Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored

 

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  #288
by Pat Holt

Friday, December 14, 2001

 







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SPECIAL ISSUE:
  HAS MICHAEL MOORE'S BOOK BEEN DELAYED OR CENSORED?
THAT FUNNY LETTER FROM AMAZON.COM
NOTE TO READERS
LETTERS

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HAS MICHAEL MOORE'S BOOK BEEN DELAYED OR CENSORED?

Michael Moore may have thought he squashed rumors when he gave an interview to Page Six of the New York Post about why ReganBooks/HarperCollins withdrew his latest book from publication in September.

The book, "Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the Nation," which is critical of George W. Bush and others of his administration, has been kept in the warehouse "for obvious reasons," says Page Six, quoting a HarperCollins representative who said that "both Moore and ReganBooks thought its publication would be insensitive, given the events of Sept. 11."

The rumor that needed to be quelled, Moore thought, was the one spreading like a (publishing) house afire that HarperCollins had ordered Moore to rewrite the book and "tone down his criticism of President Bush."

"I'm not revising the book," Moore said in the interview. "I believe HarperCollins is a publisher that supports a diversity of ideas. I have no doubt that they will do the right thing." To that carefully worded statement, he described "Stupid White Men" as "a book of political humor. I think we could all use a bit of relief right now, and I think the book will do very well."

Hmm. Sounds a little carefully worded, no? Not like the flamboyant and incendiary Michael Moore of "Roger and Me" or "Downsize This!"?

Well, here's one thing to remember: Time was (Before the Internet), a controversial person like Michael Moore could say one thing to the press and another thing to a private group and never worry about getting, you know, caught.

But members of the New Jersey Citizen Action group remember a different story that Moore told them when he gave a keynote speech at their convention, held early this month.

He seems not to have known that librarians would be attending the convention, and that the matter of "censorship by HarperCollins of his book" - if that's indeed what it is - should be reported and examined on the Internet.

One of those librarians wrote a story - for a listserv called "Library Juice" - called "Michael Moore's New Book Isn't," in which Moore and his publisher don't sound so cozy about yanking the book from publication.

Moore, the librarian writes, did agree when HarperCollins canceled his book tour because of the events of September 11.

But then "the other shoe fell," the librarian says. Not only did Moore not agree that the book should be withheld from publication, "he reported that the publisher also told him that he (Moore) is being 'intellectually dishonest' not to state that GW Bush has done a good job in the last few months. Moore said that he has been told that the book will NOT be distributed as is, will be destroyed, and that if he will rewrite AND pay for the reprinting of the book HarperCollins will publish the new version!!"

Goodness. That would be an extraordinary charge, if true. Moore then read some of the apparently offensive material, including an open letter to Bush, the librarian reports, but "when asked by the audience what he would like them to do about this censorship, Moore said to do nothing right now - that not only are his lawyers and other powers he has to bring to bear doing their thing, but that he feels that there are more important things for people to be protesting and working on in this new period than getting his book out of limbo."

But "to do nothing" is not an option, the librarian believes, because "from all that [Moore] said, this is NOT a question of the CIA or the government demanding that a publisher stop publication for national security or some other well-known reason. The publisher just decided to walk away from the money -- the books ALREADY printed and sitting in a warehouse -- because of the current war-inspired, anti-dissent atmosphere. Even satire is biting the dust, by the publisher's own hand."

And here is the call to librarians that perhaps could be taken to heart by all readers: "I understand Moore's position that with [Attorney General] Ashcroft and the others running amok with military tribunals, new surveillance plans, detentions, etc., the censorship by HarperCollins of his book is the least of the trouble we are in. Maybe he and his band of lawyers will succeed. But as librarians, it seems we are obligated to follow this up, find out some more, and make a response."

Well to some (okay, to me), what the librarian calls "the censorship by HarperCollins of his book" is among the WORST of the "trouble we are in," because if this story is accurate, it's a sign of a book publisher caving in to what it perceives as political or social pressure, and not standing up for its author.

Michael Moore has made his reputation as an important, insensitive, reckless, (for some) embarrassing and (for others - myself included) courageous author and filmmaker. That's why he has built up the audience that wants to hear from him. Sign him up for a book, and you get more Michael Moore. Withhold his book, even temporarily, and you censor him.

(Let's take the opposite stance - let's say the librarian misunderstood Moore's remarks, or that Moore exaggerated some aspects of his experience. So be it: I'd rather have an atmosphere of debate and scrutiny, of charges being leveled and reports of those charges zipping around the Internet, than an atmosphere in which we all passively accept a single company line that's agreed to in carefully worded language by author and publisher."

