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Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future

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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 s 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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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 s 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.

30 review for Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Epstein has a surprisingly ponderous writing style for a person who edited Mailer, Nabokov, Roth, and Vidal. Then again, the book is surprisingly slight (175 pages of a large, twee font) to be addressing a major, 50-year career in publishing. I wanted to read it because Epstein founded one of my favorite imprints in 1952, Anchor Books, at Doubleday. He has some interesting anecdotes of those days before publishing became focused on profits, conglomerates, and synergies. Like how Random House in Epstein has a surprisingly ponderous writing style for a person who edited Mailer, Nabokov, Roth, and Vidal. Then again, the book is surprisingly slight (175 pages of a large, twee font) to be addressing a major, 50-year career in publishing. I wanted to read it because Epstein founded one of my favorite imprints in 1952, Anchor Books, at Doubleday. He has some interesting anecdotes of those days before publishing became focused on profits, conglomerates, and synergies. Like how Random House in 1958 shared office space in an old mansion with the Archdiocese of New York, with six parking spaces allotted for Random House and twelve for the Church, and published Cardinal Spellman's poetry in order to "forestall controversy with the monsignors" over parking issues. He tells stories about Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, Bennett Cerf and others, and manages to misspell Allen Lane's name (the founder of Penguin). Particularly interesting was his reaction to Lolita, the manuscript of which Wilson breathlessly handed to him one evening. The manuscript was repulsive, Wilson said, and could not be published legally, but Epstein ought to read it anyway. He did, and did not find it repulsive, but "nor did I find it the work of genius that it has since been called. I admired Nabokov's earlier novels...and preferred their cold precision to the plummy and it seemed to me rather cruel, if also very funny, Lolita, in which Nabokov seemed to be congratulating himself on his jokes..." Found another typo: Kathleen Winsor spelled Windsor...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    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 re 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. Neat book, if you're interested in books and bookmen.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    A visionary outlook on the publishing industry as it enters the digital age, sprinkled with anecdotes highlighting a long and influential career. The personal insights gave the book a unque flavour, elevating it above a simple non-fiction account of the publishing industry, past and semi-present. Epstein does not lack for confidence and openly shares his strong opinions; the passage of time proves him to be quite prescient, though the instances where he may have been mistaken add contrast and le A visionary outlook on the publishing industry as it enters the digital age, sprinkled with anecdotes highlighting a long and influential career. The personal insights gave the book a unque flavour, elevating it above a simple non-fiction account of the publishing industry, past and semi-present. Epstein does not lack for confidence and openly shares his strong opinions; the passage of time proves him to be quite prescient, though the instances where he may have been mistaken add contrast and legitimacy to the picture as a whole. As noted below, a generally optimistic and accepting view of digitalization prevails - encouraging those of us involved (or not) in the industry to embrace the new technologies available. Plenty of name dropping, as some others complained... however, my retort would be that if Faulkner and Nabokov were actually friends or partners in your business, wouldn't you mention their names too??? And really, why not? From my vantage point, Epstein belongs in the Pantheon of innovators, whether writer or publisher, of a Golden Era that set the stage for all that came next.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Jason Epstein is a great man. Not only because he was at Random House for a zillion years and started or invented the quality paperback or as the founder/editor of the New York Review of Books - the journal not the press. Epstein is great because he acknowledges the love of being a publisher or working in the book business. He sees it down side, but he also sees it as a revolutionary business. He even looks forward to the Internet! But the great thing is he sees publishing as an ongoing adventur Jason Epstein is a great man. Not only because he was at Random House for a zillion years and started or invented the quality paperback or as the founder/editor of the New York Review of Books - the journal not the press. Epstein is great because he acknowledges the love of being a publisher or working in the book business. He sees it down side, but he also sees it as a revolutionary business. He even looks forward to the Internet! But the great thing is he sees publishing as an ongoing adventure - and as a publisher myself, i totally agree with that outlook.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    This book enthralled me at its start, with an optimistic vision of the book's future. Epstein transformed my dislike and wariness of book digitalization into a (still slightly hesitant) excitement for what it might herald. While there are many problems with digitalization that Epstein doesn't discuss, my worries are partially assuaged. But the best parts of this book (for me at least) were those ideas introduced early on. What followed had some moments of interest, but also sections of informati This book enthralled me at its start, with an optimistic vision of the book's future. Epstein transformed my dislike and wariness of book digitalization into a (still slightly hesitant) excitement for what it might herald. While there are many problems with digitalization that Epstein doesn't discuss, my worries are partially assuaged. But the best parts of this book (for me at least) were those ideas introduced early on. What followed had some moments of interest, but also sections of information so specific to the career of the author that I wanted to skim forward.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Herz

