Book Business Paperback – Oct 24 2012
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers 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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Epstein gives here a curious insider/outsider account of the book business over the last half century. He was decidedly inside when he began in the fifties, working with Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer to "publish" such legends as Nabokov and Faulkner. His anecdote of Nabokov is a gem. He runs into the author in the bar of the Paris Ritz in the early seventies. Nabokov, in a loud Hawaiian shirt and a loud Midwestern accent, raises a toast to Richard Nixon. Why Nixon? Because he believed Nixon would eventually triumph over the Viet Cong and that would lead, dominolike, to the fall of the Soviet Union, enabling him to return to his beloved homeland.
By the eighties Epstein and his ilk are being overwhelmed by mass market forces. Chain bookstores seem to be taking over the industry and reducing drastically the numbers of titles available for sale (and by extension able to be published). The pressure of real estate costs at the malls steadily reduced the selection at bookstores to a handful of bestsellers, "whose faithful readers are addicted to their formulaic melodramas". Publishers who in Epstein's early years were like intellectual families had by the eighties been reduced to mere distributors and advertisers. Between 1986 and 1996, he relates, "63 of the 100 bestselling titles were written by a mere 6 writers".Read more ›
Just a quick note recommending this short book. Epstein, who spent most of his career at Random House, remarks on how publishing has changed over the years, with plenty of juicy anecdotes. Forex, the Dickens:
As you may know, the US was a book-pirate haven in the 19th century, and Harper Bros. grew to be the nation's largest publisher by pirating Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontes, Macauley -- really, the entire roster of bestselling British authors. Macauley's (pirated) History of England sold a remarkable 400,000 copies here.
Charles Dickens, who kept a close eye on revenues, made a trip to the US in the 1840's, to protest the theft of his work. His plea was ignored, and he didn't much like the country, either. He wrote a short, glum account of his visit, _American Notes_, which Harpers promptly pirated.
Dickens recounts a train trip from Washington to Philadelphia through what he thought was a storm of feathers, but which proved to be spittle from passengers in the forward coached. He also reported that US Senators spit so wide of the cuspidors that the carpets were "like swamps".
WH Auden, Epstein reports, had the disconcerting habit of showing up an hour or so early for parties and dinner invitations, so he could be home in bed by 9 PM.
Epstein was the first to publish a line of quality paperbacks (Doubleday Anchor) in 1952, and was a founder of the NY Review of Books. From his memoir, I'd say he had an interesting and fun career in publishing .
Socialistic type control by the establishment with grants,in-house editions,best seller lists,establishment, as opposed to reader,awards,etc.remind me of the days when the franchise owners tried to use black-outs to force fans to their games.The fans will decide if they want to go to the stadium,what team they want to watch and how much they want to pay; the same with readers.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The world of book publishing and all of its adjunct business like book superstores, are an interesting yet hidden mystery. Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2003 by A. Reza Ruyan
Publishing is a notoriously conservative, unprofitable, non-linear line of business. The most fascinating parts of Epstein's book are his accounts of how he did something a little... Read morePublished on May 25 2003 by Charles S. Houser
Jason Epstein has worked with many of the best writers of the twentieth century. He has helped revolutionize the American book market by introducing the quality trade paperback,... Read morePublished on Nov. 6 2002 by AppleBrownBetty
In book publishing since 1950, Jason Epstein knows firsthand the problems the industry has faced over the years and how recent technological advances are about to bring a... Read morePublished on April 17 2002 by A reader
Jason Epstein started in publishing fresh out of college at a time when the concept of Quality Paperback was still revolutionary. Read morePublished on Feb. 28 2002 by Maarten van Emden
Similar in some ways to Diana Athill's "Stet" (in which Jason Epstein figures)lamenting the loss of good literature and little bookstores and gentlepersonly ways of doing... Read morePublished on Dec 26 2001 by D. P. Birkett
This book is by Jason Epstein who also did a series of lectures on this topic (this is from the introduction). Read morePublished on Nov. 19 2001 by Jeffrey Leeper
Like the hedgehog of legend, Jason Epstein in this book has one big idea: The Internet, he says, changes everything! Read morePublished on Aug. 13 2001 by Stuart W. Mirsky
Unfortunately it isn't a book that'll help us understand how to set up and run a business sucessfully. Read morePublished on June 26 2001
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