Hachette USA Employees Walk Out To Protest Woody Allen Book

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Between 75 and 100 Hachette Book Group employees in New York City and Boston condemn their publisher’s acquisition of Woody Allen’s autobiography, as Ronan Farrow leaves Hachette in protest.

Hachette Book Group employees on Sixth Avenue in New York City on March 5, protesting Grand Central Publishing’s announced publication of Woody Allen’s autobiography. Image: Kendra Barkoff Lamy, used by permission

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Hachette’s Pietsch: Imprints Have Autonomy
Employees in New York City of Hachette Book Group walked off the job Thursday afternoon (March 5) in protest of the company’s announcement that it will publish Woody Allen’s autobiography Apropos of Nothing.” Reports are of between 75 and 100 employees participating, both in New York City and at the house’s offices in Boston.

The Allen book has a publication date of April 7 and is to be produced by the publisher’s Grand Central imprint. Hachette’s Little, Brown is the publisher of Ronan Farrow’s bestselling Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, released October 15.

And the American division of Hachette suddenly finds itself a house divided.

Farrow, who is Allen’s estranged son, broke with Hachette Book Group earlier this week, as Meagan Flynn reported at the Washington Post on Tuesday (March 4). “Farrow, Allen’s son with Mia Farrow,” Flynn wrote, “has stood by his sister, Dylan, after she accused Allen of molesting her when she was a child in the 1990s, which the filmmaker has denied.”

In his writeup at The New York Times, John Williams writes, that Woody Allen “has denied the accusations and wasn’t charged after two investigations decades ago.”

The situation at Hachette has generated not only the internal protest that spilled out onto the street Thursday but also a demonstration of the publisher’s employees’ readiness to criticize their own company.

Sara Nathan at Page Six reports that “The employees headed to the company’s human resources offices on Sixth Avenue in Midtown to complain at 3 p.m., a source said. Hachette’s CEO, Michael Pietsch, tried to hold a town hall, but was rebuffed. None of the senior leadership would stand with him and the staff walked out of the offices,” the source said. “The staff felt so strongly about this and wanted to do this for Ronan, [his sister] Dylan, and all survivors of sexual assault.”

As Williams goes on to write at the Times, “An employee at Hachette who participated in the walkout estimated that more than 100 protesters eventually gathered in Rockefeller Plaza, outside the publisher’s New York offices. The employee said that while the protesters were outside, others at Hachette met with Michael Pietsch, the company’s chief executive, to make three demands of him: to cancel the publication of Mr. Allen’s book; to publicly apologize; and to recognize that Hachette employees have the ability to speak up about books they disagree with without fear of reprisal.”

Aside, then, from the main issue at hand—a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author dumping his publisher in protest—the picture also becomes one of a high-value workforce at one of the Big Five publishing houses feeling empowered to take their disagreements with management into the public square.

Ronan Farrow’s Vanity Fair colleague Yohana Desta had covered Dylan Farrow’s commentary on learning of Grand Central’s impending Woody Allen publication. Dylan Farrow called the news “deeply upsetting to me personally and an utter betrayal of my brother, whose brave reporting, capitalized on by Hachette, gave voice to numerous survivors of sexual assault by powerful men.”

And Rachel Hampton at Slate has a Q&A with an unnamed associate publicist at Little, Brown who speaks on condition of anonymity. The publicist points out that having acquired Allen’s celebrity memoir, Grand Central didn’t announce it for the publicity value that normally would accompany such a buy.

“Obviously, they must’ve known that they were doing something wrong,” the publicist tells Hampton, “because they didn’t tell anybody when it was acquired. And the book had been shopped a couple of years ago and nobody wanted it, which I find unsurprising, personally.”

The fact that the Allen book had failed to find a home prior to Grand Central’s purchase was covered last year by Alexandra Alter and Cara Buckley at The New York Times. In May, they wrote, “In the last year, Allen quietly tried to sell a memoir, according to executives at four major publishing houses, only to be met with indifference or hard passes. Before the #MeToo movement roared to life, Allen’s memoir would probably have set off a bidding war and commanded six or seven figures, given his cultural status.”

The key image of the walkout Thursday was tweeted by Kendra Barkoff Lamy, who is a former press secretary to Joe Biden during his vice presidency, 2011 to 2015, as well as a former spokesperson for the Obama administration interior secretary Ken Salazar and for the senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

The Hachette Response

The action has Hachette on the defensive, the company issuing a statement that reads, “We respect and understand the perspective of our employees who have decided to express their concern over the publication of this book. We will engage our staff in a fuller discussion about this at the earliest opportunity.”