    Really interesting book on the history of publishing and the business behind it. I learned a bunch about market trends, why people buy what books, and how the shift in publishing happened. The book was written in the late 90s, so he made some interesting predictions. Some were dead on and some not so dead on, but provided tons of insight. If you like reading about how publishing houses treat their writers, how deals are made, and why the present state of publishing is like it is, I recommend this Really interesting book on the history of publishing and the business behind it. I learned a bunch about market trends, why people buy what books, and how the shift in publishing happened. The book was written in the late 90s, so he made some interesting predictions. Some were dead on and some not so dead on, but provided tons of insight. If you like reading about how publishing houses treat their writers, how deals are made, and why the present state of publishing is like it is, I recommend this book. Fun look into the New York literary scene as well. -CH

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Fine memoir with insight into the business Many successful careers are the result of surprising and totally unpredictable turns of events, particularly turns of a psychological kind. Jason Epstein originally went into the book business to associate with authors and to learn from them first hand as a continuing education, with the distant idea of becoming a writer himself. To his surprise he turned out to be something of a visionary and a sharp, effective publisher, whose romantic, yet business-li Fine memoir with insight into the business Many successful careers are the result of surprising and totally unpredictable turns of events, particularly turns of a psychological kind. Jason Epstein originally went into the book business to associate with authors and to learn from them first hand as a continuing education, with the distant idea of becoming a writer himself. To his surprise he turned out to be something of a visionary and a sharp, effective publisher, whose romantic, yet business-like nature fitted the New York publishing world like a well-tailored suit. He had discovered, as he puts it on page 59, "that literature, like all religions, is also a business, though not a very good business." Epstein sought to make it better, and in succeeding represents that rare species, the romantic as a successful book publisher. The emphasis should be on the word "successful," of course, but I'll emphasize the romantic because in the book business they (at least in my modest experience) they are now as rare as dodos, and for similar reasons. Epstein's delicious and gracefully written little memoir recalls his fifty years in publishing with the kind of understated, buttoned-down, perceptive style that one associates with the New York world of books before the rise of the conglomerates and the block buster mentality. There are chewy reminiscents of Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov, of Faulkner with brown bags under his arms, of Donald Klopfer and Bennet Cerf who "accidentally" became a millionaire because of his love of quality books, and many other illuminati, curious creatures from a more genteel time when literature mattered, and the bottom line was secondary. But, as the title insists, Epstein is looking forward as well as backward, supplementing the story with forecasts and guesses about the future. He believes that the Internet, "the electronic literary marketplace," is going to revolutionize the business in ways we cannot guess, and the scope of the changes will be comparable to those brought about by the invention of movable type. He sees machines capable of printing a single copy of a book downloaded from the Internet on the corner of his Manhattan street or "at the headwaters of the Nile" or "in the foothills of the Himalayas" or even in our homes (p. xii). He compares Amazon.com's margin problems to his experience with The Reader's Catalog and the direct-mail selling of books. Because of his past success in anticipating trends and because of his innovative skill, people in the business will read this book with mercenary as well as nostalgic interest. Besides editing some of the great writers of our time (the book jacket contains praise and appreciation from Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer, Michael Korda and E. L. Doctorow) Epstein was the first to see the potential for quality paperbacks with his launching of Anchor Books in 1952. He also started the very influential The New York Review of Books in1963 opportunely during a strike that shut down The New York Times and its Book Review. Epstein was also instrumental with in bringing about the Library of America, a story he recounts in the chapter entitled "Groves of Academe." Others have remarked on the clear and even elegant style of this memoir; and it is certainly pleasant to praise an editor for his writing ability. I would like to join the chorus and add that I recognize a lesson he is implicitly teaching, namely that of brevity and economy of expression, but with a kind of leisurely urbanity that is unafraid of the complex sentence. One can also see that every sentence was polished, resulting in that seeming serendipity known to every editor as the easy reading that comes from hard work. Note however the missing word "year" near the end of page 60, and the unclear sentence spanning pages 97 and 98. (I take a writer's delight in, as it were, "editing" an editor!) It might be noted that one of the pleasures of writing a memoir is to thank (and to make look good) one's friends and the people one admires (which Epstein does very well), while slyly, almost inadvertently, assassinating the character of others. Epstein indulges himself sparingly, but gives it to Vladimir Nabokov right between the eyes. His recall of the celebrated author of Lolita aping an American tourist at a Manhattan restaurant while cheering on Nixon and our tragic involvement in Vietnam is unsettling. His sketch of Bennet Cerf is warm and admiring without any insincerity, and his recall of half a dozen other editors and publishers seems objective and even kindly. Epstein comes across as a man pleased with himself and the world and what he has done with his life. --Dennis Littrell, author of the mystery novel, “Teddy and Teri”

