social media look like” to encourage better forms of conversation online and offline.


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