The ABA and Free Speech

I  hold the annual dues bill from the American Booksellers Association with trepidation each year.  It seems like such a large chunk in the slow winter months when I could send that money in so many other directions.  So I  annually reevaluate the decision to participate.  I do love the Indie Next Lists we offer to customers, the Book Page reviews, and bookstore news though, so I eventually send off my check.

The ABA is also a strong and active voice to protect free speech, something we have become a little complacent about.  Stir up some controversy though, and we remember how fragile the right to free speech really is.

With the cancellation of Simon & Schuster publishing contract with “conservative firebrand” Milo Yiannopoulos for his book Dangerous, due out in June, the ABA published a thoughtful and appreciated article in its bookseller newsletter on the topic. Some booksellers were boycotting Simon & Schuster for agreeing to publish the book, which of course is a protected First Amendment right, but one that may cause publishers to limit their taking on controversial topics in the future.  I don’t want to read Yiannopoulos’s book, I probably wouldn’t stock it in the store, I don’t even know why his views should interest me.  I resent the label conservative being linked with hatefulness.  But the controversy could just as easily be over something else – Harriet Beecher Stowe and Nelson Mandela were controversial. Wendell Berry, a writer I adore, is an activist, sometimes angrier than others,  and I would be devastated if his work went unpublished.  Obviously this is just a simple little example of a giant topic, but I’m glad the ABA is taking the principled stand they have.

Below is the summation of ABA’s statement. I can only respond with “Well put and thank you, my check is on its way.”


Simon & Schuster Cancels Yiannopoulos Book | American Booksellers Association

From the beginning of the controversy over Dangerous, ABA has defended the freedom of publishers and booksellers to sell the titles they want,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher commented. “The First Amendment protects the right of Simon & Schuster to cancel Dangerous, just as it protected their right to acquire it. And without question, the First Amendment also protects the right of consumers to boycott publishers in protest about any particular title, and for a bookseller to decide what titles will be carried in his or her store. As abhorrent or as distasteful as some subjects may be, ABA remains concerned about the rising pressure on publishers to cancel or change books because someone finds them offensive.”

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