Deal or no deal?

The future of O.J.'s tome without a home

News Corp. may be done with O.J., but the drama surrounding his book has only begun.

While Fox is believed to retain rights to (and will likely bury any trace of) the Judith Regan television special, book rights to “If I Did It” have, according to several sources, reverted to the Simpson camp. That means he could attempt what nearly every other author of a dumped book tries to do — distribute it elsewhere.

When contacted for this story, many of the largest publishers said they wouldn’t touch the nonconfessional confessional. Even less controversy-averse publishers like L.A.’s Michael Viner, who previously released “The Private Diary of Lyle Menendez,” said he wouldn’t go near the tome.

But with the Internet making retailing and distribution dramatically easier, it likely won’t be long before others — perhaps even a self-publishing Simpson — jump into the void.

Simpson has suggested he may be happy to have the whole thing go away, telling the AP, “I feel like a man who’s had the weight of the world taken off me.” However, he’s not been shy about wanting some extra coin.

Even if the project isn’t resurrected, there’s the possibility that at least some books shipped by HarperCollins will “fall off the truck” (and end up on eBay).

By some estimates, well over 10,000 copies are on their way to or from book wholesalers — a tempting opportunity for an enterprising warehouse employee, store clerk or postal worker. “It’s not a question of if, but when and where,” says one insider. On Nov. 22, one copy surfaced on eBay and sold for $1,500.

Traditionally, the publishing industry’s high-profile cancellations often see the light of day by other means.

“American Psycho,” a tale of yuppie sadomasochism, was deemed too provocative for its original publisher, Simon & Schuster. It wound up with a more maverick imprint, Random House’s Vintage Books, which turned it into a bestseller in 1991.

St. Martin’s Press handed down an 11th-hour cancellation of a Joseph Goebbels biography by Holocaust denier David Irving in 1996; the author went on to self-publish.

In a prior Rupert Murdoch cancellation, News Corp. scotched the 1998 British publication of a book by former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten — mainly, critics carped, because Murdoch was concerned about business interests in China. That book saw U.S. release through Bertelsmann’s Crown Publishing Group and received more attention for its struggle.

In Hollywood, of course, some of the most famous release controversies have led to the biggest hits. Disney refused to release the docu “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but it became a mega-smash when Bob and Harvey Weinstein took it to Lionsgate instead.

Still, a number of factors distinguish this case from most movie or book scandals:

  • The controversy involved a storm of elements — trial of the century, major media conglom, polarizing publisher — within one project.

  • There wasn’t a single public figure of note who could be heard standing up for the accused.

  • The product got a lot further than it normally does. Usually when a company yanks a movie or book, reels or copies aren’t on their way to theaters or stores.

Perhaps most significantly, the media climate has changed dramatically since many of the previous brouhahas. Cable news and blogs poured kerosene on the flames of controversy; indeed, the finger-wagging of Fox News Channel’s own Bill O’Reilly may have been a big factor in Murdoch’s decision to pull the plug.

“It used to be a lot easier to get a product to the market under the radar,” says one book exec.

Amid the fallout, the biggest question concerns Regan’s fate. In earning a rare public rebuke from one of the world’s most powerful media titans, she “finally pushed the envelope too far,” notes a book-biz observer.

Still, no one doubts that the outspoken figure will continue her tradition of blockbuster, celeb-driven publishing that gave the world the story of Jenna Jameson along with ambulance-chasing projects like an Amber Frey memoir.

If she doesn’t continue at News Corp., she’ll find another publisher for her imprint — or, possibly, private investors. And she will no doubt tell us how she did it.

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