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Publishing in Wartime

Important two-part piece by Melville House publisher, Dennis Johnson

Part I

The furor over Milo Yiannopoulos’s book deal with Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions inspires this publisher to ask one question of the disconcerted: Where have you been?

Because this is where American publishing is now—or at least, the fifty percent of it dominated by the so-called “Big Five”—and it’s been there for a long time.

Look at Threshold alone: It’s published Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Donald Trump. S&S launched the imprint back in 2006 (with Mary Matalin as its founding editor) when Random House’s conservative Crown imprint (publisher of George Bush) formed an even more conservative sub-imprint, Crown Forum (Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan), in 2003 … which in turn had been a response to Penguin’s 2002 formation of its conservative Sentinel imprint (Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker).

And then there’s the HarperCollins (Sarah Palin) conservative imprint (yes, I too think that sounds redundant) Broadside Books (Dick Morris), founded in 2010.

You’ll note some of the authors of these imprints, such as George Bush and Dick Cheney, have the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on their hands. Call me crazy, but I think that’s worse than the showboating loutishness of Milo Yiannopoulos. And yet, do you remember any of these books sparking a significant protest?

In fact what criticism there was along the way was countered the same way S&S is countering criticism now. For example, when Crown was almost kind of slightly not really criticized for publishing George Bush, the company countered by saying no no no it would publish anyone, right or left, due to free speech, fighting censorship, the First Amendment, diversity, and, you know, freedom!

It also used the human shield ploy by pointing out that its corporate owner published lots of other authors you wouldn’t want a boycott to deprive you of — such as Barrack Obama and Dr. Seuss!

It’s the modern predicament in a nutshell — the normalization of the most vile nonsense.

In the book business, as in the general economy, it’s the end of a long process that began when privately owned companies like Simon & Schuster (there really was a guy named Simon, you know, and another one named Schuster) started selling out to big corporations, which soon sold out to even bigger international mega-corps in the wild and wooly era of free trade unleashed by Bill Clinton.

In the end, each individual brand became diluted to a thing that exists only to make money, meaning that what they publish is basically random — well-written, badly written, left, right, moral, immoral … doesn’t matter. Just has to make money. In fact, there’s no real brand there anymore, let alone an ideology.

Of course that’s something that’s happened across the sorry landscape of American capitalism, but it’s particularly odd to observe in the business of art-making and speaking truth to power. Ideology is now the former bottom line of centuries of publishing.

In any event, thus, the person at Simon & Schuster who had to decide on whether or not to publish Yiannopoulos — and it did, rest assured, come down to one person greenlighting the project — said to themselves not “I don’t want to do an immoral thing like publish this evil troll,” but “I’d better pretend I have no human agency and instead behave according to the dictates of international-conglomerate-capitalism and buy this book because it will make my employer a lot of money.”

And soon a bunch more people in the S&S food chain will forget where they put their agency, too, and do what they are told and edit the book and copyedit and proof the book and design it and print it and distribute it and sell it. To make their living. To make money.

But in point of fact that first, highly-placed, self-designated apparatchik did have agency. He or she could have said no.

Because that’s what a real publisher does all day, as opposed to what a cog in a corporate machine does — i.e., it’s what Messrs. Simon and Schuster did: They say yes, and they say no. They say, “Yes, I’ll publish this thing because it’s worthy and fits my company and could make the world a better place and yes I think it might make money but more importantly I believe in it”; or they say, “No, I won’t publish this piece of vile dreck even though it would probably make a lot of money because it’s evil and so is its author and I don’t want to support them let alone get in bed with them nor force my staff to do it either nor lie to readers by saying this sort of thing is okay.”

And note: Not publishing vile dreck is not censorship. If you don’t like something, there’s no law that says you nevertheless have to spend your money on publishing it. It’s also not censorship because you haven’t blocked it from being published by anyone else, such as any of the many publishers who love to publish vile dreck, such as Regnery.

But the deal nonetheless went forward at S&S, and the outraged—readers, booksellers, authors, the good-hearted and generally sentient—are trembling in timidity over what in the world to do about it.

This is a common reaction in the book biz — a business of lovers-not-fighters much like the liberal classes in general, which explains how a mercenary cutthroat like Amazon was able to become a monopoly without even breaking a sweat.

It also explains how those outraged by the Yiannopoulos deal have resisted the one glaringly obvious thing that people could do right now, which is the thing that would have the most powerful impact, which is the explosive tool that powered the civil rights movement, which is a boycott. Letters, phone calls, emails, yes, yes, yes, they would make responsible parties at S&S uncomfortable … for a matter of minutes, until they learned to not answer the phone or look at their email and it eventually fades away.

A boycott is the only way to make a statement to entities to which only money has meaning.

Yet people who wouldn’t think twice about boycotting a Trump hotel nor give a thought in the world to the good people working there who are the collateral damage of such a boycott are increasingly firm about why they can’t boycott Simon & Schuster: Because it would hurt all its employees and other authors.

Thus the buck, as it were, stops no where.

Still … the obvious appropriateness of a boycott seems to have nagged at people enough that, after some dithering, a modifcation of the boycott-is-too-mean justification has been reached: People should boycott Simon & Schuster’s bad books … even if, um, they aren’t the kind of books you were going to buy anyway ….

And this is where we’re at, at the dawning of the Trump era.

Look, the battle against Yiannopoulos is a minor skirmish against the kind of penny-ante icon we’re going to come up against again and again in the Trump era, but the encompassing war against Trump — which is, after all, a war against fascism — is going to be a war of attrition, and this is an early, easy round. It’s going to get harder. If people don’t have the stomach or nerve to do the right thing on this one, we’re in big trouble.

