Photo: Monika Arora/Twitter
Photo: Monika Arora/Twitter

In June, as debate raged over the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death, several writers had come forth to discuss the nepotism and biases that existed within the publishing industry.

In a lengthy Twitter thread writer and economist Sanjeev Sanyal wrote that while the situation had improved over the last decade, it was "very difficult" for an outsider to get published, and that the childen of well known writers and journalists "with clearly no talent" routinely had their works published.

From awards that were frequently handed out "by a tight clique to each others" to censoring at the "editorial stage", Sanyal, along with Amish Tripathi and Arnab Ray painted a disconcerting picture.

"Yes, there is an elite which controls publishing; just like an elite group in every industry. In Indian publishing, to be a part of that group, you have to be from the Indian-anglicised elite," wrote Tripathi.

We mention this because on Saturday, one publishing house decided to wade headfirst into controversy over its handling of an upcoming book. And this, in turn, has brought all the allegations and debates regarding biases to the forefront.

You see, on Saturday, Bloomsbury India faced massive backlash after a poster a book launch event for 'Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story'. The poster had featured BJP leader Kapil Mishra as one of the guests of honours and this did not go down well with many on social media platforms. Mishra had made a rather incendiary speech in the run-up to the riots, and while there had been no official sanctions against him, people were not too happy with the gesture.

Damage control efforts were soon underway. The company clarified that its logo had been used without authorisation in the launch event that was not endorsed by it, and then seemed to remind people of its impartiality by sharing a photo of a book on the Shaheen Bagh protests on all social media platforms.

Perhaps deciding that this was not enough, Bloomsbury India on Saturday evening withdrew publication of the book, even as the writers, Kapil Mishra and others held a book launch event. In an official statement that was shared with The Free Press Journal, the publishing house said that the decision had been taken "in view of very recent events including a virtual pre-publication launch organised without our knowledge by the authors, with participation by parties of whom the Publishers would not have approved."

And while there had been massive criticism over the launch event and the fact that such a book was being published in the first place, many say that abruptly withdrawing its endorsement might be a far bigger problem, indicating a bias that a publishing house should not ideally posess.

As Smita Barooah wrote on Twitter, "Dear @BloomsburyIndia,when many spoke about censorship,nepotism & intellectual dishonesty in the publishing industry,some didn't believe it.Your cowardice has just exposed the rot. Try as you may,you can't shut out #DelhiRiots2020 : The Untold Story.Thanks for the publicity".

Netizens are almost always outraged over several topics on a daily basis. And while Bloomsbury India had attempted to smooth things over, there is no way to please everyone. There is however, as evidenced by the publishing house, ways to antagonise nearly everyone. While many remain focused on the fact that the publishing house had decided to take on 'Delhi Riots 2020', others are miffed over their last minute withdrawal.

The end result is that nearly everyone has heard of the book at this point. From a publisher's point of view, it does not quite matter whether those buying the book read it. Many on Twitter have suggested that the authors go the self publishing route, adding that they would buy multiple copies of it. Unfortunately, Bloomsbury India is unlikely to reap the benefits of the popularity it accidentally instigated.

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Free Press Journal