  8. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Hare

    A trip down memory lane by someone who has seen, and driven, some of the publishing innovations of our time. Epstein is passionate about books, seems to have a wonderful memory for details, and is a fine writer. The book is only seven chapters long, and the lovely prose make for pleasant reading. Because this book was published in 2001, prior to the ebook revolution, it’s fun to look back at his speculations and judge their veracity. In 2001 the ebook was very ephemeral, but the Internet was rai A trip down memory lane by someone who has seen, and driven, some of the publishing innovations of our time. Epstein is passionate about books, seems to have a wonderful memory for details, and is a fine writer. The book is only seven chapters long, and the lovely prose make for pleasant reading. Because this book was published in 2001, prior to the ebook revolution, it’s fun to look back at his speculations and judge their veracity. In 2001 the ebook was very ephemeral, but the Internet was raising serious challenges to distribution models. Will people still buy physical book? Will they still visit bookstores? How will bookstores survive if people can buy books from Amazon, or directly from the writer’s themselves? Will publishers be forced to focus only on bestsellers, while their valuable backlist of works languishes, ignored by an increasingly ignorant public? From the vantage point of 2017 it’s easy to look back at these questions and chuckle. Despite what pundits both inside and outside of the publishing industry were saying at the time, the sky was not falling. Digital books have increased everyone’s profits; writers, publishers, sellers, and—most importantly—that of readers. Back in 2001 there was a pall of fear over the future of the publishing industry, and that sense comes through in Epstein’s writing. He reminisces about the “good old days” when authors slept the night in his office, or met for drinks to discuss their current book, or called him for advice, or relied upon the good men and women of the publishing house to forward a little needed cash. These stories are touching and reminded me that all business is personal. They are also quite glamorous, though I doubt Epstein would’ve described them as such. I’ve often thought of the publishing industry as the inculcated domain of a priestly class, defending themselves above their writers. Having read this book, I see that opinion is entirely unwarranted. To judge from this book, most people working in publishing are like Epstein; caring, thoughtful, and genuinely concerned about the welfare of their industry, their writers, and their readers. For someone who loves books, this work serves as an homage to the craft.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    This was an interesting book to read now. It was published in 2001 and Epstein got some things right, some things wrong. I don’t think he saw how Amazon would come to dominate the book selling business. And, I think the jury is still out regarding his optimism as it relates to our ability to sort out the good stuff from the bad. “The critical faculty that selects meaning from chaos is part of our instinctual equipment, and so is the gift for creating and recreating civilizations and their rules w This was an interesting book to read now. It was published in 2001 and Epstein got some things right, some things wrong. I don’t think he saw how Amazon would come to dominate the book selling business. And, I think the jury is still out regarding his optimism as it relates to our ability to sort out the good stuff from the bad. “The critical faculty that selects meaning from chaos is part of our instinctual equipment, and so is the gift for creating and recreating civilizations and their rules without external guidance. Human beings have a genius for finding their way, for creating goods, making orderly markets, distinguishing quality and assigning value. This faculty can be taken for granted. There is no reason to fear that the awesome diversity of the World Wide Web will overwhelm it. In fact, the Web’s diversity will enlarge these powers, or so one’s experience of humankind permits one to hope.” I did find his take on the decline of publishing, pre-Amazon, interesting. This is an angle I had not considered. It might be considered elitist by today’s standards, but I do believe it has merit. “Our industry was becoming alienated from its natural diversity by an increasingly homogeneous suburban marketplace, demanding ever more uniform products. Books are written everywhere but they have always needed the complex cultures of great cities in which to reverberate. My publishing years coincided with the great postwar dispersal of city populations and the attrition therefore of city bookstores as suburban malls increasingly became the centers of commerce, so that even the well-stocked chain bookstore branches located in cities evoke the undifferentiated atmosphere of shopping malls rather than the cosmopolitanism of the cities to which they happen to have been transplanted.”