Booksellers! Readers! Media! It’s not like there aren’t a million and one other choices out there — from, say, the other fifty percent of American publishing, the indies, university presses, nonprofits, and more, who operate by a discernable and conscientious moral code, be it right, left, or center, and who publish equally fine books as the Big Five.

Regardless, the choice before anyone upset about the Yiannopoulos deal, and for those who say they’re dedicated to resisting Donald Trump, is a simple one: Publishers can say no, and so can you.

Part II

In yet another heart-rending sign of HOW THE LEFT IS PROBABLY GOING TO BLOW THE WAR AGAINST TRUMP, many of the publishing industry’s leading trade organizations including the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and the American Booksellers Association, have joined together to issue a statement opposing the boycott of Simon and Schuster over the $250,000 book deal between its Threshold Editions imprint and hate speech champion Milo Yiannopoulos for his book, Dangerous.

The statement is issued under the rubric of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), whose board of directors includes the president and publisher of the children’s division of, eh, Simon and Schuster, and, in the way it’s too snooty to divulge such an obvious conflict of interest, but more importantly in the way it seems to not know the definition of certain words—the sort of thing you’d think groups like the Authors Guild would be good at—as well as in the way it seems to promote self-interest at a time of national crisis, the statement is, in a word, stupid.

More specifically, it’s stupid in the way it seems to willfully conflate the idea of protest with the act of censorship (an example of the rather treacherous kind of false equivalency beloved of the right and lazy media these days), which is what makes it hard to see the statement as anything but self-serving.

That impression is compounded by the fact that, as accommodationist statements always are, it’s a tortured affair that winds up sounding like it’s trying to pull a fast one, which indeed it is: “Readers are of course free…” it generously declares, “to urge a boycott.” However if they do, it notes ominously, it “will have a chilling effect on authors and publishers.” What’s more, it adds threateningly, a boycott would “undermine intellectual freedom and harm readers and writers.”

That’s ludicrous, of course — I mean, who’s censoring who? The statement is in itself censorious, saying that pretty much any protest of Simon and Schuster will have evil ramifications, especially a boycott. And given the long and honored history of boycotting in America—from the days of our very foundation with the Boston Tea Party to the long haul of the civil rights movement—that’s particularly repugnant, not to mention anti-democratic.

But where the NCAC proclamation is really stupid is this: Is this really where you want to make a stand, NCAC signatories? Really? In the dawning days of the Trump era, you want to defend a white nationalist, an actual fascist, and support the effort to give him wider broadcast by a member of your club? Really? These are desperate times — is that not clear? — and this is where you’re going to draw the line?

Apparently, the answer is yes — NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin is out and about vehemently defending the statement. In an interview with PW, she says, “Endorsing the right to express offensive ideas is not equivalent to endorsing the ideas themselves.”

But of course, by publishing Yiannopoulos and helping him spread the word to a wider audience, that’s exactly what S&S is doing. And it’s another nasty false equivalency to say that criticism of the deal is threatening Simon and Schuster’s “right to publish,” or denying Yiannopoulos the right to express himself. He’s got his bully pulpit as a journalist at Breitbart, for one thing, and there are dozens of right-wing publishers who would be happy to publish his book. No, the only people having their free speech threatened are those protesting Simon and Schuster’s broadcasting of Yiannopoulos’ vile ideas. And in consistently obfuscating that, and in going forward with its full-scale broadcasting of those ideas, S&S is indeed essentially endorsing them. I mean, despite the fact that the NSAC statement uses words like “noxious” to define Yiannopoulos’ spoutings and Bertin admits they’re “offensive,” are we nonetheless to think that S&S doesn’t stand behind what it publishes? Why, that would mean they’re only in it for the, um, money?

In any event, a growing crowd of independents in the industry, at least, are saying enough. Chicago Review of Books editor Adam Morgan announced early on that he’s boycotting Simon and Schuster by stopping coverage of any of its books because of the deal with Yiannopoulos, whom he calls “a clickbait grifter” who “peddles hate speech for profit.”

And just yesterday, one of the country’s leading indie booksellers, San Francisco’s Booksmith, announced that it felt the deal “crosses a line by promoting hate speech & bullying.” As a result, the bookseller announced on its website,

Booksmith is committed to the following, effective immediately:

We will not be stocking or special ordering Dangerous or anything else from Threshold Editions. No royalty revenue will come from Booksmith.

Booksmith will reduce our orders with Threshold’s parent company Simon & Schuster by 50% in order to communicate pressure to the corporation as a whole. While we respect Simon’s decision to publish any book, we reserve the right to allocate our discretionary inventory dollars with publishers who act with ethical & moral standards consistent with our own.

While we are not enacting a sweeping boycott of all S&S titles, for the foreseeable future, 40% of all S&S sales(which is to say all of our profit) will be turned right around and donated to the ACLU.

That’s one major indie bookseller, one major literary magazine, and, with Melville House, one indie publisher stepping up to oppose this deal.

This is, indeed, a moment for independents to step up, as the major players in the industry seem to have circled the wagons in a knee-jerk response to criticism and a threat to their ability to make money any way they want.

But this could be a defining moment in the culture, let alone the industry as we sail into the Trump wars: Who’s next to say the NCAC statement is shameful, and Simon and Schuster should be boycotted?

