Scholastic has pulled a children’s book, “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk,” for perpetuating “passive racism.”
The publisher said in a statement the decision was made on March 22 with the author, Dav Pilkey, who is known for the wildly successful “Captain Underpants” series.
In his own statement, Pilkey said the book was “intended to showcase diversity, equality, and non-violent conflict resolution.”
The book is about friends who save the world using kung fu and the principles found in Chinese philosophy, he said.
“But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery,” the author said. “I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this. It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people.”
Scholastic’s decision on the book – subtitled “Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future” – followed a similar decision from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which said earlier this month it would cease publication of six Dr. Seuss titles.
In the days after that announcement, other Dr. Seuss titles soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller chart. The books were pulled from eBay. Politicians and commentators claimed that “cancel culture” had come for Dr. Seuss.
Pilkey said he and Scholastic would work to remove copies of “The Adventures of Ook and Gluk” from bookshops and library shelves, although it’s unclear whether libraries would remove the book.
As of Sunday, Scholastic’s websites in the US and elsewhere had pulled the title. Current orders won’t be fulfilled, the company said.
“Throughout our 100-year history, we have learned that trust must be won every day by total vigilance,” Scholastic said in its statement.
It added: “It is our duty and privilege to publish books with powerful and positive representations of our diverse society, and we will continue to strengthen our review processes as we seek to support all young readers.”
Pilkey said his advance and royalties from the book would be given to charities. He said: “I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism are harmful to everyone. I apologize, and I pledge to do better.”
Back in 1984, when he was 43 books into his career, Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, told a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune that most of his stories didn’t have serious messages, but were rather “just plain pleasant tommyrot.”
The newspaper described the author at home in La Jolla, California. He was leaning back in his desk chair, discussing whether his newest book, “The Butter Battle Book,” was a “children’s books for adults or an adult book for children.”
“There are so many leaders who think in a childlike manner, I thought it wouldn’t make any difference if it was a children’s book or not,” Geisel said.
Dr. Seuss’s books have meant a lot to both children and adults in the eight decades since he published his first one. Perhaps that’s why, this past week, they became a focal point in an ongoing conversation about so-called cancel culture.
Political commentators on the right, including Donald Trump Jr. and Senator Ted Cruz, jumped to the defense of Dr. Seuss as six of his books were pulled because of offensive or racist imagery. Trump said the move was a clear sign that the “woke mob” had come for the author, who died in 1991.
“I literally know ‘The Cat in the Hat’ by heart without the book there because I read it so many times to my children,” Trump said on Fox News. He added: “These things are not racist.”
Trump Jr and others placed the blame on their political opponents, liberal lawmakers, and the media. On Twitter, Rep. Matt Gaetz said: “At what point does our society reach cancel culture herd immunity?”
But the decision to stop publishing the six books came from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the author’s estate, a fact that seemed to get lost in the conversation over so-called cancel culture. The call, you might say, was coming from inside the house.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it sought to further the author’s mission of “hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship,” according to a statement released Tuesday.
“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the company said.
The six books removed from its catalog were: ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,’ ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ ‘McElligot’s Pool,’ ‘On Beyond Zebra!,’ ‘Scrambled Eggs Super!,’ and ‘The Cat’s Quizzer.’
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the company said.
According to researchers, Geisel also published hundreds of racist cartoons and drawings during his career.
By late afternoon on Friday, about half the books on Amazon’s bestseller list were either Dr. Seuss originals or spinoffs by other writers.
On Thursday, eBay told The Wall Street Journal it was scrubbing its site of the six pulled books. Late Friday, however, some of the pulled books could still be found for sale.
A copy of “The Cat’s Quizzer” listed on eBay had more than 50 bids, putting its price well about $200. Several copies of “Mulberry Street” were listed at about $150, plus shipping.
President Joe Biden this week left Dr. Seuss books off his reading list for Read Across America Day. The fact-checking site PolitiFact said Biden’s decision wasn’t connected to the decision made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The shift had been years in the making, it added.
When asked about the omission at the White House, Jen Psaki, press secretary, said: “And as we celebrate the love of reading and uplift diverse and representative authors, it is especially important that we ensure all children can see themselves represented and celebrated in the books that they read.”
On Twitter, Cruz posted a screenshot of Amazon’s bestseller list full of Dr. Seuss titles, adding: “Could Biden try to ban my book next?”
Last week, Ann Coulter, the political commentator and author, focused her attention on “The Butter Battle Book,” and called for it to be removed from shelves.
“If Dr. Seuss’s estate is going to pull any of his books, it should be the embarrassing one suggesting that the difference between the USSR and U.S.A was just that we buttered our bread on different sides – published in 1984, as Reagan was winning the Cold War,” Coulter wrote on Twitter.
