Simon & Schuster and Post Hill Press: Independent Publishing Houses and Their Relationships With Distributors

On the morning of April 15th, 2021, the Courier Journal announced that Post Hill Press, an independent publishing press, has contracted to publish a book written by Jonathan Mattingly, one of the people involved in the murder of Beronna Taylor last year. In the article announcing its planned release in the fall of 2021, Post Hill Press named Simon and Schuster as the distributor of this book. This announcement caused patrons of Simon and Schuster for a response as these actions seemed to contradict how they present themselves as a brand. Last year, they expressed that they stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. That comes off as disingenuous and performative when Simon and Schuster empower someone the Black Lives Matter movement is working to disempower. An hour after the publishing announcement, Simon and Schuster made an official statement in the form of a picture posted on their Twitter and a few of their Instagram pages. It was two sentences and read, “Like much of the American public, earlier today Simon and Schuster learned of plans by distribution client Post Hill Press to publish a book by Jonathan Mattingly. We have subsequently decided not to be involved in the distribution of this book.” Those who had been looking for a response from Simon and Schuster were dissatisfied with this short statement. Most were left with more questions than answers. The statement is written with the assumption that the public was privy to the ins and outs of the publishing process and the intimate details of the specific agreement between Post Hill Press and Simon and Schuster regarding this particular book. In this article, I will try to answer some of the most asked questions in the comment sections of their posts, specifically: Did Simon and Schuster know about plans to publish and distribute the book before the public? Simon and Schuster stated that they aren’t going to be involved in distributing this book, but are they going to be included in other steps of the publishing process? Will Simon and Schuster still profit from this book? 

One of the biggest problems people had with Simon and Schuster’s response, besides its brevity, was that it seemed to claim that they didn’t know of Post Hill Press’s plan to publish the book until they announced it to the rest of the public. Simon and Schuster’s claim of ignorance is made far less believable because in the article announcing the book’s release. Post Hill Press specifically named Simon and Schuster as the distributor leading people to believe that there was some existing agreement between the companies surrounding this book. It’s also important to note that Simon and Schuster never directly denied their original involvement with Post Hill Press on the publishing and distributing the book in their official statement. Suppose Post Hill Press was prematurely or falsely claiming their participation in this process. In that case, it stands to reason that Simon and Schuster would want to condemn that as the spread of false information, which they didn’t do in their statement. We don’t have access to the specific details surrounding the agreements between the book’s author, Post Hill Press, and Simon and Schuster, which could definitively prove whether or not Simon and Shuster were aware of the book before the announcement. Based on estimated timelines for book publishing, we can assess if Simon and Schuster would have previously been aware of the book’s announcement. Typically, discussions surrounding the distribution begin about a month after the manuscript has left its final round of editing and moves into the design phase. The release date is usually set six to eighteen months after the last edit on the manuscript. Because of the expected Fall 2021 release date (typically, fall releases happen in September, which is used for these timeline estimates), the earliest this book could have been written is March 2020. The latest it could have been written is March 2021. With these estimated finishing dates, it is reasonable to assume that Post Hill Press and Simon and Schuster were conversing about this book before its announcement to the public. While every staff member at Simon and Schuster wasn’t aware of this contract, at least some employees were.

One of the other biggest concerns was that patrons were unsure if Simon and Schuster would be involved in other areas of publishing for this book. Their official statement only addressed their involvement in the distribution aspect of book production. However, they could still support it in marketing,  printing, or other steps in the publishing process. Like the answers to most of the other questions addressed, the answer isn’t concrete. Since the relationship between printing house and distributor varies from contract to contract, it would require a look at the specific deal made between Simon and Schuster and Post Hill Press. We know that Post Hill Press can print their books, and the about page of their website indicates that all editing and other publishing work is done in-house. By rescinding their agreement to distribute, Simon and Schuster are most likely dropping all of their direct involvement with the book.

Many still wonder if Simon and Schuster will profit from this book by keeping Post Hill Press as a client. Usually, distributors receive a set percentage of net sales of the book that they are distributing. By dropping their involvement with distribution and their assumed non-involvement with other steps of the publishing process, we can expect that they will not be directly profiting off this book. It is, however, essential to remember that while they are not distributing the book or directly profiting off of it, Simon and Schuster are still maintaining a working relationship with Post Hill Press by keeping them on as a client. Post Hill Press has demonstrated that they are willing to exploit Black trauma for profit which directly contradicts the statement of support Simon and Schuster had previously made, claiming that they stand against racism and the Black community. 

After the announcement of Post Hill Press’s publishing of a book written by a man involved in the murder of Breonna Taylor and the intent of Simon and Schuster to publish it, patrons of Simon and Schuster demanded that they speak on the matter. In a statement that was met mainly with dissatisfaction, a few key questions remained. Given the timeline of the average book publishing process, when the publishing announcement occurred, and the expected publishing date, it is safe to say that Simon and Schuster were aware of the book before the public even though their statement implied otherwise. From the information currently available about the relationship between Simon and Schuster and Post Hill Press, it appears that they were initially involved with the distribution of the book. They have since dropped that involvement and were not originally a part of any other steps of the publishing process for this book. They will not be profiting directly from this book as they have cut their involvement with it, but they keep Post Hill Press on as a client. They will continue to make money from other books they distribute for Post Hill Press which sends the message that they are comfortable continuing to work with a company that profits off Black trauma. Many people are understandably upset about Simon and Schuster’s actions, and some have been discussing a boycott of books published by Simon and Schuster. The proposed boycott is a tricky issue. While a boycott is usually an effective way to communicate to a company that you want them to change, publishing companies are structured differently than your average corporation. By boycotting all Simon and Schuster’s books, the people who will suffer the most are new, minority authors who are already given the smallest part of the budget. When they start losing money (the point of a boycott), the first people they’re going to restrict spending on or drop as a client are authors that aren’t already huge successes. Many of these authors are locked into contracts with Simon and Schuster and have no option but to continue working with them. Hence, as their budget continues to restrict, it is harder for them to break out and become the most successful author possible. Because of this impact on more minor authors, some people have suggested a partial boycott of Simon and Schuster. With this plan, consumers take care to only purchase Simon and Schuster books if smaller or marginalized authors write them in the hopes of communicating to Simon and Schuster that diverse books sell better, and they are motivated to make meaningful change within their company.

SOURCES:

https://www.npr.org/2021/04/16/988024774/simon-schuster-reverses-wont-distribute-book-by-officer-in-breonna-taylor-raid

https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/breonna-taylor/2021/04/15/louisville-cop-jonathan-mattingly-writing-book-about-breonna-taylor-case/7227804002/

https://www.historythroughfiction.com/blog/the-publishing-process

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