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Harper Lee’s estate blocks inexpensive mass-market edition of To Kill A Mockingbird

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

Two weeks after an Alabama judge ruled that notoriously private author Harper Lee’s will was to be sealed from public viewing, New Republic is reporting that Hachette Book Group—which publishes the inexpensive, mass-market edition of Lee’s landmark novel, To Kill A Mockingbird—is being forced to discontinue the edition and liquidate its current stock. According to emails collected by the magazine, the request comes from “the author’s estate,” whose executors have come under fire over the last few years for allegedly taking advantage of the aging and ailing Lee, who died last month.

The mass-market edition of Mockingbird—which currently features silhouetted cover art by Sarah Jane Coleman, but which is probably best remembered as the puce-covered little volume that populates the shelves of so many American high schools—was the cheapest version of the book on the market, retailing for a little more than half of what Harper Collins charges for its sturdier trade paperback edition. That low price point made it a favorite for budget-starved schools, where Lee’s novel is frequently taught. (Schools usually get a half-price deal on books for classrooms, meaning they could pick up mass-market copies of the novel for roughly $4.50 per student.)

It’s not entirely clear why Lee’s estate—which also published the controversial “sequel” to To Kill A Mockingbird, Go Set A Watchman, last year—chose to discontinue publication of the cheaper edition. It is worth noting that the publishers of other classic novels, like The Great Gatsby and The Grapes Of Wrath, have also dropped the mass-market paperback model. It may or may not be a coincidence, though, that the mass-market version of the book sold considerably better than its more-expensive twin; presumably, the shift of sales to the higher-cost item would increase royalties.

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