[Publisher’s Note] On Book Events, by John R. MacArthur | Harper's Magazine

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[Publisher’s Note]

On Book Events


Harper’s Magazine holds live events in New York City that are tied to newly published books. The former location, Book Culture on Columbus, which our publisher co-owned, has closed. However, these events will continue as usual, but in different locations around the city. The following letter to Walker, Malloy and Co. addresses certain issues around finding a permanent home for these events.


I’m obviously disappointed that you leased the former Book Culture on Columbus space to The Strand, particularly since you all repeatedly stated that my joint bid with Shakespeare and Company was your “first choice.” As Tim and Bob both told me, Encarnita Quinlan, Tim’s mother and Bob’s wife, would be horrified to have The Strand as a tenant in her former Endicott Booksellers space, since she used to find books stolen from Endicott for sale at The Strand on Broadway! That Nancy Wyden runs a reselling operation— not a regular bookstore—is well known. What’s not so well known is that her husband, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, is an aggressive opponent of authors and their copyrights, and a strong ally of Google and Amazon, the two great enemies of booksellers, publishers, retailers and content-creators of all kinds. Senator Wyden has most recently placed a “hold” on the Case Act, a proposed law that would make it easier and cheaper for individuals to file claims of copyright infringement, especially when they take place on the Internet. I certainly hope that my Upper West Side neighbors, many of them writers, lyricists, photographers and musicians, will refuse to patronize The Strand at 450 Columbus Avenue, at least until Ron Wyden lifts his hold on the Case Act.
As for your duplicity, I’m not sure what to say. Perhaps you learned your ethics from Chris Doeblin, my dishonest partner in Book Culture on Columbus, who conned a lot of ordinary people, including some I know personally, into lending him money that they’re probably never going to get back. Or maybe you learned your negotiating tactics from Gale Brewer and Helen Rosenthal, who ignored my warnings beginning last September about Doeblin’s illegal crowdfunding campaign, which was designed to bail out his failing store in Long Island City, not the store that we owned together in your building. Over my long career in business and journalism, I’ve met all kinds of people, and I understand the profit motive as well as anyone. I will assume that you got more money out of The Strand than we offered, which is fair enough.
However, since you misled me so blatantly—never telling me or my partners that you were on the verge of signing with The Strand while always insisting that we were your first choice—I feel aggrieved. But I still wouldn’t have made this public if you hadn’t done something worse in my estimation. As you know, I was preoccupied with the death of my mother and her funeral arrangements and was thus unable to participate fully in the discussions that began in earnest on January 21 between Walker, Molloy and my partners from Shakespeare and Co. This put us at a distinct disadvantage. Normally, when a disappointed bidder loses out in a negotiation he chalks it up: “It’s just business, nothing personal.” But I do take this personally. Besides investing most of the money back in 2014, I, along with my colleagues from Harper’s Magazine, worked very hard against tough odds and a bad partner to make Book Culture on Columbus a success. Doeblin told me nothing about being behind on the rent—the first I heard of it was the day you padlocked the door. From then on I was completely straightforward in my ambition to reopen a bookstore in your space—my only delay and hesitation came when I realized I needed a professional operator to help me, since Doeblin had left our business in a shambles and I was going to have to start from scratch. Pulling the rug out from under me four days after I buried my mother, herself a lover of books, is too much to let pass unremarked.

Very sincerely yours,

John R. MacArthur

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