Tuesday, November 21, 2006

O.J. Simpson and the book that never was -- yet

I think I’m going to assume that you’re more or less up to speed on black US football star O.J. Simpson and the murder of his wife Nicole, plus friend Ronald Goldman, in 1994.

Suffice it to say that O.J. was charged with murder and got off. Mainly because he paid for a massively high-powered legal defence team, which left the prosecution fighting well above their weight.

I wouldn’t wish to make too many broad statements here, but I think it is fair to say that most Americans, particularly white middle-class Americans, took the view that O.J. was in fact guilty as hell, verdict or no verdict.

A few weeks ago, a story surfaced that O.J. had written a new book in which he described how he thought the murders might have been committed -- speaking, as it were, from the point of view of someone who might have been there but wasn’t. Payment of $3.5 million for this book was mentioned.

Various notable and influential parties declared themselves outraged at the very idea of O.J. making any money out of such a book.

The book story was comprehensively denied by O.J.’s lawyer, Yale Galanter.

Then, last week, we learnt that there really was a book, called If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened. It was going to be published by Regan Books, part of the HarperCollins empire, which is itself part of Rupert Murdoch’s mighty News Corp.

Further expressions of outrage were then heard across the whole of America (and elsewhere). Just by way of example, abebooks.com did a quick and dirty survey of book buyers and booksellers and found that 97% of the former and 96% of the latter declared that they wouldn’t touch a book of that kind.

And then, yesterday or thereabouts, Rupert Murdoch, the News Corp boss man himself, announced that he personally had decided that the O.J. book project would not go ahead. Neither would Fox TV (another Murdoch/News Corp enterprise) be broadcasting the interview with O.J. which had been recorded by Judith Regan, head of Regan books; in that interview, it was said, O.J. as good as confessed to the two murders.

The Murdoch decision is announced in today’s UK Times, which is yet another News Corp publication, of course; and for a possibly more objective account of the decision, you can go to the Independent.

I think I will leave all the moralising about the O.J. publication to others, and just concentrate on a few aspects of the publishing process that I find intriguing.

First, I find it interesting that this book was signed up by Judith Regan. This lady has quite a publishing history, and has been variously described as ‘the enfant terrible of American publishing’, the ‘angriest woman in the media’ and a ‘foul-mouthed tyrant’. A former friend (former, I note) described her as ‘the highest functioning deranged person I've ever known.’

Regan has issued a 2,200 word statement on why she decided to publish If I Did It, and if you care enough about this case to have read this far, I recommend that you read the Regan statement in full. Some will regard it as over-emotional, and excessively personal, and it certainly rambles a bit in places; overall, however, I think it constitutes quite a reasonable rationale for publishing the book; and it also constitutes a pretty good defence of publishing controversial and ‘offensive’ material in general.

Then there’s the TV interview. Regan is no stranger to TV. She once had her own show on Fox, called Judith Regan Tonight. Buried somewhere within the mountain of print and talk which has already accumulated about this matter, there may be a clear statement as to who created the O.J. interview and who owns the rights to it. But I would be surprised, and disappointed in Ms Regan's smarts, if she wasn’t the ultimate owner.

Next, I wonder who actually wrote the new O.J. book. I think we can safely assume that the former football star did not pen it himself. Neither am I being entirely frivolous when I say that I wonder if O.J. actually read what his ghost produced. Many a UK sports star has cheerfully admitted to never having read his own ‘autobiography’, and indeed Roy Keane used that assertion as the main plank in his defence when challenged about the contents of his book.

Who first dreamed up this idea? And who owns the rights to If I Did It? Regan says that she didn't pay O.J. directly. ‘I contracted through a third party who owns the rights, and I was told the money would go to his children.’ If nothing else, this is an unusual way to write a publishing contract, and, judging by his reported statements, O.J.’s usual lawyer knew nothing about it. Publishers Lunch says that Attorney Yale Galanter told the NY Post that he had first learnt of the deal on Monday 13 November. That was the day when Regan recorded her TV interview with O.J., and by that time large numbers of copies of the book had surely been printed.

Speaking of numbers printed, Regan/HarperCollins have not officially announced a figure for the first printing, but Publishers Lunch says that ‘the initial planned cap of a 300,000-copy laydown was exceeded, perhaps by as much as another 100,000 copies. These numbers are essentially confirmed by Harper Canada CEO David Kent in the Toronto Star.’

Now that is one hell of a lot of books. Even 300,000 hardbacks occupy a huge amount of warehouse space and weigh – what? – hundreds of tons? So what’s going to happen to them? They’re going to be pulped? It’s a good many years since I pulped any hardbacks, but I seem to remember that it was technically very difficult; not like paperbacks. And what is the ‘shrinkage’ on this pile of books going to be? In other words, how many of them will walk out of the warehouse of their own accord, soon to surface on eBay? Lots, I expect.