Ed-Tech’s Inequalities

A brilliant rant by Audrey Watters

Starts off this way:
“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” you’ll often hear politicians and education reform types say.
Here’s US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan back in 2010, for example:
Education is still the key to eliminating gender inequities, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, and to fostering peace. And in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity. …Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation.
To the contrary, I maintain that civil rights remain the civil rights issue of our generation. When we see, for example, the Supreme Court overturn part of the Voting Rights Act, when we see rampant police violence against marginalized groups, when we see backlash against affirmative action and against Title IX protections, when we see pervasive discrimination – institutionalized – in people’s daily lives, when we see widespread inequalities – socioeconomic stratification based on race, ethnicity, gender, geography – we need to admit: there are things that, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, the “education gospel cannot fix.”
And yet the dominant narrative – the gospel, if you will – about education and, increasingly education technology, is that it absolutely is “the fix.”

and ends this way:
Education technology simply does not confront systemic inequalities. Or rather, it often substitutes access to a computing device or high speed Internet for institutional or structural change. Education technology routinely fails to address power or privilege. It fails to recognize, let alone examine, its history. It insists instead on stories about meritocracy and magic and claims about “blindness.”

with a lot of provocative thinking in between.

a blast from the past or a glimpse of the future — both are true

Twenty years ago Voyager published the first edition of 3Sixty, a catalog celebrating the emerging forms of new media. Most of the titles were from Voyager, but there was a selection of others from Gallimard, Dorling Kindersley, Microsoft and others. The design (Alexander Isley) and writing (Ashton Applewhite) are particularly noteworthy. One of my favorite bits is the account on page 46 of a reader’s first experience with an ebook.

Click the first thumbnail to show a full-size image. Then click on the image to advance to the next or use the forward backward arrows near the top. Many of the images have a video of the work described on the 3Sixty page.

Social Reading: An Opportunity

I recently posted the following notes regarding the potential of social reading to a publishing listserv which focuses on the evolution of reading and writing as it moves from printed pages to networked screens.

Three years ago, a secondary school teacher in New York asked the students in her Spanish literature classes to read their assignments in SocialBook, a reading platform that enables small groups to carry out threaded conversations in the margins of a text. The teacher retired last spring, but three students who started with her in 2011 and were about to enter their senior year persuaded her to keep a part-time position so they could read Don Quijote with her in SocialBook. The school agreed and wow half-way through the text the three students and their teacher have made more than 2,500 comments — helping each other understand difficult passages, discussing a wide range of historical and literary questions raised by this seminal novel, and even creating a rich glossary of terms and concepts that are unfamiliar to contemporary Spanish speakers.

Social reading skeptics, before you discount this anecdote — because it is just that, a singular example, not backed up by data — please consider the following:

A few years ago I showed SocialBook to the CEO of a major publishing house, who responded confidently that his customers weren’t interested in social reading.

His certainty reminded me of conversations in 1992 when a well-known computer scientist who had seen Voyager’s Expanded Book Series called to suggest I try to raise a small fund from the publishing industry to develop what he called the dynabook, and would have been the first digital tablet. Alas, the unanimous response from every CEO was “Are you kidding, people will never choose to read on screens.”

The thing is that they were right about how most people regarded the idea of reading on a screen. What they didn’t see, however, was that the prevailing opinion was going to change over time as hardware improved. And at that moment, the publishing industry gave up its opportunity to be in front of the shift from paper to screen.

Had you asked everyone who tried the first ebooks, the vast majority would have said they didn’t like the experience, confirming the industry-wide skepticism. However, if you focused on the few who liked readingJurassic Park or The Hitchhiker’s Guide on their PowerBooks (Apple’s first notebook computer), the potential was apparent. Two early stories involved the wives of early adopters, who purchased their own first computers after seeing their husbands reading in bed with the lights off. One described a hilarious sight — both lying in bed with their laptops on their chests, turning the page by lowering their chins and pressing on the mousepad. Other people talked about the joy of hands-free reading and the ability to do full-text searches. The enthusiasm of the people who liked the experience was a much better indicator of potential than the disinterest of the people who didn’t. Why? Because many of the stumbling blocks — e.g. awkward form factor, very poor resolution and brightness — were temporary problems that were overcome as the technology improved. And the things people liked were only going to get better.

Early reaction to social reading platforms has followed the same pattern. Most people dismiss it out of hand and don’t even deign to try it. Significantly, the people who try it, but dislike the experience, rarely complain aboutthe idea in the abstract. Rather they talk about the many limitations — both technical and design-related — that are largely a function of a primitive platform that will improve dramatically.

When people like SocialBook, they talk about the value of collaboration. For example, Students at Hildesheim University read Clemens Setz’ Indigo, a difficult literary novel published by Suhrkamp, in SocialBook. At a symposium held to discuss the experience, students noted that the commentary in the margin became crucial to their reading experience, and that the notion of content expanded to include their discussion as well as the author’s words. We consistently hear that students work harder to understand what they are reading with SocialBook. Part of this is peer pressure, but it’s also that they quickly learn that thinking out loud is consistently rewarded as ideas are deepened and enriched by the interaction with others.

Although these examples are in the realm of education, there’s every reason to believe that the value of social reading applies much more broadly. In this context, it may help to consider social reading as umbrella term, representing a continuum of behaviors.

For example, Amazon’s underlining function, which identifies passages marked by a number of readers, is a form of social reading. As far as I know, very few people turn this feature off. Not only is it interesting to know which passages other people consider important, but we tend to read and reflect on those passages more carefully. Cookbooks and travel guides have already gone social, with huge amounts of reader commentary enriching each entry. Or consider the always-present comment stream on news articles.

And as social reading platforms evolve, we’ll start to see exciting new elements — expert glosses that can be swapped in and out, live author readings taking place in the book itself, stories that depend on user-collaboration in the margin. Books are well on their way to becoming places where things happen when people meet up in the margins.

