On the one hand, the announcement that it would be little Beaufort Books—a division of the distributor Midpoint—who would publish the Goldman family's souped-up version of O.J. Simpson's “confession,” If I Did It, was a relief.
After days of speculating, both within this office and without, about which major conglomeratized publisher would dare release the book that even Rupert Murdoch declined to publish, that the “winner” was a little-known outfit just one step above a vanity publisher made some of us feel better: of course it would be somebody like Beaufort (or the late Lyle Stuart, many suggested), we said. A tiny, unaffiliated house would be the only kind for which such a publication would have an upside: with no reputation to protect and little money to lay out, the risk both to brand and to bottom line would be minimal. (While usually a share-the-risk-share-the-reward publisher that counts on authors to cover some costs, in this case, Midpoint president and Beaufort founder Eric Kampmann has said, an advance was paid; he declined to disclose the amount, but you can bet it's a very small token, largely intended to dispel the vanity press label.) But Beaufort isn't “real publishing,” we sighed, complacently; this manuscript—which I'm pleased to say got a very cool reception at the major houses to which it was shopped—is something none of “us” would ever buy.
On the other hand, the fact that somebody, anybody, bought it—and is “proud” of it, as Kampmann told PW last week—is more than a little disturbing. You already know what I (and many others in the business) think about publishing this book, even if O.J. Simpson doesn't make a single dime.
What worries me now is what will be revealed about our readers, our marketplace, the people who keep all of us in business. Will a newly titled and newly packaged If I Did It—with its much-publicized profits, or portions thereof, going to charity—sell? While I'm heartened by the Web postings I've read on our site and others, which are running many-to-one against the project, I also know this is heat-of-the-moment stuff. How many of those who are outraged today will be overcome by curiosity later? And how many will pay, while the entire original O.J. manuscript is available free on the Internet?
(In the full-disclosure department, someone gave me a printout of it. I hope I don't read it in any form.)
No one knows, of course, though Kampmann and the Goldmans are betting the numbers are large, since virtually all of their profit is on the back end. And while I'd never dare tell booksellers their business, I can sympathize with their position: B&N and Borders spokespeople told PW they wouldn't decide until the book had been presented; some independents said they despised censorship even more than O.J. and would reluctantly carry the book. Booksellers, after all, are not (and shouldn't be) editors or tastemakers, they're merchants—and their welfare depends on their selling what people want to buy.
So what do the people want? The Fred Goldman family and the folks at Beaufort Books hope they know. What I hope is that they're wrong.
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