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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The free speech debate that has engulfed social media platforms is now extended to any information gatekeeper, even those not obligated to host anyone's speech.

The big picture: More books have been canceled recently by publishers wary of the potential blowback they could face for giving controversial figures or ideas a platform. Some publishers are facing pressure from frustrated employees to censor controversial authors or ideas.

Driving the news: Employees at Simon & Schuster have filed a petition demanding that the book publisher cut ties with authors associated with the Trump administration, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • The petition has garnered 216 internal signatures and over 3,500 external supporters, including well-known Black writers.
  • The company reportedly sent an internal letter last week to employees rejecting their demands when they learned of the petition, per the Journal.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence is explicitly named in the petition as someone the signatories believe the publisher should not work with.
  • Axios previously reported that Pence signed a two-book deal with the company — with a significant advance — "as part of a strategy to be vocal and visible ahead of a possible 2024 presidential race."

This isn't the first time Simon & Schuster has gotten caught up in a firestorm over publishing a book from a conservative author.

  • In 2017, the publisher yanked its book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial former Breitbart editor who faced backlash after pedophilia comments. He self-published the book later that year.
  • In January, the company said it would no longer publish a book from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in the wake of the Capitol siege, citing its morality clause. Regnery Publishing, a conservative outfit that has published former senior Trump officials, took up the book.

Two weeks ago, Simon & Schuster said it would not distribute a book being written by a Louisville police officer involved in the deadly shooting of Breonna Taylor, following outcry on social media.

  • The book is being published by Post Hill Press, a Tennessee-based publisher that has a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.

Between the lines: The book industry has been forced to reckon with the role it plays in publishing content that could be offensive or immoral in the wake of the Capitol siege and the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • In February, the New York Times reported that Kate Hartson, the editorial director of the conservative Center Street imprint at the Hachette Book Group, was let go. She claims it was over her politics.
  • Hundreds of publishing executives signed an open letter following the Capitol siege arguing: "[N]o one who incited, suborned, instigated, or otherwise supported the January 6, 2021 coup attempt should have their philosophies remunerated and disseminated through our beloved publishing houses."
  • Several Dr. Seuss books were shelved this year by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the entity responsible for preserving Dr. Seuss' works, because of racist and insensitive imagery.
  • Flatiron Books, the publisher of "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins, canceled the book's promotional tour last January after it faced widespread condemnation and suspicion from Latino writers and activists.

Be smart: While some conservatives may frame book bans by mainstream publishers as free speech issues, self-publishing can be a viable option for high-profile figures who can afford the expense and promote a book without help from a major publisher.

  • Donald Trump Jr. turned down an offer from Center Street in order to self-publish “Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defense of the Indefensible," the New York Times reported last year.

Simon & Schuster did not respond for request for comment.

Go deeper

216 employees demand Simon & Schuster cut ties with Trump administration authors

Former Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, after the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20. Photo: Melina Mara via Pool/Getty Images

216 Simon & Schuster employees and over 3,500 outside supporters submitted a petition on Monday to senior executives asking the company to stop publishing books from figures linked to the Trump administration, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Driving the news: The petition demands the company sever ties with former Vice President Mike Pence, who signed a two-book deal ahead of a possible 2024 presidential campaign.

Updated 2 hours ago - Technology

3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Updated 3 hours ago - Technology

Mayors see cryptocurrency as a way to address income inequality

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors' meeting in D.C. this week, there's buzz around the idea of giving cryptocurrency accounts to low-income people.

Why it matters: Cities have been experimenting with newfangled ways to address income inequality — like guaranteed income programs — and the latest wave of trials could involve paying benefits or dividends in bitcoin, stablecoin or other digital currencies.

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