Original post at http://henryneufeld.com/threads/2015/01/20/the-ethics-of-publishing/
One of our authors sent me a link to Christianity Today’s article Is Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller List Wrong?
In the interest of honesty—and that’s what this is really about—let me note that I’m not playing in the same league as the folks referenced in this article as a publisher. I do work with publicity campaigns. I do market books. But the best I’ve done is to get a book temporarily onto the Amazon.com bestseller list for a very narrow category. That wasn’t even my goal in those few cases, but it happened. So I should be clear that few temptations of the level described here are ever presented to me. Nobody has offered to put one of my books on the New York Times bestseller list, and the costs involved simply reinforce what I already said: As a publishing enterprise, I’m not in this league.
But the ethics of the situation seems rather simple to me. It doesn’t matter what the “everyone” is doing in the industry. It doesn’t matter if it’s standard practice. The tobacco companies had “standard practice,” and while it was legal at the time, it wasn’t ethical. It doesn’t even matter if the New York Times bestseller list is a game. What matters to me, and what should matter to any Christian writer or publisher, is whether our own actions are true and honest. We don’t live according to other peoples’ standards.
When you write publicity copy, there’s always the possibility that one can disagree on what is honest. What does “the best book on ____” mean? I have even seen such hyperbolic claims in the prefaces to Bible translations. I try to avoid that kind of statement, both because of the question of truthfulness, but also from consideration for my own credibility. Even if I think I’ve found the best book on a subject, such subjective judgements are empty claims at best. I should think what I publish is good, but I can say that without resorting to empty statements or falsehoods. Even though we can disagree, I think that in most cases we do know what is right and wrong, and we know when we are rationalizing the thing we want to do.
Ethicists have to study questionable instances in order to develop the proper principles. People in those equivocal situations need that kind of nuance. Rationalizers do the same thing, but for a different reason. They want to make simple look questionable. If you can make a truly simple decision look doubtful, that gives you cover.
As Christians we should instead be looking for “whatever is true, whatever is honorable” (Phil. 4:8). When we find we have strayed off the path, we need to acknowledge and correct the error. I confess it would be nice to be a large enough player in the industry to have to worry about these things. I hope that if that happens, I will be able to uphold the appropriate standards, by God’s grace.