In a story that ran in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (June 8, 2007), Rachel Deahl begins her story about the publication of this book thus: "John Grogan does not want you to buy or read the forthcoming collection of his newspaper columns from Vanguard Press. The MARLEY & ME author is so unhappy about the book's publication that his agent has sent a letter to the publishing community distancing himself from the project."
Ms. Deahl quotes Mr. Grogan, who says that "I was totally blindsided by it. It just seems like common courtesy, and basic professional behavior, to at least give the writer a phone call to say, 'We're thinking of doing this.' ... This has nothing to do with wanting to publish my columns and everything to do with [Vanguard and the INQUIRER] getting a piece of this very large audience I have with MARLEY AND ME."
The publication of this book is pure and naked greed on the part of THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER and Vanguard Press. It's telling that the cover clearly, visibly, and prominently lists "JOHN GROGAN" in big, white, embossed letters, with the slugline: "Author of the #1 NEW YORK TIMES Best-seller, MARLEY AND ME." But on the back cover, however, in type so small that it'd take an electron microscope to read it, it says: "The articles in this book were originally written by John Grogan and published as columns in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, which owns the rights to them." I'd type out the rest, but the print is so small, it hurts to read it. (See photo.) Considering that the back cover is a shot of a bathtub with muddy pawprints, it's not that the publisher lacked room to enlarge the disclaimer--it's that the publisher wanted to say, in effect, "we made it clear on the back cover that John Grogan does not profit from the sale of this book in any way." So, strictly speaking, there is a disclaimer, but goshawrooty, could it be typeset in a font size any smaller? It cannot be read -- not without requiring a very high-powered magnifying glass!
Considering that the publisher might rake in as much as a cool million bucks (or more) over the life of this project (figure out the sales on the $18.95 hardback, the e-book, the audio book, the foreign editions, the serializations, the trade paperback or mass market paperbacks to follow, and reprints until the time the sun burns out), it's shameful that John Grogan, who WROTE the contents of the book, doesn't get one thin dime.
And that's wrong. That's SO wrong. Or, as the guy said in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, "that's inconceivable!"
I bought this book from Amazon.com because I like John Grogan's work, and these columns are not available in print form elsewhere. So I bought it with extreme reservations, knowing that John -- a good man, an honest writer, a journalist who subscribes to the ethics of his profession -- was simply, legally, taken advantage of. He had no say in the matter and has wisely distanced himself from its publication.
The issue here is NOT whether or not John's newspaper had the legal right to publish the material; the issue here is why, with all the dollars that go to the INQUIRER and the publisher, did neither of them come up with a way to compensate John directly or indirectly without having to ask him to shill the book in return.
Physicians have a code of ethics that says, "First, do no harm." Journalists have a code, too, that is tough but fair, to insure impartiality when covering stories. Let's be charitable and not discuss in any detail the ethical questions surrounding the publication of this book ... because ethics is not part of the discussion.
Though Deahl's story in PW offers the explanations of Brian Tierney (publisher of THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER), none of it makes sense to me. According to PW, his old boss offered to pay him IF (and this is a big IF) he would engage in promotional efforts to help sell the book. Is it any wonder that John Grogan, a man of principles, refused?
All of that said, the book is excellent -- but only because of John's writing. That's what you're buying when you pay your hard-earned bucks for this book. You get John's wonderful, illuminating, thoughtful writing. But, unfortunately, you get to line the pockets of THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER and Vanguard Press, with its ironic (in this case) name: being in the forefront of a movement. I will be charitable now and refrain from elaborating on the irony of a publisher having a name that suggests leading the way, when the author sees no income whatsoever from the writings that are the sole reason the book is selling.
I do recommend the book, but buy it and know that you aren't helping out John Grogan one bit. But I'm sure (says George sarcastically) that THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER and Vanguard Press will appreciate your bucks. But doesn't all of this beg the question as to why John Grogan was not an active participant but, according to the PW story, "totally blindsided by it"? Inquiring minds want to know....