As someone who published the first “enhanced books” and appreciates the value of expanding the notion of the page to include audio and video, I believe the future of the book will be defined by its evolving social component. It’s not that audio/video enhancements and interactivity aren’t of value. They are. But, realistically, human interaction in the margins will over time provide a much broader range of valuable “enhancements” than ones that authors/editors/publishers could ever provide on their own.

Keep in mind that notes in the margin can include audio, video, and graphics as well as text, and eventually should be able to run complete interactive simulations.

If I had access to the Genie’s lamp, I would rub it vigorously in the hope that the publishing industry might grasp the potential of social reading and use it to transform the landscape. Putting social front-and-center provides the basis for a publishing ecosystem which would be out from under Amazon (and Apple’s) thumbs. Building a publisher/author/editor/reader-centric platform is not an overnight proposition. It will take five to 10 years to grow and gain dominance. But it’s possible and needn’t be hugely expensive to build. Conceptually all the pieces are there, and technically many are in place. They just need to be knitted together intelligently and strategically.

I’ll follow this up soon with a discussion of what the ecosystem I’m proposing looks like and how it might be developed.


The following is my response to the discussion the original post generated over the course of the day.

1. The comments in the listserv thread that emerged tend to confuse two different forms of social reading — conversations about a book and conversations inside a book.

The first is similar to a water cooler discussion which ranges all at once around any aspect of a book. These conversations tend to veer off quickly into subsets and tangents. Examples of this category are the interactions on Goodreads or on listservs fall into this category. The second are conversations which take place inside the book, allowing readers to focus and go deeply into issues raised by specific bits of content. Both of these have value, but they are different. By the way, SocialBook allows for both, as readers can make general comments to address broad themes or raise important new and related ideas generated in the course of the read.

Another important issue is whether the discussion is open or closed. In the main, conversations among people who know and trust each other have a much higher signal-to-noise ratio than those that occur among strangers. There is wisdom in the crowd, however, so the tricky thing is to give people access to the broader conversation without compromising the small group discussion.

2. A common concern raised in regard to social reading is the potential for distraction. This is important, and good social reading implementations need to enable readers to change their preferred “view” at any time. Here’s a link to screen shots showing how SocialBook resolves this.

Significantly someone suggested that blog-style commenting which puts comments below the main text might be preferable to using the margins. The problem with comments below is that it restricts the discussion to the water cooler type as you can’t associate comments with specific bits of text. Also, comments below tend to reinforce the hierarchy of print with the author on high and the reader down below. With the conversation taking place in the margin, the author and reader are much closer to occupying the same space which tends to emphasize the collaborative nature of the effort.

Several people suggested that you might build a social reading platform using Twitter. Maybe but, again, Twitter lends itself to second-screen type general discussions, not the deep discussions that are possible with threaded conversations tied to specific bits of text.

3. One of the most interesting questions raised was whether to classify social reading as intrinsic to consumption. My answer is an unqualified yes. In the digital era media consumption is shifting from private to social. Full stop. That doesn’t mean that there needn’t be opportunity and space for private reflection, good social platforms will allow readers to adjust their view as needed.

4. There were several comments decrying the comment stream accompanying YouTube clips. But rather than use this failure as ammunition against social reading, it might be more useful to try to understand the reasons why comments in YouTube don’t work. One reason is that YouTube doesn’t enable small group discussions and the other is that you can’t easily focus on specific parts of the video. In other words you’re stuck in a water coolor discussion with people you don’t know. When implemented properly, people can have wonderful conversations in the margins of films. SocialBook works as well with full-length films as it does with novels. Here’s a link to an example.

5. In answer to the several people who questioned whether social reading might work outside of education or within the novel, here is a link to a vigorous discussion which took place among seven readers in the margins of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook in a precursor of SocialBook.

In honor of Tim Cook’s coming out

In 1994 Apple agreed to bundle $500k worth of the Who Built America CD-rom with all computers purchased by schools and libraries. In January of 1995 we got a note from Apple saying they were discontinuing distribution in response to complaints from schools in Oklahoma and California about the CD-Rom’s open portrayal of homosexuality and abortion,. We wrote a press release accusing Apple of censorship. The release was picked up by Time and The Wall St. Journal among others. Apple stonewalled until something wonderful happened. They reversed their decision and resumed distribution. The reason for the change of heart — internal dissension. Apple employees all over the world, but particularly in Europe, were deeply disappointed by Apple’s cave-in to homophobic dissent and made it known throughout the company.

This is a 2-minute promo video. Remember, when you look at it, that the piece was created 23 years ago when 800×600 was the maximum resolution and quicktime windows were the size of post-it notes.

The following is a statement by the American Social History Project, the authors of Who Built America (originally published by Knopf) and now available as a text book from Macmillan.


As members of the board of directors of the American Social
History Project (ASHP) we want to bring to your attention the
recent attempt by Apple Computer to censor the Project’s WHO
GREAT WAR OF 1914 (WBA), a CD-ROM conceived and written by Roy
Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and Joshua Brown, and published by the
Voyager Company in 1993.

In January 1995, after distributing more than 12,000 copies
of WBA in the previous month as part of its “Apple Educational
Series: Elementary and Secondary Reference” bundle installed in
computers sold to schools, Apple informed the Voyager Company
about unspecified complaints regarding material in the disk
discussing homosexuality, birth control, and abortion between
1876 and 1914. Voyager refused Apple’s request to make the CD-
ROM “educationally appropriate” by removing all references to
these subjects. The material that Apple wanted censored
represents a small number of historical documents and oral-
history interviews, the equivalent of 40 pages and 15 minutes of
sound out of more than 5,000 pages of text and four and a half
hours of sound. The inclusion of the history of gay Americans
and birth control is part of a comprehensive social history of
the period that covers a wide range of experiences and
perspectives. On January 31, 1995, Apple notified the Voyager
Company that it would no longer distribute WBA to schools.