Then there’s the minor problem of contracts. The ‘rights owner’ – as yet unidentified, as far as I know – presumably has a contract which calls for publication. Publishing contracts normally do. If the contract has been unilaterally cancelled, I would expect said rights owner to be able to argue for a considerable sum in compensation. Not to mention the ghostwriter, who may well be in a for a cut of the royalties.

All of that being the case, how come, I wonder, that Rupert Murdoch has had a sudden fit of conscience, outbreak of umbrage, sudden attack of ethics?

My guess is that he hasn’t had any such thing. Rupert has just done some figures on the back of an envelope. He has calculated the cost of dumping this project, and has worked out, without too much difficulty, that it is much less than the cost (to News Corp overall) of letting it go ahead.

Lots of outraged customers, stakeholders, and shareholders, can cause quite a lot of damage to News Corp, far outweighing the potential profit. HarperCollins may be a big company in publishing circles, but it constitutes, as someone once said, but a single pixel on the News Corp screen.

In other words, I see the Murdoch decision not as censorship, which I would object to, but as pure commerce. As such it makes sense.

Other businessmen, however, will also have their calculators out, and will be able to do quite different sums from those of Mr Murdoch. My insights into American culture are these days obtained by, so to speak, squinting through a keyhole into a large room; in other words, I only see a small part of the whole picture. But, ignoring for the moment the noisy Disgusteds of the US equivalent of Tunbridge Wells, my guess is that there are vast numbers of punters out there who would be quite willing to shell out, say, a discounted $20 or so for the O.J. confession.

I would be willing to bet, but for one little thing, that, within twelve months, some other publisher wll have picked up the rights to If I Did It, published the book, and had a number one New York Times bestseller with it.

And what is that one little thing which I think might get in the way of a new publisher for If I Did It?

Ah yes. It’s the fact that we live in the digital age. Where there is a demand, and where there is an expressed intention to suppress the object of desire, we can safely guarantee that somebody, somewhere, will digitise a copy and spread it around.

My wager is that, before too long, the text of If I Did It will be released, by a pirate, online. And so will the video of the TV interview.

Even those unauthorised releases might not entirely kill off an authorised version of the book. Far from it. But if the releases do happen, and if they take away the market for the book, then the rights owners of both book and TV show have an even stronger case for compensation from News Corp.

More, I suspect, later. This one will run and run.

See also:
Madame Arcati
Sara Nelson
If I Did It wikipedia


Reese M. said...

I read Judith Regan's statement about why she decided to publish O.J.'s "confession" and found it to be difficult to believe. Mostly because she made such an effort to have it be a highly personal decision, much in the style of she "protested too much".

However, I do agree with you in that she still managed to give a compelling statement in favor of publishing such controversial material.

I, for one, was a bit apalled at the decision of ReaganBooks/HarperCollins to publish O.J.'s book in the first place.

You are basically correct in assessing the demographics of those of us who believed/believe that O.J. is "guilty as hell". However, there really were no supporters to speak of in relation to the publication of the book.

Those that were in favor of publishing it were relatively few and seemed to be arguing more against censorship on the part of News Corp. (styled as a "let the public decide" argument), rather than for an overt support of O.J. himself.

Mark Thornton said...

I also read Judith Regan's 'apologia' for publishing the book. That's quite an individual, who can divulge all that (admittedly tragic) personal history (and that of her children) to try to get away with burying a single paragraph about "not having paid him".

(Yeah, and I don't sell books for money, I sell books for closure too.)

I think someone should seriously think of writing the 'book about the OJ Simpson book' as the next bizarre twist in this story.

Perhaps someone might steal one of the hardbacks from the warehouse, and then be chased at slow speed by about 20 police cars. And then they could make a film about the OJ book theft.

At this point I think the universe begins to collapse in on itself...

Anonymous said...

Re: OJ Simpson: I got an email late yesterday afternoon from a reporter who said: "Everyone is saying this is a new low in publishing. But there have been other “new lows” in the past. May I speak with you about books that have been deemed so egregious we thought we’d never see its like again?"

My answer: OJ's first book: "I Want to Tell You: My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions." Published by Little Brown in 1995. Selling for $.01 on Amazon right now.


Anonymous said...

Damn, you always beat me to the punch. My comment was going to be that someone will still latch onto it and publish it. The part I disagree on is I see it being online AND followed by the book. With illustrations, no doubt.

