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Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and…

Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future

by Jason Epstein

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This book, chronicling the work of a man who's been in the industry since the 1950s, is an interesting insight into the post-Golden-Age publishing business. The author's decade-old predictions of the "future" of reading are a dizzying mix of accurate and wishful. More of a memoir than anything else, it contextualizes rather than instructs, provides history rather than practical information. ( )
  NeitherNora | Sep 7, 2013 |
This was an enjoyable short memoir of the rise and fall of the modern U.S. publishing business, and provides fun anecdotes from the early days of publishing as well as Epstein's insights into new-to-me phenomena like the death of the midlist. Some of his opinions are dead wrong in hindsight - he predicted Amazon would never become profitable - but in general I would recommend it as an introduction into modern publishing history. ( )
  raschneid | Mar 31, 2013 |
Just like RicDay says, this book almost 10 years old, is due for an update. But that probably doesn't matter too much anyway, because the spirit and the thought in this book all very much accurately reflect the current mood in 2010. The actual details matter a little bit less.
As one who still reads 99.9% paper books, and rarely reads any e-book versions, usually on Project Gutenberg or Google Books, I have not decided to by an e-book reader. Maybe some time soon I will, or especially if someone gives me one for a present.
Personally, I have been able in the last 2 years to buy through AbeBooks all the books that I had been wanting for the past 10 or 20 years. So I was very fascinated to read this author describe how he had his mail order catalogue just around the time that the internet was starting. And his description of the early losses of Amazon is interesting. I also remember hearing in the press about how Amazon lost money. Is it making money now? I guess I can just find out on the Internet. I would have liked to have read from this author what he thought about the marketing of used and collector books through Amazon or AbeBooks and other similar websites. Undoubtedly one could find a history book about these and other used book websites.
I agree with what he says about how self-publishing as well as e-publishing will allow entities to scale back from the behemoths of the '70s and '80s that the author didn't like; the ones that were just owned by media companies. Just like bands marketing their own recordings, the pay rate per sale to the original creator should definitely go up.
The descriptions of the famous houses like Knopf, Random House and Doubleday was interesting for me, because I have never read about them before.
  libraryhermit | Sep 18, 2010 |
When I read this book shortly after its release, most of the predictions by Mr Epstein seemed to be some way off in the future -- if not a long way off.

Looking back over the book last December (2008), I was struck by just how accurate most of those predictions have proven to be. Print on demand technology has not yet reached the point of being available in your local bookstores, but it is getting there. The Internet is disrupting the retail book trade, which has come to be dominated by "big box" chain stores which sell books like soap powder: stock lots of the few best-sellers; turn over the rest quickly, and don't bother to hire staff who know or care much about books.

I would love to see a fresh take on this topic, looking at what may happen next, now that Sony Readers, Kindles, and smartphones are giving readers new ways to acquire and read books, and publishers are scrambling to launch digital editions (and to figure out how to avoid the mistakes the music industry made).

A very good read, even today. ( )
1 vote RicDay | Jan 25, 2009 |
This is a fast and interesting read about the publishing industry in America--where it's been, and where it's going. Full of anecdotes and interesting tidbits about publishing, this is a good read. If it sounds at all interesting, I highly recommend it. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Dec 6, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jason Epsteinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Martín Lloret, JordiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393049841, Hardcover)

As editor-publisher to some of the 20th-century's greatest writers (Edmund Wilson, Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Jacobs) as well as the virtual inventor of the trade paperback (meaning the "quality" type, as opposed to the drugstore mass-market), Jason Epstein is one of those rare publishing-world types who is as invested in the editorial creation of a good book as in its marketing and sales. It is that dual perspective that has guided his half-century-long publishing career and that makes this compact yet expansive professional memoir such a lively, illuminating read for anyone curious how current trade publishing--basically popular general-interest fiction and nonfiction--became obsessed with a narrow pool of quickie bestsellers to the neglect of the far greater mass of slow-burners (known in the biz as "midlist") or of the perennial sellers from years past ("backlist"). But, Epstein follows up with great enthusiasm, the time is not long before the book biz will morph into a new cyberversion of the quirky, intimate "cottage industry" that it was in its precorporate era.

It was in that era that Epstein came of age as a publisher, first at Doubleday in the 1950s, where he founded the successful Anchor Books, the first line of high-quality paperback reissues of classics. The four succeeding decades he spent at Random House, which in that time grew from a family-type shop into one of the largest and most profitable trade publishing houses in the U.S. (currently owned by the German media titan Bertelsmann). Epstein's chronicle of New York publishing jumps around nimbly in time--at one point, all the way back to the 19th century--but it is in recounting the heady, culturally efflorescent postwar years that he waxes most tender, regaling us with vignettes of Ralph Ellison, Mary McCarthy, John O'Hara, Frank O'Hara, W.H. Auden, Chester Kallman, and John Ashbery. Throughout, his entrepreneurial spirit in the service of good books is evident--first in the founding (along with, among others, his wife Barbara) of the still-extant New York Review of Books, then in the thorny 30-year process of publishing the classics imprint Library of America, and in the launching of The Reader's Catalog, a mail-order service from which customers could choose from what nearly every book on the planet in print--and which deservedly has been called the hard-copy precursor to the very site you're browsing right now.

Like The Business of Books, the recent memoir from former Pantheon Books head Andre Schiffrin (Epstein's longtime colleague within Random House), Epstein's book decries the extent to which superstores like Barnes & Noble have forced the high-stakes (and seldom fruitful) corporatization of book publishing. But Epstein prefers to look past the current situation to an imminent day when writers will sell directly to readers over the Internet, a format that will still demand the services of editors, publicists, and marketers but will cut out the costly middlemen of publishing companies, distributors, and superstores (though not small booksellers, he assures us, which nurture bonds among booklovers that even the Web can't sever). Yes, there's money to be made in trade books, Epstein asserts, but not necessarily overnight. And in this brisk, affable, and forward-looking volume, Epstein's own broad-ranging experience in the book biz seems to bear out his recurring theme: do it for love, not money, and the money (if not necessarily the millions) will eventually follow. --Timothy Murphy

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:20 -0400)

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