Ironically, Apple’s decision occurred only three weeks after
the American Historical Association awarded WBA the biennial
James Harvey Robinson Prize as “the most outstanding contribution
to the teaching and learning of history in any field for public
or educational purposes.” In addition, since its publication in
1993, WBA has been praised in major newspapers and in computer
trade and scholarly publications for its innovative application
of multimedia to education and rigorous scholarship. For
example, Walter S. Mossberg wrote in the WALL STREET JOURNAL:
“Once in a while . . . a truly exciting, high-quality electronic
book turns up to reveal the real potential of electronic
learning. My latest nomination to this CD-ROM Hall of Fame

Apple’s new restrictions threaten the intellectual and
educational efficacy of electronic information, from interactive
programs to the Internet, an arena that has been heralded for
providing greater opportunities for accessibility, expression,
and diversity.

In response to publicity being given to this case in various
media, Apple has apparently backed away from its initial stance
and now maintains it is re-evaluating the status of WHO BUILT
AMERICA? In that light and in the light of the company’s
previous reputation for respecting human and civil rights,
comments from scholars and educators might have an important
effect on Apple’s decision. We urge you to write Apple CEO
Michael Spindler to resist pressure from those who want to censor
the past (e-mail:; address: Apple
Computer, Inc., 20525 Mariani Avenue, Cupertino, California

Please send a copy of your correspondence to any of the
three authors: Roy Rosenzweig (, Steve Brier
(, or Josh Brown (

The Voyager Company can be reached via Braden Michaels,
Voyager, 578 Broadway, Suite 406, New York, N.Y. 10012, tel: 212-
431-5199, fax: 212-431-5799, e-mail:


Ira Berlin, Department of History, University of Maryland
Loni Ding, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of
California, Berkeley
Eric Foner, Department of History, Columbia University
Carol Groneman, Department of History, John Jay College, CUNY
Leon F. Litwack, Department of History, University of California,
Patricia Oldham, Social Science Faculty, Hostos Community
College, CUNY
Silvio Torres-Saillant, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at the
City College of New York



* September-October 1994: Apple approaches Voyager about the
possibility of purchasing copies of WHO BUILT AMERICA? to give to
schools (K-12) buying certain Apple computers. Voyager and Apple
agree to terms.
* December 1994: Apple bundles more than 12,000 copies of WBA
with computers in the first month of a year-long program.
* January 1995: Apple calls Voyager to say that it has received
complaints about WBA because of the CD-ROM’s discussion of
homosexuality, abortion, and birth control at the turn of the
century. Apple asks Voyager to make available a version with
these subjects edited out. Voyager refuses but offers to send
schools that don’t like WBA any CD-ROM from the Voyager catalog
(school’s choice). Voyager also proposes that WBA be bundled
only with computers for high-schools, colleges, and libraries.
Apple rejects both of these suggestions.
* January 31, 1995: Apple informs Voyager that it will no longer
include WBA in the K-12 bundle, and asks Voyager to name a
replacement title. Apple makes clear that any replacement must
not mention homosexuality, abortion, or birth control.


WHO BUILT AMERICA? is a new “electronic book” on CD-ROM.
Conceived and written by Roy Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and Josh
Brown (visual editor) and published by the Voyager Company in
collaboration with the American Social History Project, it
includes more than four and a half hours of audio (oral history,
actuality sound, and music), 45 minutes of archival film, more
than 5,000 pages of historical documents, more than 700 pictures
as well as dozens of graphs, maps, and many other features.
Among the special features of the “book” are:

FILM: More than twenty film clips, including the early silent
film classic, “The Great Train Robbery,” immigrants arriving at
Ellis Island, candidates campaigning for the presidency in 1912,
women suffragists marching down Fifth Avenue, and more.

ORAL HISTORY: More than thirty interviews with immigrants,
sharecroppers, Native Americans, coal miners, and others. Hear
survivors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and eyewitnesses to the
1906 Atlanta Race Riot.

MUSIC: More than two dozen songs from the period, including
protest and labor songs, black spirituals and work songs, hits
from Tin Pan Alley, country music, and brass band tunes.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO: Rare recordings of Booker T. Washington, Andrew
Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft,
and others as well as humor from early vaudeville stars.

DOCUMENTS: Thousands of pages of primary documents, including
letters home from immigrants, congressional testimony, newspaper
accounts, court decisions, famous essays, fiction, poetry, and
sociological studies.

IMAGES: Hundreds of exquisitely reproduced pictures include
cartoons and advertisements from newspapers, magazine
illustrations, paintings, and rare documentary photographs,
including the work of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.

Letter from Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer

The following is a remarkably nuanced letter from the head of one of Europe’s largest publishers recognizing that the grossly unequal balance of power is a problem that needs to be understood.

An open letter to Eric Schmidt from Mathias Döpfner

Dear Eric Schmidt, In your text “Die Chancen des Wachstums”(“The Opportunities forGrowth”) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, you reply to an article which this newspaper had published a few days earlier under the title “Angst vor Google”(“Fear of Google”). You repeatedly mention the Axel Springer publishing house. In the spirit of transparency I would like to reply with an open letter to highlight a couple of things from our point of view.

