Why Ballantine Books Shouldn't Have Dropped Paula Deen

By Jessica Rawden 2013-06-30 00:52:16
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Paula Deen has been dealing with a major and life-altering controversy over the last few days. The 66-year-old chef, who has made a career out of creating warm and comforting southern dishes, recently admitted she has dropped the N-word several times in the past and once wanted African American servers to dress up in period costumes for a wedding (unflattering, considering the connotation). While the celebrity chef stated these were past behaviors during a deposition for a court case, they donít paint a particularly pretty picture of Deen. Itís understandable that some companies that have helped to make her a brand name might want to drop the womanís contract. However, when Ballantine Books dropped Deen from her publishing deal on Friday, the move made little business sense.

Ballantine Books is an imprint of Random House. Until yesterday, the company had a book deal with Deen for five cookbooks, including one that was set to be released this October called Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Recipes: All Lightened Up. The ďAll Lightened UpĒ part refers to another controversy that Deen handled a little more successfully when she developed diabetes. Now, sheís cooking healthier and lighterówell, if anyone will let the woman cook.

Ballantine Books isnít bound to do so, despite the fact that the company already has a bestseller on its hands. Thatís right, after Deenís recent controversy hit the media, a grassroots campaign was spawned by her most ardent supporters, who showed up at her restaurants and started pre-ordering her next book via outlets like Barnes and Noble and Amazon. According to Fox News, Paula Deenís New Testament is already a #1 bestseller via both of those outletsóand it isnít even in print, yet. Now, it may never be.

From a business perspective, a publishing house is there to meet the demand of consumers and to push copies, sometimes allowing the best pieces of prose to hit the market and other times putting together useful titles meant for a particular audience. In the latterís case, a bookseller should want to court controversy if it means pushing more copiesóespecially in a business that is as fluid and rapidly changing as the book industry. I get that Ballantine Books feels that it is taking some moral high ground by cutting Deen out, but this isnít an imprint that only publishes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners, itís an imprint that published Kathy Griffinís book, Official Book Club Selection. Thereís no need to make a decision based on some moral high ground when thereís already demand.

While certain companies, Food Network and Walmart included, have already dropped Deen from the ranks, other outlets are more than willing to take the womanís business, as long as there is demand. You need go no further than the rumors that Deen might join the ABC family and Dancing with the Stars next season to help rehab her imageóon both the racial and diabetic fronts. For those who need something a little more tangible, Deenís annual cruise has gotten so popular, it is adding a second departure for 2014. Thatís a business that knows how to make money when the money is there to be made.

That perspective may seem cold and heartless, but letís look at the facts one more time: Paula Deen is an impetuous talker and her smarts lie more within the realm of food than the realm of careful thinking. Sheís clearly said some careless, hurtful things in the past and in those instances she clearly had a choice. However, those verbal incidents happened some time ago and Deen has now apologized for those behaviors not once but twice. Itís time everyone laid off Paula Deen, and itís time these publishing executives started thinking with their wallets. If people think Paula is a racist and want no part of her book, thatís fine, but thereís no point in messing with the nature of supply and demand, either.
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