An academic librarian at McMaster University wrote that "The Edwin Mellen Press was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices," a point of view supported by survey data. The Edwin Mellen Press responded with a libel suit, naming both McMaster and the librarian, and seeking $3,000,000 in damages. McMaster has been publicly silent on the matter, but it deserves wider attention.
I've had my share of negative reviews, including some that I thought were materially unfair. Though I earn my living as a writer and a publisher, I can't imagine using the law to silence my critics. But Mellen has a history of suing and threatening people who criticize its products.
No one likes bad reviews; but Mellen's approach is not to disprove the assessment, pledge to improve its quality, or reconsider its business-model. It is to slam McMaster University and its librarian with a three million dollar lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court, alleging libel and claiming massive aggravated and exemplary damages. The matter is pending.
The lawsuit is threadbare. With respect to the parts of Mellen's list with which I am familiar, the librarian's statements noted above are all true and the quality judgments are correct. (And this survey suggests that would be a common assessment.) Moreover, on the facts in this situation, it is obviously fair comment, and public policy considerations strongly suggest that university librarians enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to their assessments of the quality of the books they consider buying for their universities. It would be a disaster for universities, students, researchers and the taxpayer if aggrieved publishers were permitted to silence discussions of the quality of their publications by threats of lawsuit.