Points of Clarification on SPD Boycott

In light of misinformation, questions, and criticism continuing to circulate around Poets Union’s boycott of SPD and its bestselling/prominent publishers, we want to offer the following clarifications. This is not simply to correct perception of PU, but to mitigate harm done to workers and whistleblowers who have placed their trust in PU and whose reputations, well-being, and livelihoods are impacted directly by this controversy.

1. SPD workers weren’t organizing/unionizing prior to the boycott and have offered no proof they are doing so now. Further, due to the structure at SPD consisting of a majority of managers and supervisors, it is not certain unionization or collective bargaining is even possible. Regardless, the boycott would have no bearing on any of this in the present.

2. Our boycott can’t truly affect SPD’s bottom line because their main customers are Amazon, wholesalers, bookstores, etc. We knowingly undertook this aspect of the boycott as a largely symbolic gesture, and the ED and others have since exaggerated our impact. See the following screenshot for a breakdown:

[Note: The source for this can be found at an SPD page archived on the Way Back Machine. Additionally, here is an alt-text: The image reads, “In 2019 SPD’s customer base was comprised of 35% wholesalers and jobbers, 25% online booksellers, 17% independent bookstores, 8% university and college bookstores, 5% direct to individuals, 2% direct to libraries, 1% to chain stores, and 7% other (mostly foreign sales).” The image has a red box drawn in by PU around the 5% individual sales, only a fraction of which would be affected by our boycott]

3. ED calls it a “publisher boycott of SPD” in email. That is inaccurate w/regard to us, and whatever publishers have boycotted/left SPD is not our doing. Also, we have not asked for publishers themselves to boycott, but simply to make a statement.

4. SPD workers had been told previously not to speak to media. A precarious worker might easily interpret this as “don’t speak out, period.” Thus, whatever fear has been created about speaking publicly is also coming from the INSIDE and has had little to do with PU (whose intervention here is only two weeks old).

5. Of SPD’s staff, only one is not a cis man (except for interim ED), and this one was the whistleblower whose testimony we published. This is important for contextualizing what has happened at SPD: almost every one of the women, trans, agender, and non-binary people have felt compelled to leave. And this comes in the context of reports made by former workers of transphobic, sexist, and aphobic comments and behavior at SPD.

6. SPD states that 6 of 8 current workers signed their letter to us. Their website lists 10 staff members, including both the ED and Brent Cunningham (now Operations Consultant). Assuming the ED and Brent were excluded — thus, 8 of 10 staff —  the 6 staff members who signed the letter would have still necessarily consisted almost entirely of directors and managers, leaving only 1-2 non-management worker to sign (tho they additionally claim that 2 such workers officially oppose the boycott). 

7. All of the critics of PU’s boycott want to assert their expertise but seem to have no real concern for the testimony offered by the sole woman on staff (excepting interim ED) or the seven former and current workers who spoke out on June 10th. We find this selective attention very troubling.

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