We have known each other for many years, and have, as you state, had lengthy and frequent discussions on the relationship between European publishers and Google. As you know, I am a great admirer of Google’s entrepreneurial success. In just a few short years, starting in1998, this company has grown to employ almost 50,000 people worldwide, generated sixty billion dollars in revenue last year,and has a current market capitalization of more than 350 billion dollars. Google is not only the biggest search engine in the world, but along with Youtube (the second biggest search engine in the world) it also has the largest video platform, with Chrome the biggest browser, with Gmail the most widely used e-mail provider,and with Android the biggest operating system for mobile devices. Your article rightly points out what fabulous impetus Google has given to growth of the digital economy. In 2013, Google made a profit of fourteen billion dollars. I take my hat off to this outstanding entrepreneurial performance.

In your text you refer to the marketing cooperation between Google and Axel Springer. We were also happy with it. But some of our readers have now interpreted this to mean that Axel Springer is evidently schizophrenic. On the one hand, Axel Springer is part of a European antitrust action against Google, and is in dispute with them regarding the issue of enforcement of German ancillary copyright prohibiting the stealing of content; on the other hand, Axel Springer not only benefits from the traffic it receives via Google but from Google’s algorithm for marketing the remaining space in its online advertising. You can call it schizophrenic–or liberal. Or,to use one of our Federal Chancellor’s favorite phrases: there is no alternative.We know of no alternative which could offer even partially comparable technological prerequisites for the automated marketing of advertising. And we cannot afford to give up this source of revenue because we desperately need the money for technological investments in the future. Which is why other publishers are increasingly doing the same. We also know of no alternative search engine which could maintain or increase our online reach. A large proportion of high quality journalistic media receives its traffic primarily via Google. In other areas, especially of a non-journalistic nature, customers find their way to suppliers almost exclusively though Google. This means,in plain language, that we –and many others –are dependent on Google. At the moment Google has a 91.2 percent search-engine market share in Germany. In this case, the statement “if you don’t like Google, you can remove yourself from their listings and go elsewhere”is about as realistic as recommending to an opponent of nuclear power that he just stop using electricity. He simply cannot do this in real life –unless he wants to join the Amish.

Google’s employees are always extremely friendly to us and to other publishing houses, but we are not communicating with each other on equal terms. How could we? Google doesn’t need us. But we need Google. And we are also worlds apart economically. At fourteen billion dollars, Google’s annual profit is about twenty times that of Axel Springer. The one generates more profit per quarter than the revenues of the other in a whole year. Our business relationship is that of the Goliath of Google to the David of Axel Springer. When Google changed an algorithm, one of our subsidiaries lost 70 percent of its traffic within a few days. The fact that this subsidiary is a competitor of Google’s is certainly a coincidence.

We are afraid of Google. I must state this very clearly and frankly, because few of my colleagues dare do so publicly. And as the biggest among the small, perhaps it is also up to us to be the first to speak out in this debate. You wrote it yourself in your book: “We believe that modern technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, are even more powerful than most people realize (…), and what gives them power is their ability to grow –specifically, their speed to scale. Almost nothing, short of a biological virus, can scale as quickly, efficiently or aggressively as these technology platforms and this makes the people who build, control, and use them powerful too.”

The discussion about Google’s power is therefore not a conspiracy theory propagated by old-school diehards. You yourself speak of the new power of the creators, owners, and users. In the longterm I’m not so sure about the users. Power is soon followed by powerlessness. And this is precisely the reason why we now need to have this discussion in the interests of the long-term integrity of the digital economy’s ecosystem. This applies to competition,not only economic, but also political. It concerns our values, our understanding of the nature of humanity,our worldwide social order and,from our own perspective,the future of Europe.

As the situation stands, your company will play a leading role in the various areas of our professional and private lives–in the house, in the car, in healthcare, in robotronics. This is a huge opportunity and a no less serious threat. I am afraid that it is simply not enough to state, as you do, that you want to make the world a “better place.”The Internet critic Evgeny Morozov has clearly described the position that modern societies need to take here: This is not a debate about technology and the fascinating opportunities it presents. This is a political debate. Android devices and Google algorithms are not a government program. Or at least they shouldn’t be. It is we the people who have to decide whether or not we want what you are asking of us –and what price we are willing to pay for it.

Publishers gained their experience here early –as the vanguard for other sectors and industries. But as long as it was simply a question of the expropriation of content (which search engines and aggregators use but don’t want to pay for), only a few were interested. But that changes when the same thing applies to people’s personal data. The question of who this data belongs to will be one of the key policy issues of the future.

You say in your article that those who criticize Google are “ultimately criticizing the Internet as such and the opportunity for everyone to be able to access information from wherever they happen to be.”The opposite is true. Those who criticize Google are not criticizing the Internet. Those who are interested in having an intactInternet–these are the ones who need to criticize Google. From the perspective of a publishing house, the Internet is not a threat, but rather the greatest opportunity in the last few decades. 62 percent of our corporate profit today comes from our digital business. This means that we are not talking about the Internet here,but only about the role that Google plays within it.

It is in this context that of the utmost importance are competition complaints submitted four years ago by various European publishers’ associations and Internet companies against Google at the European Commission in Brussels. Google is a prime example of a market-dominating company. With a seventy-percent global market share, Google defines the infrastructure on the Internet. The next largest search engine is Baidu in China with 16.4 per cent –and that’s because China is a dictatorship which prohibits free access to Google. Then there are search engines with market shares of up to 6percent. These are pseudo-competitors. The market belongs to a single company. Google’s share of the online-advertising market in Germany is increasing from year to year and is currently around 60 percent. For comparison: The Bild newspaper, which has been considered as market-dominating by the German Federal Cartel Office for decades (which is why Axel Springer was not allowed to buy the TV company Pro Sieben Sat.1 or regional newspapers), has a 9 percent market share of printed advertisements in Germany. By comparison Google is not only market-dominating but supermarket-dominating.Google is to the Internet what the Deutsche Postwas to mail delivery or Deutsche Telekom to telephone calls. In those days there were national state monopolies. Today there is a global network monopoly. This is why it is of paramount importance that there be transparent and fair criteria for Google’s search results.