The librarian ends her report by cautioning her colleagues: "And if you ordered 'Stupid White Men...' prepub for your library, well, don't hold your breath."

Gad,that's painful. That doesn't demonstrate belief in the publishing process. So come on, HarperCollins! Get the book out and help librarians to stop holding their collective breath! Get Michael Moore back in print so we know that free speech and a free exchange of ideas are alive and well in post 9-11 America.

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THAT FUNNY LETTER FROM AMAZON.COM

What's going on with Amazon.com NOW? In the past few days, over 20 small publishers have received letters from Amazon informing them that their last shipment arrived damaged and is being returned, and could they please switch their shipping to UPS. (This I hear from subscribers to the listserv PubForum.) Many of these publishers have dealt with Amazon for years and never had a problem with damages -- indeed, some ship via Federal Express Ground. Publishers also report that Amazon in the last month ordered more inventory than usual, so there's talk of some kind of scam. But who can figure? Amazon needs a hunnert million, not pocket change, to survive this fourth quarter. Still, it sure sounds fishy.

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NOTE TO READERS

Because of this special issue I've postponed the Isabel Allende interview and more Booksellers Websites to next week.

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LETTERS

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Thought you might be interested in this juxtaposition. The Hollywood Reporter this week (12/10) had a brief item about the Supervisory Board of Bertelsmann giving CEO Thomas Middelhoff a $20 million bonus for his highly profitable stewardship of the company over the last year. This week, in the midst of the holiday season, quite a few employees of Random House (a Bertelsmann division) received additional news: that they were being let go in order to cut expenses during the recession. And it was only a couple months back that Middelhoff, during an address to Random House employees in New York, said that RH employees should be as committed to Bertelsmann as he was to them. Thanks for your commitment, Tom.

Anonymous Reader

Holt responds: This is even more intriguing given the Guardian UK's story about Bertelsmann's "cash-rich" status and expansion plans:

"Bertelsmann, the German media giant, is looking to go on a spending spree, with EMI still on its shopping list and DM20bn (£6.3bn) due to flow into its coffers from disposals. The highly ambitious private company is in a fortunate position, being cash rich and in expansionist mode just as rivals are suffering from a severe downturn in earnings ... In the first half of next year, Bertelsmann will be sitting on a huge cash pile, which could be leveraged to increase its war chest still further. The plan is to expand ahead of a public flotation scheduled for 2004."

New Dear Holt Uncensored:

Based on your twisted logic, all merchandise or property should be one-time use only, including houses, cars and everything else that is made. Books, as well. Do you pay the contractor his full price when you sell your house for more than you paid for it? If you don't, then you are "depriving" him of making a fair living. %^&!!@E$%T^ !!!!

Would you care to explain to me where it says in the Constitution that authors are entitled to royalties beyond the initial sale of the "new" book? Ditto for house builders, car manufacturers, and just about anything else that is produced, whether by intellectual pursuits or manual labor. Do you really think authors are entitled to royalties beyond the first sale? That used booksellers should pay the royalty every time the book is resold?

What about the living of the booksellers reselling books? Aren't they entitled to make a living also? Or are the only people who count in your opinion only selling new books? New cars? New houses?

I operate a used book shop called The Avocado Pit. This is how I make my living, while I work on starting up a new online database for booksellers like myself. Are you suggesting that I'm doing something wrong by selling new books as used?

Andy Gutterman
TitlesDirect.com, Inc.

Holt responds: It's the effect of these big super-dealers on the Internet I'm talking about. If I came across a book in your store that I knew was brand-new and you were selling as used, I wouldn't think much about it. Somebody got a birthday present and either read it quickly or wasn't interested, something like that. And maybe that experience would be repeated in hundreds of used bookstores across the country. But today we're talking about thousands of new books winding up on the Internet where websites like Half.com and BookCloseout.com are doing a land-office business, as we used to say. (Don't you worry about them?) As a customer I just am not going to give them my business - they're even worse I think than chain bookstores, which of course are anathema to all. As to used bookstores like yours, I don't think I could have gotten through early adulthood if they hadn't existed.

Dear Holt Uncensored,

I was driving down I-94 in St. Paul and saw a billboard for a bookstore called "Bound to be Read". I was shocked for two reasons. 1) I'd never seen a billboard for a bookstore in the Twin Cities. 2) I'd never heard of the place.

