In opposition to Penguin Random House’s purchase of an upcoming memoir by Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an open letter has started circulating in the publishing community. The letter was published today and has since been shared online, notably on the Instagram account @publishersbrunch, whose anonymous administrator informed PW that “a group of concerned publishing professionals” wrote and shared the declaration.
According to AP, Coney Barrett signed a book deal with Penguin Random House’s Sentinel label in April 2021. Sentinel founder, president, and publisher Adrian Zackheim declined to give more information when the acquisition was made public. Politico, meanwhile, claimed that Coney Barrett had received a $2 million advance for the book—a figure echoed in the statement—citing three unnamed “publishing industry sources.”
According to financial disclosure filings posted by the Washington Post in June of this year, Coney Barrett received $425,000 as part of the book contract with Sentinel last year. The money came from the Javelin Group literary agency, which sells works to the company on behalf of several politicians. Considerable book advances are typically paid over several years in instalments. Thus, this amount might have just represented a percentage of the overall passage.
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Barrett, a vocal opponent of abortion, was one of the six justices who voted on June 24 for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Multiple areas of the publishing industry responded quickly to that decision, including PRH US CEO Madeline McIntosh’s note to staff, in which she promised to “do everything we can to continue to provide all of our employees with access to all of our benefits,” including “protecting safe and reliable access to reproductive healthcare.”
The alleged breach of the Bertelsmann Code of Conduct lies at the heart of the case against PRH’s choice to publish Coney Barrett. The declaration mentions that Robert L. Bernstein, a former Random House publisher and founder of Human Rights Watch, used the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when he declared access to abortion a human right.
The PRH parent firm Bertelsmann’s Code of Conduct likewise refers to the declaration and states that the publisher is “dedicated to the ideals” of the agreement. According to the statement, publishing Coney Barrett’s book would go against the company’s code of conduct and universally recognised human rights.
On behalf of the group, @publishersbrunch told PW, “With the midterms approaching and the 2024 election looming, the group thought it was time to make a statement.” The voices of radicals (like Amy Coney Barrett) who would gladly deny the rights of millions of Americans if given a chance cannot and will not be amplified by us. I’m delighted to see the replies so far, and I hope this action inspires other people in the business to speak up too!