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Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future

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Overview

"An irresistible book about Grub Street, authorship and the literary marketplace."—Washington Post Book World
Jason Epstein has led arguably the most creative career in book publishing during the past half-century. He founded Anchor Books and launched the quality paperback revolution, cofounded the New York Review of Books, and created of the Library of America, the prestigious publisher of American classics, and The Reader's Catalog, the precursor of online bookselling. In this short book he discusses the severe...

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Overview

"An irresistible book about Grub Street, authorship and the literary marketplace."—Washington Post Book World
Jason Epstein has led arguably the most creative career in book publishing during the past half-century. He founded Anchor Books and launched the quality paperback revolution, cofounded the New York Review of Books, and created of the Library of America, the prestigious publisher of American classics, and The Reader's Catalog, the precursor of online bookselling. In this short book he discusses the severe crisis facing the book business today—a crisis that affects writers and readers as well as publishers—and looks ahead to the radically transformed industry that will revolutionize the idea of the book as profoundly as the introduction of movable type did five centuries ago.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Congenial, erudite, electrifying, this book is a must read for anyone who cares about books and their business.—Publishers Weekly starred review
Epstein is not only thoughtful and experienced, but also a hell of a good writer.—Boston Sunday Globe, Peter Davison
Humane, razor sharp, and charmingly told.—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Reading [Epstein's] book is like enjoying a great jazz impresario: there's a wonderful riff coming at any moment.—New York Times Book Review, Laurence J. Kirshbaum
It is possible, even likely, that no one knows more about the publishing industry than Jason Epstein.—Norman Mailer
A brilliant, moving and profoundly insightful rendering of the history, status and future of American publishing.—Toni Morrison
History, memoir, and prophecy ... [by a] man who has been at the creative heart of American publishing for fifty years.—E.L. Doctorow
A must read for all who love books and publishing and for all who wonder whether either will survive.—Howard Gardner
A wise and insightful book on the present state and the future of book publishing.—Michael Korda”
Norman Mailer
It is possible, even likely, that no one knows more about the publishing industry than Jason Epstein.
Michael Korda
A wise and insightful book on the present state and the future of book publishing.
Toni Morrison
A brilliant, moving and profoundly insightful rendering of the history, status and future of American publishing.
Howard Gardner
A must read for all who love books and publishing and for all who wonder whether either will survive.
Peter Davison
Epstein is not only thoughtful and experienced, but also a hell of a good writer. —Boston Sunday Globe
E.L. Doctorow
History, memoir, and prophecy ... [by a] man who has been at the creative heart of American publishing for fifty years.
Michael Dirda
An irresistible book about Grub Street, authorship and the literary marketplace. —Washington Post Book World
New York Times Book Review
Reading [Epstein's] book is like enjoying a great jazz impresario: there's a wonderful riff coming at any moment.
Laurence J. Kirshbaum
Reading [Epstein's] book is like enjoying a great jazz impresario: there's a wonderful riff coming at any moment. —New York Times Book Review
Washington Post Book World
An irresistible book about Grub Street, authorship and the literary marketplace.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In October 1999, Epstein, former editorial director of Random House, delivered a series of lectures at the New York Public Library that galvanized the publishing world. This book is based on those lectures. A genuine elder statesman of the industry, Epstein has spent about 50 years in publishing, during which he helped create the "paperback revolution," the New York Review of Books and the Library of America. Here, short, magisterial chapters describe the recent past of American publishing through the lens of Epstein's career, and lookDnow fearfully, now hopefullyDat the spirit of book publishing to come. Epstein explains that, in his youth, the book trade was as much vocation as business, bringing to the world the fruits of literary modernism. In more recent decades, by contrast, investors and conglomerates, he says, seeking "name-brand authors" and economies of scale, have treated books as a product like any other. New technologies, however, might reverse these baleful (as seen by Epstein) trends. This forceful if hardly startling analysis introduces Epstein's compact and compelling reminiscences, which form the bulk of the book. Each chapter includes famous names (Auden, Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, Bennett Cerf, cyber-pioneer Norbert Weiner); revealing, amusing anecdotes; and clear accounts of who paid the bills for what, and how, and why. Most strikingly, Epstein looks forward to the "worldwide village green" the digital age might createDone in which books, he says, will keep a place, and publishing will "become once more a cottage industry of diverse, creative, autonomous" work, albeit at the expense of many of the middlemen who stand between author and reader, including today's big publishers. Congenial, erudite, electrifying, this book is a must read for anyone who cares about books and their business. (Jan. 15) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Drawing on his W.W. Norton Lectures at the New York Public Library in October 1999, publishing giant Epstein considers what's wrong with the industry today. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirshbaum
A charming ode to that past, even as it tries to decipher the technological future . . . The reader is swept up by Epstein's fingertip brilliance as he ranges swiftly across the history of publishing . . .
New York Times Book Review
Larry McMurtry
Part of Epstein's book is credo, part of it is history, and part of it is prophecy; the credo is passionate, the history is confident, and the prophecy is hesitant, though I suspect it was chiefly for the prophecy that Epstein was induced to speak.
The New Republic
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393322347
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 226
  • Sales rank: 325,085
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House, was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
Preface xv
Chapter 1 The Rattle of Pebbles 1
Chapter 2 Young Man from the Provinces 39
Chapter 3 Lost Illusions 69
Chapter 4 Goodbye to All That 93
Chapter 5 Culture Wars 111
Chapter 6 Groves of Academe 125
Chapter 7 Modern Times 143
Afterword 177
Index 193
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Book Business

