Saturday, 16 July 2011

I don't like Murdoch either

... not that anyone does, of course, now. But there are reasons beyond the phone hacking. Rupert Murdoch owns HarperCollins, one of the UK's major publishers. HarperCollins publishes some great books, including - great irony here - Naomi Klein's No Label. It also publishes some terrible books, like the great unsold autobiography of John Major which netted Major a £400,000 advance. If you look at the HarperCollins list you will find that Murdoch has used his publishing firm as a kind of outdoor relief for politicians heading past their sell-by-date. Add in the serialisation of such memoirs in the Sunday Times and you can see that many politicians have had sizable contributions this way. In 2004 Ian Jack, in the Guardian, referred to Robin Cook getting an advance against royalties plus serialisation fee that topped £400,000 for a book that did not even earn 10% of the advance alone. And there is David Blunkett writing for the Sun. Now, why would any media mogul chose to give politicians far more money than their words could possibly be worth?

There is one exception. Chris Patten, an honest man among Conservatives, wrote a book about being the last Governor of Hong Kong, on a realistic £50k advance from HarperCollins. The book was however never published as it included some of Patten's comments on the Chinese government. Murdoch was at the time getting into bed with the Chinese government on some business deal and did not want to publish anything critical of that Government. So Patten was dumped, and his book went on to be published, successfully, by MacMillan. I can only hope, as the Murdoch empire fades, that the excellent Times Literary Supplement survives, under new ownership.

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