The book publishing industry has its share of challenges. Other than huge blockbuster hits like Scholastic's (NASDAQ:SCHL) Harry Potter franchise, there are stacks and stacks of published books that just don't make much money. Maybe that's why an author like James Frey can get a deal for his new novel, despite the fact that he was publicly exposed for making up many of the details in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces; notoriety made him a well-known name.

News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) HarperCollins has agreed to publish Frey's new novel, Bright Shiny Morning. One bright and shiny factor is probably that this book is being billed as fiction. Maybe it's a great literary achievement, but it's hard not to be cynical about the fact that Frey gained his celebrity status by doing something many would consider unethical.

For those of us who care about books and publishing, it's frustrating to think that the old line "there's no such thing as bad publicity" rings so true. One might imagine that being publicly exposed would result in something along the lines of "you'll never work in this town again," but obviously that's not the case. I guess the public has spoken, too -- Nielsen BookScan data shows that A Million Little Pieces still sells 1,000 copies a week, even at this late date (it was originally published in 2003).

Maybe it's not that different than other tasteless concepts for a book, like O.J. Simpson's If I Did It, which is hitting the shelves this week. Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) has done an about-face on whether to stock it or not, it's a hot seller on (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Borders (NYSE:BGP) will also be selling it. Originally, Barnes & Noble said it wouldn't put it on its shelves, but earlier this month, it changed its mind because of customer demand. (In an interesting turn of events, the Goldman family got the rights to the book in a court settlement and is publishing the book itself.) Interestingly, HarperCollins was originally going to publish If I Did It, but changed its mind when controversy ensued. Now it's being published by Beaufort Books.   

As a writer and a voracious reader myself, I find episodes like this more than a little bit demoralizing. Is merit anywhere near as important as celebrity? Doesn't it matter how and why authors became so well known (or notorious, as the case may be)? Yet, as an avid defender of the marketplace, I can't deny that as long as people want to spend their money on such books, publishers will respond. It appears the going idea is that we consumers just can't resist (and these books' placement on best-seller lists will be testament to that). We can pick on our media for sometimes seeming to cater to sensationalistic content, but it's not like we're not buying it.

Compared to the ramifications of If I Did It, Bright Shiny Morning is probably a walk in the park. Of course, given what transpired with A Million Little Pieces (basically, the mighty Oprah Winfrey had a PR situation on her hands when it came to light the memoir she had heaped praise upon had been embellished) I'd be willing to bet Oprah won't highlight Frey's new literary offering in her highly influential book club. Then again, the word is already out on Frey, and although the previous word wasn't too good, that doesn't mean nobody's buying.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that's worth reading.