Back in 1984, when Geisel had just finished “The Butter Battle Book,” he told the Tribune reporter that the book was one of his only books to make a political statement. He was against the one-upmanship that had made Americans fear all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
“It is a departure, but I figure in all kids’ books, even the nonsense, the author is saying something,” Geisel said at the time. “And he might as well say something important once in awhile.”
So, all in all, the backlash over the company’s decision did seem to be behind a retail buying frenzy that sent Dr. Seuss books to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers charts, particularly as on Telegram, some members of alt-right groups implied they’d ordered Dr. Seuss books because of the controversy, according to screenshots seen by Insider.
It should be noted, though, that the books that led sales – “The Cat in the Hat,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,” and “Green Eggs and Ham” – weren’t the ones that had been pulled by Dr. Seuss Enterprises.
Australian lawmakers have portrayed the proposed law as an effort to curb the tech giants’ power over digital advertising (a major cause of news publishers’ declining revenues over the past two decades). Facebook argued that the law misunderstands its relationship with publishers.
But the situation is more complicated than an attempt to level the digital media playing field – and it could have consequences around the world.
Here’s what you need to know about the battle between Australia, Facebook, and Google over who pays for news online.
How did we get here?
News publishers have long had a bone to pick with companies like Facebook and Google, blaming them for eating away at ad revenues (and as a result, journalism jobs), while also exercising massive control over publishers through algorithms and benefitting from showing their users news content without paying its creators.
Increasingly, regulators have sought to force Facebook and Google to pay publishers to use their content, and Australia has been at the forefront, along with the EU and countries including France, Germany, and Spain.
The law as currently proposed would require companies like Facebook and Google to pay Australian publishers directly for news content that’s displayed or linked to on their sites, as well as give publishers 28 days’ notice before changing their algorithms.
Specifically, it would require them to individually negotiate content prices with publishers within three months, or be forced into an arbitration process where a government-appointed panel will pick between the publisher and tech giants’ proposals.
Is it likely to pass?
Yes. The lower chamber of Australia’s parliament approved the proposed legislation this week, and it’s now headed to the Senate, where it’s expected to pass into law, though discussions between the companies and the government are still ongoing.
Who would be the likely winners and losers?
As the Syndey Morning Herald reported, smaller publishers are not eligible for payments under the proposed law, so large publishers like News Corp may end up benefitting the most. (News Corp has urged the Australian government to pass the law).
Reporter Casey Newton also pointed out that the law also doesn’t require publishers to spend any new revenue on reporters or newsgathering efforts, meaning it could go to executives or investors.
Facebook’s and Google’s competitors could also gain an edge if their market share is diminished – Microsoft President Brad Smith endorsed the law last week.
As a result, the law could inadvertently further entrench Facebook’s and Google’s dominance, though it’s unclear what the ultimate impact would be on news publishers or the broader media ecosystem.
What was Facebook’s response?
Facebook said in a blog post that the law “fundamentally misunderstands” its relationship with publishers – which it argued benefits publishers more. Facebook said news content is “less than 4% of the content people see” and that it brought in around $315 million for Australian publishers in 2020.
With less to lose, in its view, Facebook pulled the plug.
On Wednesday (Thursday in Australia), Facebook blocked Australian publishers from sharing or posting content from their pages, blocked Australian users from viewing any news content at all (even from international publishers), and blocked all users worldwide from viewing content from Australian publishers.
Alphabet subsidiary Google, which arguably has a more even exchange of value with news publishers, has fought aggressively against the proposed law. In January, the company came under fire for hiding some Australian news sites from its search results.
Owning the rights to your music can be a contentious subject among artists: the likes of Taylor Swift fight tooth and nail to own their own records, with the singer committing to re-record her masters after they were purchased by record executive Scooter Braun.
However, many others are willingly parting ways with the rights to their music – Bob Dylan sold his entire 600-song catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group for an estimated $300 million.
Meanwhile Stevie Nicks sold some of her songs for $100 million to music publisher Primary Wave.
Among those seeking to purchase artists’ music rights is music mogul Merck Mercuriadis, the founder of the Hipgnosis Songs Fund.
The man behind the music
Now based in London, 57-year-old Canadian Mercuradis started in the industry with a job at British label Virgin Records in Toronto.
On his Twitter page, he defines himself as a vegan and a fan of British football club Arsenal.
The Evening Standard reported that all three of his daughters also work for him.
One thing setting Mercuriadis and his partner Nile Rodgers apart from many of their competitors is that they focus on targeting established artists instead of looking for fresh talent.
Another is their willingness to pay huge amounts of money for songs.
The company acquired a 50% stake in Neil Young‘s catalog last month and acquired Shakira‘s entire catalog just a week later.
Shakira said Merck is as an ‘ally to songwriters everywhere’
In a Twitter statement after the purchase, Mercuriadis called the Colombian singer “one of the most serious and successful songwriters of the last 25 years.”
They can sometimes pay up to 15 times a song’s annual revenue, The Times reported – that’s over double what most publishers would pay.
