Last time we reported on John Yudkin's 1972 book Pure, White, and Deadly, we struggled to understand why publishers haven't already reprinted it. The British scientist's book rode a wave of anti-sugar sentiment to become one of the most highly coveted out-of-print books, fetching hundreds— even thousands—of dollars per copy. With buyers clearly in place, Pure, White, and Deadly is as close to free money as the publishing world can hope to get. And publishers can't feign ignorance about the book's newfound popularity—a New York Times Magazine cover story from April, 2011 gushed about Yudkin and video lectures citing him as a prophet went viral years ago. So what's taking so long for a reprint? After speaking with Yudkin's estate executor and the editor behind a UK re-release, a picture emerges of a publishing industry excruciatingly slow to respond to the rapidly evolving demand from book buyers.
Michael Yudkin manages his father's estate, and he's currently sorting out the tangled history behind Pure, White, and Deadly's U.S. rights ownership. The number of rights-holding hands Pure, White, and Deadly has passed through in the U.S. can make your head spin, but Yudkin traces the progression like this: In the elder Yudkin's original contract—now over four decades old—Penguin U.K. reverted the U.S. rights to the author. He then passed them on to Peter H. Wyden, Inc. so the publisher could release it state-side in 1972 as Sweet and Dangerous. Then Bantam bought the U.S. rights off Wyden in 1974, well before merging with Random House in 1998. Random House isn't interested in reprinting the book, and Yudkin hopes to secure the rights from them soon. "I have recently been in touch with Random House, they have agreed to revert the rights to me, and I shall now negotiate with Penguin about publication by them in the American market," he wrote in an email.
In real-time, this copyright maze is making the Pure, White, and Deadly reprint take eons to come out. Interest in the book can be traced all the way back to 2009, when UC San Francisco's Robert H. Lustig posted "Sugar: The Bitter Truth on Youtube." The hype grew and grew until April of 2011, when it reached a tipping point in Gary Taubes' huge New York Times Magazine story "Is Sugar Toxic?" Even if we use Taubes' piece as a generous benchmark for the moment Pure, White and Deadly became saleable, that still means that publishers took over a year and a half to put out a U.K. re-release. And the U.S. reprint still hasn't gotten past planning stages.
"Tracking down the details actually took a good deal of time," Michael Yudkin says. "Although it may seem as if a considerable time has elapsed it’s actually only a couple of months since Penguin decided to republish the book, and Random House haven’t given me any impression that they are dragging their feet in this matter." But as busy publishers, harried editors and can't-be-bothered rights-holders take forever to cobble together a re-release, demand for Yudkin's book might start slipping away. Interest in books comes and goes quickly in the online collective consciousness, and publishers fail to keep up at their own risk. Victoria Philpott, the Penguin editorial assistant behind an upcoming U.K. reissue of Pure, White, and Deadly, says that a U.S. reprint isn't a done deal yet. But she's "hopeful that we'll be able to come an arrangement whereby we can publish in the U.S. in the near future."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.