Simon & Schuster US has decided not to distribute a book by Sgt Jonathan Mattingly, one of two Louisville Kentucky police officers who fired shots that killed Breonna Taylor in her home on 13 March last year.  Police had been called to the house in what turned out to be a mistaken narcotics raid.  Mattingly was shot in the leg by Taylor’s boyfriend and Taylor was killed in the subsequent exchange of gunfire.

The Fight for Truth: The Inside Story Behind the Breonna Taylor Tragedy is due to be published by Post Hill Press in the autumn.  Based in Brentwood, Tennessee, Post Hill Press was founded in 2013 and publishes politically conservative titles as well as religious books, self-help titles and popular culture books.  Its titles are distributed by S&S and the episode has highlighted the difficulties large publishes face when distributing titles from many small, independent houses.  In a long letter to staff, S&S CEO Jonathan Karp, explained:

“As a publisher, we seek a broad range of views for our lists.  As a distributor, we have a limited and more detached role. The distinction between publishing and distribution is frequently lost on people who do not follow the publishing business closely, but it is a reality of this important part of our overall business portfolio.”

His statement also said: “ Like you, we first became aware of the publishing deal with Mattingly through news reports, social media posts and press queries…We had no prior knowledge of the book and had not been informed by our distribution partner that it was in the works. By last night we had decided that we could not distribute this book, and after informing Post Hill Press we issued an announcement.

“Although all of us involved in this decision shared an immediate and strong consensus about not wanting any role whatsoever in the distribution of this particular book, we are mindful of the unsustainable precedent of rendering our judgment on the thousands of titles from independent publishers whose books we distribute to our accounts, but whose acquisitions we do not control.

“You have our commitment to always be open to the exchange of opinions and points of view with our employees and authors. At times, that commitment will be in conflict with the editorial choices of our distribution partners, which we must also respect.”

Before social media, Mattingly’s book might have emerged almost unnoticed, but following a piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal a twitter storm erupted with people calling for the publisher to drop the book and S&S not to distribute it.

At a time of heightened sensitivity in the US with the trial of George Floyd nearing its conclusion, S&S chose the path of caution.  With so many bookshops already saying they will refuse to the title, it remains to be seen whether Mattingly’s book will ever see the light of day.