In 2018, Mercuriadis told CNBC that he wanted to “change the songwriter’s position in the economic equation,” securing them more profits. He said the company aimed to control 20 percent of the publishing market.
Amazon is facing fresh antitrust scrutiny after consumers filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing the company of illegally colluding with major book publishers to drive up prices for ebooks.
The lawsuit claimed that Amazon negotiated anticompetitive deals in 2015 with the “big five” publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster — that allowed them to “inflate” prices by up to 30%.
Amazon, which controlled nearly 90% of the ebook market as of 2018, was able to benefit immensely from the higher prices by charging consumers more, according to the lawsuit.
Apple was found guilty in 2013 of colluding with the same five publishers — using a similar pricing practice — to illegally fix ebook prices, and lawmakers in the US and EU have previously criticized Amazon’s alleged use of the so-called “most favored nations” clauses.
Several ebook customers on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Amazon accusing it of violating antitrust laws by illegally colluding with the “big five” publishing houses to drive up the prices of ebooks.
The lawsuit alleged that Amazon entered into anticompetitive pricing agreements in 2015 with Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster that allowed the companies to artificially increase prices by as much as 30%.
Amazon, which controlled 89% of the ebook market as of 2018, according to a Bloomberg analysis cited in the suit, then used its dominance to benefit from those prices hikes by charging consumers more.
“Time and again, Amazon’s response to competition is not to compete on a level playing field, but to try to eliminate the competition – and that’s not how things are supposed to work,” Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, the law firm that brought the suit, told Business Insider in a press release.
Amazon and Hachette declined to comment. The other publishers did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit alleged that Amazon illegally inflated prices using a tactic called as “pricing parity,” which relies on “most-favored-nation” clauses. MFNs are, in the business context, agreements between buyers and sellers that ensure a buyer gets as good of a deal on that seller’s products as any other buyer in the market.
But the lawsuit – similar to previous investigations by lawmakers in the US and EU – accused Amazon of using MFNs to instead prevent publishers from selling their ebooks to consumers at a lower price on websites that compete with Amazon.
“Amazon’s behavior is astonishingly brazen, especially in light of past litigation and recent government actions in the US and abroad,” Berman said.
The EU reached an agreement with Amazon in 2015 over its use of MFNs, saying at the time that the practice “may have made it more difficult for other e-book platforms to innovate and compete effectively with Amazon.” That agreement barred the practice for five years, but only in the EU.
In its landmark antitrust report in October 2020, the House Judiciary Committee also slammed Amazon over the issue, saying: “Amazon has a history of using MFN clauses to ensure that none of its suppliers or third-party sellers can collaborate with an existing or potential competitor to make lower-priced or innovative product offerings available to consumers.”
Amazon previously used a similar pricing tactic to prevent other third-party sellers on its online marketplace from charging customers more on competing sites, ending the practice in March 2019 amid heightened antitrust scrutiny.
The scheme Amazon and the big five publishers are accused of employing isn’t new to the ebook industry, either.
The court also barred publishers from colluding with each other or using MFNs for five years. According to Thursday’s lawsuit, that led to lower ebook prices in 2013 and 2014, before Amazon’s renegotiated deals in 2015 caused prices to surge again.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, is seeking class-action status, and the plaintiffs are asking the court to reimburse consumers who were overcharged by Amazon competitors as a result of the alleged price-fixing as well as force Amazon and the publishers to abandon the practice.
An extraterrestrial object skimmed through space close to Earth in 2017, wrote a Harvard University astronomer, Avi Loeb, in a book to be published this month.
It was the first sign of intelligent life outside Earth, according to Loeb.
Scientists at a Hawaiian observatory saw “an object soaring through our inner solar system, moving so quickly that it could only have been from another star,” according to the marketing summary for the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt book, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.”
The object wasn’t a natural occurrence, but a bit of space junk ejected by another galaxy, according to Loeb, a professor of science with a doctorate in physics.
“There was only one conceivable explanation: the object was a piece of advanced technology created by a distant alien civilization,” according to HMH.
But Loeb wasn’t alone in his excitement about the object, which was called “1I/2017 U1 ‘Oumuamua” by Nasa.
“The first confirmed object from another star to visit our solar system, this interstellar interloper appears to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a somewhat reddish hue,” NASA said in its description of the object.
“For decades we’ve theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now – for the first time – we have direct evidence they exist,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, when it was originally discovered.
He added: “This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own.”
In the book-jacket blurb, Anne Wojcicki, CEO and cofounder of 23andMe, wrote that Loeb’s new book “convinces you that scientific curiosity is key to our future success.”
“An exciting and eloquent case that we might have seen a sign of intelligent life near Earth – and that we should search further,” she wrote.
Fellow Harvard professor Eric Maskin, a Nobel laureate in Economics, added: “Is the hypothesis right? Who knows. But let’s try to find out!”