Hachette has lost a celebrated new writer and one with remarkable sales power. At the time of this report, Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill—out since October 15—stands at No. 1 in the Amazon Kindle Store’s category Biographies of Espionage, at No. 2 in Espionage True Accounts, and No. 3 in Corruption and Misconduct in Politics.

That last category is one of this year’s most contested, with many of the Donald Trump-related political nonfiction releases contending for high numbers there. For Catch and Kill to command such a spot almost five months after its release demonstrates deep market strength, connected, of course, to the force of the #MeToo movement. For a publisher to see such an author walk away can only be seriously problematic for Pietsch and his team. Catch and Kill, in fact, is the first book displayed on the home page at Little, Brown at this writing.

And Pietsch has been the recipient of tough communications with Farrow.

In a separate article Thursday at The New York Times, Williams is joined by Jennifer Schuessler to describe an email exchange the Times has obtained. In that exchange, Farrow writes to Pietsch that he sees the CEO as having operated in bad faith. Schuessler and Williams quote Farrow to Pietsch:

“‘As you and I worked on Catch and Kill’—a book ‘in part about the damage Woody Allen did to my family,’ Mr. Farrow added—’you were secretly planning to publish a book by the person who committed those acts of sexual abuse.’

“‘Obviously I can’t in good conscience work with you any more,’ he wrote at the end of his message. ‘Imagine this were your sister.'”

Michael Pietsch

For his part, Pietsch tells the Times that he had called Ronan Farrow on March 2 after being informed that Farrow was displeased with the news of the coming Allen publication.

Pietsch tells Schuessler and Williams that Hachette’s imprints Grand Central (for Woody Allen’s book) and Little, Brown (for Ronan Farrow’s book) operate with autonomy, saying, in part, “We do not allow anyone’s publishing program to interfere with anyone else’s.”

In Hampton’s Q&A at Slate, the associate publicist says that employees at Little, Brown consider Pietsch to have been “very defensive, and the town hall did not seem to come from an honest place. More a ‘due diligence.’ He obviously knows how everyone feels already.”

The Farrows’ Stance

Ronan Farrow released a statement on his position on Tuesday. In it, he provides the rationale for his position and his decision to leave Hachette:

Ronan Farrow

“Hachette did not fact-check the Woody Allen book. My sister Dylan has never been contacted to respond to any denial or mischaracterization of the abuse she suffered at the hands of Woody Allen–a credible allegation, maintained for almost three decades, backed up by contemporaneous account and evidence.

“It’s wildly unprofessional in multiple obvious directions,” he writes, “for Hachette to behave in this way. But it also shows a lack of ethics and compassion for victims of sexual abuse, regardless of any personal connection or breach of trust here.

“I’ve encouraged Hachette, out of respect for its readers, authors, and reputation, to conduct a thorough fact-check of Woody Allen’s account, in particular any claim that implies my sister is not telling the truth.

“I’ve also told Hachette that a publisher that would conduct itself in this way is one I can’t work with in good conscience.’

At the Associated Press, Hillel Italie writes—in an updated article here carried by USA Today—”Financial terms were not disclosed for the book, which Grand Central quietly acquired a year ago, and a spokesman declined to provide further details about the book’s contents.

“In addition to the U.S., Apropos of Nothing will be released in Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Spain, followed by releases in ‘countries around the world.’ Allen will do ‘several interviews’ for the book, Grand Central announced.”

Dylan Farrow

Italie goes on to note that “Allegations by daughter Dylan Farrow that he molested her as a child in the early 1990s have effectively idled his movie career in the U.S. Amazon Studios backed out of a production and distribution deal with Allen, and numerous actors have said they won’t work with him anymore. His A Rainy Day In New York was released in Europe last year but not in this country. His current production, Rifkin’s Festival, starring Christoph Waltz and Gina Gershon, was shot last summer and is seeking distribution.”

As Dylan Farrow sees it, as she writes in a statement posted to her Twitter, which is not verified, “This provides yet another example of the profound privilege that power, money, and notoriety affords. Hachette’s complicity in this should be called out for what it is and they should have to answer for it.”

And around the protest in New York, multiple Hachette authors have tweeted their support for the Farrows and for the Hachette employees taking their anger public.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the American book market is here, and more on Hachette is here. More from us on nonfiction is here, and more on political books is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.