Bear in mind, this is the man who early on said he planned to spare no expense to find the real killer, so ya just gotta admire his tenacity. We'll be seeing the book all over, everyone decrying it--and everyone buying it.

Madame Arcati said...

Don't forget that OJ still owes $33m in damages to the family of one of his victims, Ron Goldman. The deal that Murdoch's $3.5m would go to OJ's kids (probably into a trust) was just a ruse to get round the court order. This was also a crass attempt to launder the project - Regan knew it would draw flak, hence her quickfire improvisation of her own personal abuse history.

Annette said...

I am appalled at the decision to publish this book by O.J.Simpson.
I, personally wouldn't touch this book with a barge pole!

Anonymous said...

The title to OJ's recently blackballed book "If I Did It, Here's How It Happened" was pretty tasteless indeed...but you can't tell me he wasn't put up to it by those who would profit the most. Artist's will understand easiest, its the same way with music consider....GET RICH OR DIE TRYING...Jimmy Iovine has made infinitely more money of that title than Curtis Jackson. That's capitalism...love it or move to Cuba.

I just hope OJ got paid UPFRONT. Why? Because...not only was OJ's destroyed reputation actually taken to new low's...do remember he was found NOT GUILTY of that heinous crime...yet the whole establishment has conspired to cockblock his cashflow...they would much rather see him... BECOME POOR AND DIE STRUGGLING...ain't that about a b*tch?

In fact, it has been well documented that "some" people couldn't have cared less what kind of content the book contained if the money was going to the the "families" of Ron Goldman or Nicole Simpson....does that say anything to you? The topic of OJ is a hot potatoe....even supporters of him during the trial are now scared to hold on to beliefs which are only legal and right in regards to him so they hurl any supportive stance from their vicinity as far and as fast as they can.

However, the fact of the matter is OJ could have NEVER have been convicted! This is not just because of the apparent holes in the prosecutions' case......you must understand the backlash of resentment and tension from this "conviction" would have been a terrible pain in the side of the nation. The greatness of the late Johnny Cochran notwithstanding, it was a very political move. The last thing America needed at the time (or anytime) is a Martyr. A FREE OJ MOVEMENT....could you imagine it? What would that have done to the fabric of our nation? Though the status quo would have been just as unrelenting as they are now in his post trial persecution...the people would have had a CAUSE to champion and reason to rally. No...it is much easier this way...the meek simply remain content with the verdict, silent and indifferent now.

Of course, I don't know IF HE DID IT or not; however..what I do know is he was found NOT GUILTY by our COURT OF LAW...yet without trial....he has essentially been convicted to death in the hearts and minds of a prejudiced society who if not for clever lawyering...would have Mr. Simpson lying on Sunset Blvd as thin as a Somalian comedically victimized on the next video clipping of BUM FIGHTS. I mean this literally.

Is that justice? What is also obvious is the fact that I, (and I am not alone) KNOW at least one person who has either currently or recently served time in an American prison for a crime that he or she DID NOT COMMIT...and yes I said "DID NOT" commit! This paradigm is not shared throughout America. I am aware of that. This is a backdrop most commonly reserved for the oppressed....its that all too familiar pain of helplessness you feel when struggling against a system much stronger than yourself. Can you relate?

Those who can ask...Where is the outpouring of support for these victims? Where are the organized campaigns for justice now? Where are the threats to overthrow anyone who aids in the propaganda? Maybe just maybe....to some...(though many are afraid to admit it) OJ Simpson in all of his faults, represents the one who overcame that system. Maybe he personified the one who had the strength to pull the systems' vicious tentacles off of him and set himself free with the "almighty dollar" that is so often unavailable to the accused. Maybe just maybe... in order to prevent him from becoming that iconic "symbol" it is in societies best interest to weaken this man until his dying day. I understand the logic.

I am sure OJ is a broken man---whether it is from the "guilt" in which he was ironically acquitted---or from constantly battling the hatred he has subsequently endured. If you understand anything about psychology I am sure you will agree that this will certainly levy a heavy toll on your Mental Health. So I am sure OJ Simpson will appear unstable, weak and somewhat scatter-brained now. It is my belief that you would to.

TexSport Publications said...

Anything that people think haa a monetary value ends up on the secondary market. Did anyone think a copy wouldn't leak out?

I have posted a comment on this and other topics on my blog. Please feel free to stop by and post your thoughts and views, no matter what they are.

Free exchange of thoughts is what makes us better.

Texas Truth

Anonymous said...

This whole concept is just too over the top for me. To believe that OJ would even consider doing something like this, it just makes him out to be an even worse person, if that's even possible.

Anonymous said...

You should really see this video:


Wow, is all I can say.

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