Foyles is to donate the profits of its sales from far-right books to charity after it was targeted by an anti-fascist campaign.
The Bookseller reported yesteday (21st March) that retailers Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and Foyles had become the subject of the Hope not Hate campaign, which accused them of listing far-right books for sale.
Among the titles retailers were accused of stocking were a Holocaust denial work Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Verrall, The Leuchter Reports by Fred Leuchter, and several works by leading Holocaust denier and convicted criminal, Germar Rudolf.
At the time, Waterstones and Foyles said the tites appeared on their sites automatically, with both retailers taking an automated feed of published titles from Nielsen's database and the high volume of titles registered on the database making filtering “unmanageable”. Amazon and W H Smith declined to comments and Nielsen is yet to respond.
In an updated statement given to The Bookseller, Foyles c.e.o. Paul Currie said he had investigated the company's previous sales of the titles referenced over the past three years.
He said: "In total a margin of £35.67 has been made of which the majority was made this week to a single address. We will be donating this value to a charity of our team’s choice.”
In a letter written by Waterstones managing director James Daunt to Hope Not Hate senior researcher Joe Mulhall, the bookselling chief said that while he has "complete sympathy" with the campain's objections, the profit the retailer gains from such titles was “incidental” and likely to be outweighed by its costs.
“In practice, we sell very few books of this sort – 54 copies across the 337 titles since 2009 – and the distributors supply them at low margin", he said. "In short, we do not sell these books to earn anything more than an incidental profit and, in all likelihood, our costs outweigh this. We sell them because we are a bookseller that undertakes to supply any book that a customer orders from a supplier with whom we have a trading relationship.”
He added that he did not agree that selling the titles via its website lends respectablility to such titles, and if it did that would be “unintended and regretted”.
Daunt said: “We are not stocking the books, either in our warehouse or in our shops and this fact is clearly indicated. We offer only a passive ordering service to those who have precisely and actively searched for the title. Does this give some succour to those sympathetic to such vile books? It can only be very faint, and should be balanced against both the fact that the removal of the titles itself will gain much publicity, and that their presence on the web will remain essentially unaffected. I respect that this is a difficult and nuanced issue.
“Our conclusion has been that without question we should curate what we stock in our shops with great care. We should be accountable for any title we display. Were any of the books listed by Hope not Hate to be on our shelves, I would have them removed and apologise. Our website, however, is a simple listing of titles lawfully published and made available through established publishers and distributors, as informed to us by Nielsen. It is not our position to censor this listing beyond the existing measures we take to exclude self-published books that may potentially be offensive.”
Mullhall previously said that: "These booksellers are providing a veneer of legitimacy to some of the world’s most extreme neo-nazi and antisemitic tracts. These are works which have helped inspire extreme violence and terror plots, as well as driving hate towards minorities, particularly the Jewish community.”
But he added that the organisation was not trying to curtail freedom of speech. “While we abhor these books, Hope not Hate is not saying that people do not have the right to write and publish books we disagree with," he said. "We are arguing that major mainstream book retailers such as Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon or W H Smith should not profit from extreme hate content such as this. Our further major concern is that these extreme books and authors gain respectability by virtue of their publications being available on the websites of trusted and mainstream sellers.”
Authors Sunjeev Sahota and Jon McGregor also weighed in to criticise the booksellers.
“What's so disappointing about this is that these retailers have done so much to foster a culture of reading and intellectual curiosity in this country. I hope they respond to this research by taking the necessary steps to remove these hateful books", said Sahota. McGregor added: “These booksellers have earned the high esteem in which they're held by writers and readers alike. That's what makes it so important they don't lend their credibility to these horrifyingly extreme books.”