However, these fair criteria are not in place. Google lists its own products, from e-commerce to pages from its own Google+ network, higher than those of its competitors, even if these are sometimes of less value for consumers and should not be displayed in accordance with the Google algorithm. It is not even clearly pointed out to the user that these search results are the result of self-advertising. Even when a Google service has fewer visitors than that of a competitor, it appears higher up the page until it eventually also receives more visitors. This is called the abuse of a market-dominating position. And everyone expected the European antitrust authorities to prohibit this practice. It does not look like it will. The Commissioner has instead proposed a “settlement” that has left anyone with any understanding of the issue speechless. Eric, in your article you talk about a compromise which you had attempted to reach with the EU Commission. What you have found, if the Commission does decide on the present proposal, is an additional model for Google of advertising revenue procurement. There will not be any “painful concessions”but rather additional earnings.

The Commission is seriously proposing that the infrastructure-dominating search engine Google be allowed to continue to discriminate against its competitors in the placement of search results critical to success. As “compensation,”however,a new advertising window will be set up at the beginning of the search list, in which those companies who are discriminated against will be able to buy a place on the list. This is not a compromise. This is an officially EU-sanctioned introduction of the business model that in less honorable circles is referred to as protection money–i.e. if you don’t want me to kill you, you have to pay me.

You know very well that this would result in long-term discrimination against and weakening of any competition. Meaning that Google would be able to develop its superior market position still further. And that this would further weaken the European digital economy in particular. I honestly cannot imagine that this is what you meant by compromise. But I do not want to reproach you and Google for this. You, as the representative of the company, can and must look after its interests. My criticism is directed at the European Competition Commission. Commissioner Almunia ought to reflect once again on whether it is wise, as a kind of final official act,to create a situation that will go down in history as a nail in the coffin of the already sclerotic European Internet economy. But it would above all be a betrayal of the consumer, who will no longer be able to find what is most important and best for him but what is most profitable for Google –at the end a betrayal of the basic idea behind Google.

This also applies to the large and even more problematic set of issues concerning data security and data utilization. Ever since Snowden triggered the NSA affair, ever since the close relations between major American online companies and the American secret services became public, the social climate –at least in Europe –has fundamentally changed. People have become more sensitive about what happens to their user data. Nobody knows as much about its customers as Google. Even private or business emails are read by Gmail and, if necessary, can be evaluated. You yourself said in 2010: “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”This is a remarkably honest sentence. The question is: Are users happy with the fact that this information is used not only for commercial purposes –which may have many advantages, yet a number of spooky negative aspects as well –but could end up in the hands of the intelligence services and to a certain extent already has?

In Patrick Tucker’s book The Naked Future: What Happens in a World that Anticipates Your Every Move?, whose vision of the future was considered to be “inescapable”by Google’s master thinker Vint Cerf, there isa scene which sounds like science fiction, but isn’t.Just imagine, the author writes, you wake up one morning and read the following on your phone:“Good morning! Today, as you leave work, you will run into your old girlfriend Vanessa(you dated her eleven years ago), and she is going to tell you that she is getting married. Do try to act surprised!”Because Vanessa has not told anyone yet. You of course are wondering just how your phone knew that or whether it’s a joke, and so you ignore the message. Then in the evening you actually pass Vanessa on the sidewalk. Vaguely remembering the text from the phone, you congratulate her on her engagement. Vanessa is alarmed:“‘How did you knowI was engaged?’she asks. You’re about to say, ‘My phone sent me the text,’ but you stop yourself just in time. ‘Didn’t you post something to your Facebook profile?’you ask. ‘Not yet,’she answers and walks hurriedly away.  You should have paid attention to your phone and just acted surprised.”Google searches more than half a billion web addresses. Google knows more about every digitally active citizen than George Orwell dared to imagine in his wildest dreams in 1984. Google is sitting on the entire current data trove of humanity like the giant Fafner in The Ring of the Nibelung: “Here I lie and here I hold.”I hope you are aware of your company’s special responsibility. If fossil fuels were the fuels of the 20th century, then those of the 21st century are surely data and user profiles. We need to ask ourselves whether competition can generally still function in the digital age if data are so extensively concentrated in the hands of one party.

There is a quote from you in this context that concerns me. In 2009 you said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”The only sentence that is even more worrying comes from Mark Zuckerberg when he was on the podium of a conference with you and Iin the audience. Someone asked what Facebook thinks of the storage of data and the protection of privacy. And Zuckerberg said: “I don’t understand your question. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”Ever since then I have thought about this sentence again and again. I find it terrible. I know that it was certainly not meant that way. Behind this statement there is a state of mind and an image of humanity that is typically cultivated in totalitarian regimes–not in liberal societies. Such a statement could also have come from the head of East Germany’s Stasi or other secret police in service of a dictatorship. The essence of freedom is precisely the fact that I am not obliged to disclose everything that I am doing, that I have a right to confidentiality and, yes, even to secrets;that I am able to determine for myself what I wish to disclose about myself. The individual right to this is what makes a democracy. Only dictatorships want transparent citizens instead of a free press.Officials in Brussels are now thinking about how the total transparency of users can be avoided by restricting the setting and storage of cookies on the Internet (with which it is still possible today to find out which website you clicked on at 10.10 a.m. on 16. April 2006), in order to strengthen consumer rights. We do not yet know exactly how this regulation will turn out, any more than we know whether it will do more good than bad. But one thing is already certain–if it comes to pass, there will be a winner: Google. Because Google is considered by experts to be the absolute leader in the development of technologies which document the movements and habits of users without setting cookies.