A quick search of the Internet tells me that the store is owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, a local media empire run by Stanley Hubbard. The original "Bound to be Read" store is based in Albuquerque. It is headed by Hubbard's daughter Julia Coyte, and has now expanded its operation to include St. Paul, MN and Key Largo, FL.

Apparently, the store is trying to capitalize on its independent status. I think this is a category-buster. How many outlets does one have to own before becoming a chain store? Does being a part of a media corporation disqualify a store from the category of independent? Apparently not to BookSense, which has the store in its listings.

I'm a volunteer at "Mayday Books", a non-profit, independent, all-volunteer bookstore that's been in existence since 1975. We do our best to support other independent bookstores in my community. But this one's hard for me to swallow.

How many "independent" bookstores have this kind of edge? Is this something you've dealt with in your columns? Has this happened in other parts of the country?

I tend to agree with this quote from David Unowsky, owner of St. Paul's "Ruminator" bookstore: "I guess you could call it independent--if you consider a store owned by a multinational, multibillion-dollar media conglomerate as independent."

Here are some articles about the store:

http://twincities.bcentral.com/twincities/stories/2000/05/22/story3.html

http://www.citypages.com/databank/21/1015/article8667.asp

Kristin Dooley
Mayday Books

Holt responds: The only "multiple independents" I've written about are bookstores that branch out locally. As to a national chain attempting to "capitalize on its independent status," I'm stunned: Only a few years ago during the ascendance of B&N, Borders, then Amazon.com, attempts were made to stigmatize independent bookstores. Now ain't it goofy: To sneak in and endear oneself to a local community, a big fat national chain tries to exploit its independence. Well, you can quit trying right now! Customers are too savvy to fall for that.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

In #287, Carl Lennertz wrote about the iPod and Apple's commercials on TV that flash a "Don't Steal Music" line at the end. He wrote, "is Apple really coming out against stolen music, or just covering its ass?"

As a licensed and bonded Macintosh newspaper columnist, let me offer an answer. Steve Jobs doesn't personally believe in music theft, and thus the jokey tagline, "Donít Steal Music" is an affirmation of that belief (and a nod and a wink), not lip service.

The iPod's software doesn't allow music to be copied from one machine to the iPod and then from the iPod to another machine. When digital rights management (DRM) software finally gets standardized across the industry, Apple will ostensibly toe the line like everyone else. They've made noises to that end.

MP3 players aren't inherently dedicated to stealing music. After Apple released iTunes, its Mac-only music conversion/playback software (that also manages the iPod's collection), I "ripped" (converted from CD to MP3) my entire collection of CDs. No theft involved. Now, however, I can play the music on those CDs at my office, at home, or on the road. That meets the letter and intent of copyright law as well as the de jure practice of allowing an owner of an instance of a copyrighted work to use it singly and create backups for their own personal use (like taping a program from the TV).

The rise of Napster is not a failure of ethics and technology. Rather, it's a sign of the hatred of the dominance of a divided monopoly by the record labels. If you're a hip young thing and you follow the music scene, you know that the vast majority of artists (like book authors) see a fraction of the income from record sales.

If book authors were treated by publishers like musicians are treated by record labels, authors would be routinely given $1,000,000 contracts: and then they'd pay for the printing, the ink, the composition, the corrections, the proofs, the editorial overhead (at $250/hour), the managerial overhead (at some inflated rate), be forced to rent their computer from the publisher at $100/day, and on and on. (See Salon.com for Courtney Love's truly inspired speech to fellow musicians that gives some good depth to this issue.)

Unlike the book author/reader relationship, the kids are well aware of this kind of rip-off. It fills magazines of all sorts, like Rolling Stone, and if you ask a kid are you taking money from Courtney Love's pocket, he or she will say, no, we're ripping off a multinational corporation that exploits musicians through monopolistic control of distribution, radio air-time, and film/TV relationships. They won't say it like that, but that's what they mean.

Lennertz adds: "I truly want to hear that Apple paid some rights money to the artists whose songs can now be slapped on the iPod. Both to established bands and to new artists who get screwed every other way. Who can enlighten me?"

Decisions long ago split on these issues, and continue to split the U.S. and Europe. The digital audio tape format (DAT) never took off in the United States as a home recording format in part because of a fee paid for every blank tape to offset ostensible loss of revenue due to unauthorized music copying. (DAT became a reliable and widespread data backup format, however.)

