Hachette and the Authors Guild are among US publishers and industry bodies who oppose a controversial new Texas law that will require vendors to rate books sold to schools for sexual content.
In a new development, Follett School Solutions, the nations largest distributor of books to schools, is asking publishers to rate their own books for sexual content. A memo from the company to publishers reads: Follett is asking you to provide us with a simple spreadsheet helping us to identify titles which fall into two categories: either NO Questionable Content or Possible SR [sexually relevant] or SE [sexually explicit] Content.
The request has been met with anger and exasperation. Hachette told Publishers Weekly: We strongly disagree with the idea that rating our books to flag certain content, or having retailers or wholesalers do this, is appropriate or helpful. We trust our teachers, trust our librarians, trust our parents, trust our student readers who are hungry to experience the world in all the ways that books allow. And we trust the processes of professional review and community input that have been in place for decades.
As publishers, we want our books to reach the broadest possible readership. That readership comprises individuals with unique tastes, reading levels, and lived experiences. There is great variability in reading ability and content interest among young readers, even among those in the same grade or the same age.
The statement concludes: It is our hope that laws that seek to limit access to books and that criminalise teachers, librarians and booksellers will be struck down as unconstitutional and that the choice of what book to read remains unregulated by the states.
The Authors Guild is a plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to have the proposed bill thrown out and is also opposed to the move by Follett. The Guild said: We urge publishers not to comply with Follett’s request as it will force them to self-censor and to censor their authors, and it will remove many educationally valuable books from the school market in the state of Texas, depriving students of access to them.
It will also force publishers to create lists of books that any community in Texas might possibly find sexually relevant or offensive, making it appear as though the publishers are tacitly admitting that books listed as Possible SR or SE Content are questionable.
Folletts director strategic business development and content acquisitions Donald Reinbold said: Follett is aware of the Texas legislation and will comply. We remain committed to serving our customers everywhere and will continue to support them as they navigate the required changes.