    Epstein, former Random House editorial director among other things in his long and illustrious career, treats us to reminiscences about the past and ruminations about the future of book publishing. Especially delicious are recollections of Doubleday's suppression of Drieser's novel Sister Carrie, the first appearance of Nabokov's Lolita, and the genesis of The New York Review of Books.

    For me though, Epstein's long experience in book publishing is most interesting when applied to how the industry changed, and continues to change, over the years. I am reassured by his insistence that bookstores, like cinemas, will not entirely disappear in this new world of digital access. Years ago Epstein did not recommend to his children nor their friends to enter the publishing industry because it was an industry in decline. Today he would have encouraged them because publishing is an industry in the middle of enormous changes. I agree. There are opportunities to be seized.

    A further thought. The book was published in 2001. The book is dedicated to Judith Miller. Epstein tells a little anecdote about his involvement with the CIA in Africa. Somehow it gets the mind whirling...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2007

    the shape of books to come

    I read this about two years ago. As a manager in the book business, this material is interesting, frightning, and useful.The brick and mortar book store is almost relegated the the ash-bin of history. Epstein does a great job of explaining why. Epstein was a great editor for the publishing legend Bennett Cerf. This book makes a great companion to Cerf's chronicle AT RANDOM. This is recommended reading for any book enterpreneur or enthusiast.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2004

    LOVED IT!!!

    i thought that this book was wonderful! it was written with much passion and foresight. it gave a look into the future of publishing, and took you back to the glorious past of it. it was a a nostalgic book and extremely well-written, i could not put it down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2001

    What a Hit!

    This is the definitive book on the future of publishing

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2001

    Where Modern Publishing is Heading!

    Like the hedgehog of legend, Jason Epstein in this book knows one big thing: The Internet changes everything! All the rest of this book is commentary, memoir and historical anecdote recalled from a lifetime of experience in the hermetically sealed world of New York publishing. In fact, Mr. Epstein has written an interesting if only moderately useful book about the changes he has witnessed in the publishing arena, a book which, regrettably, does not offer much beyond an earlier essay he presented on-line about these same issues, although it is fleshed out here by the anecdotal descriptions of his personal experiences in the field. His basic thesis is that the publishing industry, by rights, ought to be a small scale business, but has grown, over time, into an unpromising corporate behemoth which cannot, in the end, sustain itself. However, the advent of the Internet should bring this chapter of the business to a resounding close, he suggests, as authors discover how to reach readers directly and, thereby, marginalize publishers. What, after all, do publishers do, he asks? They make books available to the public by investing in titles through a selection and editing process and then by financing the books' production (editing, layout/design, printing and binding), distribution (warehousing, linking with distributors and re-sellers) and promotion (advertising, networking with the review community and sales outreach to retailers). This is not very much, in the end, says Mr. Epstein, given the powers conferred upon authors through the Web. Thanks to modern e-publishing (on-line electronic publication and print-on-demand), authors can now do much of this themselves through on-line service providers at very minimal cost. The existence of on-line sales outlets such as bn.com (which have seen their share of book purchases grow from an early 1-2% to a more recently reported 6%) makes all this feasible since buyers cannot easily distinguish between self-published works which are well presented and their more commercially published cousins at the on-line sites. So, says Mr. Epstein, the business he has spent his life in is about to change radically . . . and for the better. Unfortunately, his own book does not go much beyond this basic point, aside from the interesting life experiences in the publishing world he has to recount. And so I was somewhat disappointed by it. I came to it hoping to learn more about the publishing business and how to circumvent it, having been a rejected author for the better part of my professional life. (In the interests of full disclosure I should say, at this point, that I am one of those 'empowered' authors Mr. Epstein seems to be alluding to who has found an alternative to the closed world of 'big' publishing through the exigencies of the Internet. Unable to place my first novel with a bona fide commercial publisher, I went the POD -- print-on-demand -- route to generally good reviews. But I have found that this means of publishing falls well-short of expectations as I still lack the means to connect with the big-time review community, which seems to have a prejudice against the self-published, or to promote my book on a scale which the traditional publishing world can offer.) So I was looking for more in Epstein's book, hoping to learn something I did not already know and gain insight into how I might parlay my foray into on-line based self-publishing into something bigger. But Epstein doesn't deliver that. Instead he offers only a few insights and generalities about changes in the offing. And yet, perhaps that's the best one can do, as this is a new and growing field and none of us can really foretell the future, not even a man of Mr. Epstein's substantial experience. At the least, I think his basic insight is correct, that the Internet does indeed alter the present landscape dramatically. Still, as noted, I was left a trifle disappointed at the book's end (which came rather quickly,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2001