But we can use VHS tapes and cassette tapes and blank CD media without any fees because the presumption was that by owning an original item (a video signal from the television, an album, etc.) that we had the right to copy that for personal use. And we still do.

If Apple were forced to pay some kind of group fee for the iPod, then everycomputer company, every CD burner manufacturer, every CD blank media company, etc., would be paying these fees. And those fees wouldn't go to the artists, I'll bet you.

Apple did an interesting thing at the launch of the iPod (I was invited and couldn't attend, more's the pity): they preloaded the iPods that they gave to the journalists present with several CDs worth of music - and they bought one CD per iPod for each album they loaded. That's a clear demonstration of their intent.

Glenn Fleishman

Dear Holt Uncensored:

A few words to Carl Lennertz re the Ipod and Apple. Most artists and small record companies are fighting the copyright laws which heavily favor the large record companies (read: owners, agents, producers and the very savvy big stars - even people like David Bowie were screwed for decades by the big companies). These corporations in fact limit the exchange of information and creation. (Read Naomi Klein's No Logo for further discussion of the ways in which the pop culture giants are using copyright protection to prevent the dissemination and creation of works.)

To believe that companies like Apple, Microsoft or any of those other giants of the media and telecommunications world in any way are concerned with free expression or protecting the artist's right to profit from his or her creations is naÔve at best. What is the purpose of the Ipod if not to download songs? I guess people could make mixes from CDs they purchased themselves, but isn't that also copyright infringement as well? It's all part of the big media hype and not only do companies like Apple etc. live off of the "gimme stuff" generation, it is they who exploit. Do you really expect a kid downloading say Madonna songs into her Ipod to feel that she is cheating multi-millionare Madonna out of money? or rather to care?

Think about the development of the DVD technology. Less expensive to produce than video tapes, they still sell for far more. Perhaps that is fair enough, but do you think that money goes to those who create the work in the first place, perhaps in a trickle down kind of way. But essentially no. Consider also how DVD players have jamming chips placed into them so that my collection of DVD's purchased in Europe cannot be played in the States and vice versa?

Also you may or may not be aware of the Open Source Movement, the Linux operating system being the most well known name. This software is free. The code is open so that anyone with the ability to re work the programs can customize them and/or make them better (and then put them out there for others to work on further). The for profit computer industry has and continues to fight against the dissemination of open source software (while at the same time using this software as part of their own products). A proposed law introduced in the Senate by South Carolina Democrat Ernest Hollings (Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, backed by such freedom of expression giants as Rupert Murdoch, Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Microsoft) would make it illegal to disseminate software without copy protection (ie a blocking system which would prevent users from transferring certain kinds of data) and since open source software could be "opened" and such protection dismantled, the very basis of open source software itself would be illegal. This would spell the end for the open source movement in the United States.

Of course this can all be connected to books and ideas and artist protection. We have much more to lose from restrictive copyright laws than to gain. The current situation with cultural dissemination attaches far too much importance to the profitability of a creation than to the ideas. These laws are not designed to protect artists and authors (excepting perhaps the top 5%). So yeah, Apple's "don't steal music" imperative is disingenuous, but who cares? They are doing much worse things.

Betsy Schneider

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I will leave questions about Napster and music robbery to the folks affected economically by the debate: there are actual questions of piracy and robbery on the high seas of internet technology. But, as a book buyer, I am one of those who can afford a new book (usually a fancy dictionary for my work, or an irresistible illustrated volume that verges on the coffee-tablesque). I buy them where they catch my eye, which is usually in a real bookstore, and mostly at my local independent.

Fortunately for me, the local bookstore does a brisk trade in used paperbacks, and also had a trade-in program on paperback novels. When I go in there for a "new" Rendell or Highsmith (sorry, I would never buy these books new, and have learned to be patient for a few months until I can find a previously read copy), something new often catches my eye and my budget falls apart. This is great marketing strategy as far as I'm concerned. Also, in this same little store, there's a 50-cent shelf that's full of old Penguins, odd science fiction, tattered paperbacks and advance review copies of books by unknown authors, etc.; perhaps some of the stock is "illegal." I love this part of the bookstore, and I feel that I'm within my rights as an avid reader to buy these books. Thank god they are selling them, as there are times when I wouldn't have access to worthwhile reading if it weren't for the half dollar shelf.

The books that I buy on line are books that are unavailable in regular bookstores, be they chains or indies. Consumers have rights, too. Sometimes when I read your column I feel that just by following my heart and reading what I want to, I'm making a big political statement. Nyaaah nyaah.

Sareda Milosz


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