The gloves are off

Observations on publishing O J Simpson's book

O J Simpson's controversial and widely reviled book If I Did It - a hypothetical explanation of how he would have killed his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman - completed a bizarre trajectory when it ended up being published by a small north London publisher.

Simpson, acquitted of the murder by a jury in 1995 but found liable for Goldman's death in a civil court in 1997, produced his book last year. Regan Books, an imprint of HarperCollins in the US, was to publish it. But public outrage at Simpson profiting from the deaths saw the book withdrawn and 400,000 copies pulped.

The Goldman family had received practically none of the $33.5m damages they were awarded so, when they heard he had a six-figure book deal, they went to court and won the rights to the book on the grounds that it had potential value. But they must publish within nine months or return it to Simpson. The Goldmans saw this as an opportunity to make public all Simpson had told his ghost writer but edited from the original manuscript. To the Goldmans it was a clear confession.

Earlier this year the book found a small US publisher but in Britain, publishers refused it, until Martin Rynja, director of Gibson Square Books, chose to publish. Since setting up his imprint in 2001, Rynja, 41, has acquired a reputation for publishing books others consider too hot to handle.

Take Londonistan by Melanie Phillips, in which she accuses Britain of being soft on radical Islam and risking our cultural survival, which Ryjna published last year. It was widely refused as too unpalatable and extremist; one publisher even declared he would sooner swallow ricin.

Yet Rynja - a man heard in N1 coffee houses voicing fiercely liberal views - felt otherwise: "I don't have to share the views of my authors; what I do require is that they present a well-argued thesis. I saw legitimate argument being obscured by fear and prejudice."

He got closest to the wire with Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud, which exposed the 30-year relationship between the Bush family and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and went onto inspire Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. It had been published in America but Unger was regarded as a dangerous radical and it got little publicity.

Random House in the UK was going to publish then withdrew, saying Britain's libel laws made it too risky. Rynja thought otherwise. With two degrees, in law and philosophy, he felt "as sure-footed as one can".

But it was an edgy decision: "There was a billionaire sheik in the book known to be litigious. He has a website with scalps of those he has successfully sued."

This year, Rynja posthumously published Alexander Litvinenko's Blowing Up Russia, an exposé of the methods used to catapult Vladimir Putin to power. Although banned in Russia, Rynja has sold it to 21 countries, including film rights.

"We are lucky enough to live in a democracy and that should enable rigorous debate by giving a voice to people who would not otherwise have it. However much I might share public revulsion at Simpson, I agree with the Goldmans that letting him have his voice, without profiting from doing so, is a contribution to public understanding. I wouldn't have done it without their blessing."

If I Did It: Confession of the Killer, Gibson Square, £12.99

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New best friends?