    Brilliant Economic Insights about Books in Rambling Form

    'Technologies change the world but human nature remains the same.' That quote sums up the theme of the 7 essays in this interesting book. Mr. Epstein makes a persuasive case for electronics reducing the costs of reaching readers in ways so that authors and their readers will interact more directly, as they did before the 20th century. The bulk of the book is an anecdotal history of publishing and book retailing in the United States over the last 150 years. In most cases, Mr. Epstein uses his own career for examples of the changes that have occurred in the last 50 years. Mr. Epstein takes on this challenge from a position of considerable authority. He been a top editor, working with authors like Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal. Beyond that, he has been an important industry innovator, having helped introduce the quality paperback through Anchor Books, being a founder of The New York Review of books, and helping establish the Library of America (featuring authentic versions of important American works in paperback). When time-shared computer services were first expanding, he helped develop the 'Reader's Catalog' for getting backlist books.... He was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service for American Letters for 'inventing new kinds of publishing and editing.' Basically, the economics of creating a book involve getting the book edited and produced at the lowest possible fixed cost, and then being able to create copies at low marginal cost rates. Anything you can do to avoid any other overhead is all to the good. If an author simply publishes his own work electronically (as Stephen King has started doing), both costs reach a bare bones minimum. The potential for profits is enormous. Unfortunately for publishers and retailers, this new economic circumstance favors the authors and the readers. More and more book sales are coming from fewer and fewer authors (6 authors did over 60 percent of the top 100 books from 1986-1996). These authors now see themselves as needing business managers more than literary agents, so they can earn profits in more ways from their production. Mr. Epstein forecasts that more successful authors will simply buy the services they need from specialized firms rather than using publishers at all. The implication of this is that the major publishing conglomerates will soon be dismantled in a scramble to avoid the diseconomies of bidding higher and higher advances. Having not focused on building a backlist business, these firms will be unprofitable compared with alternative investments. The book business will probably go back to being run by people who do it for love of books, rather than love of profits. He sees chain bookstores surviving, but more as a place to have a cup of coffee and meet with others to discuss books. Nonbook outlets (possibly including Kinko's) could become places where you can go to get any book you want made to order. .... Authors will flourish as books always remain in print. New forms of books will arise that allow different combinations of material to be created, just to match the needs of an individual reader. This book is an expanded versi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2001

    Not a Thorough Enough Analysis

    After reading the New York Times Book Review write-up and a review in Newsday about Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future, I was excited that someone had finally written a book about the business in which I work. However, readers need to heed the warning: ¿Don¿t judge a book by its cover¿ (or, in this case, its title). I have worked in the book publishing industry for 15 years, and have seen firsthand a great deal of what the author describes in this book. It seemed that the beginning of each chapter captured me, as I personally related to what was being discussed. But after a few paragraphs in each chapter, the author digresses into biographical issues that lend no value or substantial insight into aspects of the general history of the book publishing business, which might affect or interest someone in the industry. With all due respect to the author (and I truly appreciate his attempt at such a work), the book is much too brief to live up to the hype I read in reviews touting it as some type of benchmark work. The author¿s analyses of the various aspects of the industry are simply not profound enough. He begins a discussion of a particular aspect of the business, and then maunders into a personal story, which is far from relative to general interest. The book is a very quick-and-easy read considering the author¿s style, which was obviously maintained throughout (leading me to believe that he was probably his own editor; some sentences are nearly a paragraph long). His use of a William F. Buckley¿like vocabulary was probably not necessary for the typical reader. As an editor, I was, however, impressed that I could find but one typographical error in the entire book. I would not recommend this book for someone interested in starting a career in the publishing industry. It does, however, serve as an amusing little folk tale for those of us already in the business.

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