The Print Media
What do these books have in common?
In case you're wondering why, let's just consider the first three. Little Red Riding Hood has been censored because original versions included "wine" as a gift to grandma.
The most popular (and most censored) children's books of this decade, the Harry Potter books, have been condemned for promoting witchcraft. Christian Parenting Today branded the books "pure evil." Even so, the series is credited in getting more young people interested in reading than any book in history.
In 1925, North Carolina banned textbooks that discussed Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. In 1983, parents sued the Hawkins Country school system for having the "Satan-oriented" stories of The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears in their library.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was originally banned because some people objected to the animal characters being able to use human language.
Diary of A Young Girl, and The Color Purple, have won prestigious awards. Many censored books are even considered to be literary masterpieces. Even so, groups on both the political left and right have found their content inappropriate. Religious Right groups have had well publicized bonfires where they burn books, magazines and CDs.
In 1929, all the Tarzan books were banned in Los Angeles, California, because it was reasoned that the fictional character Tarzan was living in the jungle with Jane without being married.
One of the most notable and notorious censorship cases took place in 1959. This case centered on a book written by D. H. Lawrence in 1928 — Lady Chatterley's Lover. The objection was over the description of a sexual affair that Lady Chatterley had.
Although this description would be considered tame by today's standards — which tells you just how much things change over time — in 1959, there was a major public outcry to ban the book.
Over the years, publishers have spent millions of dollars fighting censorship cases.
Money is one thing, but authors facing death for their work is another. Salman Rushdie, whose work appears in such places as the New York Times, wrote the book, The Satanic Verses.
An Islamic religious group took exception to what he said and reportedly put out a million-dollar contract on his life. Members of the religious group also threatened the publisher and others who had a part in publishing the book.
Rushdie had to hide out for years, during which he had plenty of time to think about free speech (see below).
Although some censorship has recently come from the political left, most censorship efforts are spearheaded by conservative religious and political groups who feel that the content of some books (and many movies and TV programs) undermine their beliefs and values — values that are not necessarily shared by the majority of society.
These censorship efforts are now directed at school boards, where these groups are often successful in getting certain books removed from the shelves of libraries and from teachers' reading lists.
Textbook orders represent millions of dollars in sales for book publishers. Consequently, publishers are quite sensitive to what consumers (primarily school boards that have control over book selection) want and don't want.
Some groups — primarily conservative religious groups — have made major efforts to get control of some school boards so that they can eliminate readings that are not consistent with their views.
After feedback from school boards, publishers sometimes "suggest" to their authors that sections of their manuscripts be added, deleted, or altered. This has been a particular issue with history, social studies, and biology textbooks. Theories of creation and sexual information have been major issues.
The state of Texas has been especially active in this regard. Being one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, books that are and are not adopted can represent millions of dollars in revenue — enough to pressure some publishers to "rephrase" contentious issues.
But pressures can also come from the political left. The book, The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, by Diane Ravitch, documents many examples of seemingly innocuous words and phrases that are edited out of today's books.
Here are some (extreme) examples of things that publishers, in an effort not to offend anyone, have deleted — or have been asked to delete — from textbooks.
And these do not include material that touches on sexual issues, which is even more contentious.
What's left? Nothing with much "flavor," which explains why so many textbooks are, in the words of one critic, "so dry and boring."
One of the advantages of publishing cybertexts on the web is
that you don't have to contend with such pressure groups. This does not mean,
however, that we don't get pressure to change things.*
Corporate Influence Over Content
The tendency to alter texts to please special interest groups has become much more of an issue as book publishing has shifted away from the independent publishers who felt a responsibility toward the integrity of publishing, to large corporations whose primary goal is sales.
The writer came up against the power of pressure groups to influence content when a member of a women's group reviewed one of his textbook manuscripts and objected to an instance where a woman was portrayed in a negative light. At the same time the reviewer had no objection to negative portrayals of men in the same manuscript. To placate the reviewer the publisher suggested that the reference to the woman be dropped.
But sometimes textbooks that are objectionable to certain groups are adopted anyway. When a biology textbook containing a chapter on human reproduction was adopted in one school district, the principal stapled all the pages in that chapter together so students wouldn't be able to read them.
In another biology textbook drawings of the male and female genitalia were painted over with black poster paint.
To their credit, some authors and textbook publishers feel that their work represents an accurate and balanced perspective and they resist efforts to alter their manuscripts and textbooks — even to the point of losing lucrative contracts.
Censorship efforts also have also extended to government and business groups. An example of government control is the Chicago Police Bureau of Censorship that was active during the 1940s and 1950s. In the case of businesses we have the example of a lumber company that wanted a Dr. Seuss book banned because it told the story of some fuzzy little creatures that lost their home because all the trees had been cut down where they lived.
When we survey the long history of book censorship, which includes everything from Shakespeare's plays to Walt Disney's Snow White, you have to conclude that there is hardly a viewpoint that someone, somewhere, won't object to.
Even though dictatorships around the world routinely censor materials that they feel detract from their causes, the United States has prided itself in having free speech. But, each year groups try to ban hundreds of books in the United States, and almost half of their efforts are successful. Censorship is driven primarily by three major factors.
1. the large number of traditionalists unable to accept change; people who long for earlier times and earlier moral values
2. the militant advocacy of fundamentalist values, often promoted by TV evangelists and conservative "talk radio" commentators
3. the Supreme Court's 1973 decision (Miller v. California) that left the definition of obscenity to local community standards
Throughout history, the U.S. Supreme Court has generally upheld the interests of free speech. Exceptions have primarily related to obscenity (which has proven impossible to reliably define) and national security (a designation that sometimes keeps government documents that might prove politically embarrassing from the public). These issues are discussed in the modules that cover legal and ethical issues.
The Consolidation of Book
Publishers and Book Stores
Before the 1960s, the book publishing industry was composed mostly of independent companies whose only business was books. But, growing profits made the business attractive to large corporations looking for new investments.
At about the same time that large corporations started buying publishing houses they also
started buying out independent bookstores. A nine-year period,
which also continues into 2011, is shown below.
While corporate profits have increased (which is good news for the shareholders) the type and scope of books have decreased. Instead of risking the publication of new titles by unknown authors, these corporations tend to stick with known authors and past success formulas. This, of course, makes it difficult for new authors with new ideas to enter the marketplace.
Today, only a very small percentage of the works of new authors are considered for publication. At the same time, the industry is rift with stories about manuscripts that have been turned down by 20 or 30 publishers, only to later become bestsellers.
Stupid White Men, was repeatedly turned town by HarperCollings in 2001. When librarians heard why (it was humorously critical of the Bush administration and the 2000 election) they circulated the fact in Internet chat rooms forcing the publisher to finally publish the book. Stupid White Men, instantly became a nationwide bestseller.
Faced with the long odds on having a manuscript accepted for publication many new authors resort to self-publishing their books through vanity presses (publishing houses that charge for publishing a limited number of copies of their book). A few self-published books have become bestsellers, but only after they attracted the attention of a large publishing house that had the promotion and distribution clout necessary to market the book on a large scale.
Recently, self-publishing has moved into electronic or Internet publishing Companies such as Amazon.com, will make a book available to be read electronically on their sites. The author can set a price, which can range from "free" to the cost of a hardback version.
A few "electronic books" have become quite successful and generated handsome profits for the writers.
In the next section we'll look at the present status and future prospects for book publishing.
* However, on this site the suggestions to change things comes from e-mail and not publishers. We consider such suggestions seriously and if the writer shows that something we wrote was misstated or misleading we can quickly change things -- something that is obviously not possible with traditional textbooks.