Google has also made provisions as far as the antitrust proceedings in Brussels on fair search are concerned. It is expected that the whole procedure will be decided in Google’s favor. But if not, it would also be safeguarded. Concessions and restrictions that have been wrung out in lengthy proceedings, limited to Google’s European domains, would be ineffective in an agreement because Google is able, using Android or Chrome, to arbitrarily determine that the search will no longer be carried out from a web address but by using an app. This means that Google will be able to withdraw from all the commitments it has given,which to this day are still bound to the Google domains such as European politics cave in or wake up? The institutions in Brussels have never been so important. An archaic question of power is to be decided. Is there a chance for an autonomous European digital infrastructure or not? It is a question of competitiveness and viability for the future. Voluntary self-subjugation cannot be the last word from the Old World. On the contrary, the desire of the European digital economy to succeed could finally become something for European policy, which the EU has so sorely missed in the past few decades: an emotional narrative.

16 years of data storage and 16 years experience by tens of thousands of IT developers has established a competitive edge which can no longer be offset with economic resources alone. Since Google bought “Nest”it knows in even more detail what people do within their own four walls. And now Google is also planning driverless cars, in order to compete in the longterm with the car industry from Toyota to VW. Google will then not only know where we drive our cars but how we are occupying ourselves when we are in the car. Forget Big Brother –Google is better!

Against this background it greatly concerns me that Google –which has just announced the acquisition of drone manufacturer “Titan Aerospace”–has been seen for some time as being behind a number of planned enormous ships and floating working environments that can cruise and operate in the open ocean. What is the reason for this development? You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to find this alarming, especially if you listen to the words of Google founder and major shareholder Larry Page.

He dreams of a place without data-protection laws and without democratic accountability. „There’s many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can’t do because they’re illegal“, Page said back in 2013, continuing „ …we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what’s the effect on people, without having to deploy kind of into the normal world.“

Does this mean that Google is planning to operate in a legal vacuum, without troublesome antitrust authorities and data protection? A kind of superstate that can navigate its floating kingdom undisturbed by any and all nation-states and their laws?

Until now the concerns were the following: What will happen if Google continues to expand its absolutely dominant market power?Will there be even less competition? Will the European digital economy be thrown back even further compared to the few American super corporations? Will consumers become even more transparent, more heteronomous and further manipulated by third parties –be it for economic or political interests? And what impact do these factors have on our society?

After this disturbing news you need to ask yourself: Is Google in all seriousness planning for the digital supra-state in which one corporation is naturally only good to its citizens and of course “is not evil”? Please, dear Eric, explain to us why our interpretation of what Larry Page says and does is a misunderstanding.I am aware that the problems which are caused by new digital super-authorities such as Amazon and Facebook cannot be solved by Google alone. But Google could –for its own long-term benefit –set a good example. The company could create transparency, not only by providing search results according to clear quantitative criteria, but also by disclosing all the changes to algorithms. By not saving IP addresses, automatically deleting cookies after each session,and only saving customer behavior when specifically requested to do so by customers. And by explaining and demonstrating what it intends to do with its floating group headquarters and development labs.

Because the fear of growing heteronomy by the all-determining spider in the web is not being driven by any old analog dinosaurs, who have not understood the Internet and are therefore afraid of everything new. It is rather the digital natives, and among them the most recent and best-informed, who have a growing problem with the increasingly comprehensive control by Google.

This also includes the fiction of the culture of free services. On the Internet, in the beautiful colorful Google world, so much seems to be free of charge: from search services up to journalistic offerings. In truth we are paying with our behavior–with the predictability and commercial exploitation of our behavior. Anyone who has a car accident today,and mentions it in an e-mail, can receive an offer for a new car from a manufacturer on his mobile phone tomorrow. Terribly convenient. Today, someone surfing high-blood-pressure web sites,who automatically betrays his notorious sedentary lifestyle through his Jawbone fitness wristband, can expect a higher health insurance premium the day after tomorrow. Not at all convenient. Simply terrible. It is possible that it will not take much longer before more and more people realize that the currency of his or her own behavior exacts a high price: the freedom of self-determination. And that is why it is better and cheaper to pay with something very old fashioned–namely money.

Google is the world’s most powerful bank–but dealing only in behavioral currency. Nobody capitalizes on their knowledge about us as effectively as Google. This is impressive and dangerous.

Dear Eric Schmidt, you do not need my advice, and of course I am writing here from the perspective of those concerned. As a profiteer from Google’s traffic. As a profiteer from Google’s automated marketing of advertising. And as a potential victim of Google’s data and market power. Nevertheless–less is sometimes more. And you can also win yourself to death.

Historically, monopolies have never survived in the longterm. Either they have failed as a result of their complacency, which breeds its own success, or they have been weakened by competition –both unlikely scenarios in Google’s case. Or they have been restricted by political initiatives. IBM and Microsoft are the most recent examples.

Another way would be voluntary self-restraint on the part of the winner. Is it really smart to wait until the first serious politician demands the breakup of Google? Or even worse–until the people refuse to follow? While they still can? We most definitely no longer can.



Sincerely Yours


Mathias Döpfner