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jillian

    Epstein, Jason. Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. Jason Epstein’s résumé reads like a “Who’s Who” of the publishing world: over fifty years in the publishing business including the position of editorial director at Random House; creator of Anchor Books and the “paperback revolution,” as well as the Library of America and The Reader’s Catalog; cofounder of The New York Review of Books; winner of the National Book Award for Distingui Epstein, Jason. Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. Jason Epstein’s résumé reads like a “Who’s Who” of the publishing world: over fifty years in the publishing business including the position of editorial director at Random House; creator of Anchor Books and the “paperback revolution,” as well as the Library of America and The Reader’s Catalog; cofounder of The New York Review of Books; winner of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters and the Curtis Benjamin Award by the Association of American Publishers for “inventing new kinds of publishing and editing”. Notably absent from this impressive list is the role of author which Epstein plays in Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future. Touted as a title that addresses the “severe crisis facing the book business today,” this work is Epstein’s first as creator rather than editor. Based on a series of lectures given to the New York Public Library in October 1999 Book Business discusses several aspects of the publishing profession from the author’s perspective based on his vast experiences in the field. Given his impressive repertoire within publishing, one of the main strengths of Book Business is Epstein’s familiarity with the inner workings of the business. He explains the five major corporate conglomerations or, as he calls them, publishing empires that dominate the field; the importance of a publishing house’s backlists and the unpredictable nature of best-sellers; the commercial corruption of big box stores and bookstore chains with their high turnover, “low quality” mentalities; tensions between authors, agents, publishers and editors; “name brand authors” and self-publishing tactics; issues with the electronic rights of materials in addition to offering a brief overview of the progression of the publishing business from the early 1950’s to 2001 when Book Business was published. What Epstein fails to do however, is address the “severe crisis” that the industry is faced with. He brings up concerns with hyper-commercialized chain stores as well as anticipated issues relating to electronic- and self-publishing, yet falls short of concretely defining them or offering solutions to these problems. Book Business concludes with a premonition of a future where “book ATMs” dispense printed copies of best sellers at every street corner and gas station, and where online book retailers such as Amazon.com struggle to remain afloat amidst competition with big bookstore chains such as Borders and Barnes and Noble. The lecture-based method from which this book was created has several effects. First and foremost, the author’s descriptive, conversational style of writing is a pleasure to read, as if the reader and Epstein are sitting at the old Princeton Club on Park Avenue in 1970’s New York City, drinking dry martinis and reminiscing about the way things were back in the “good ‘ole days” of publishing. In this manner, Book Business reads more as a memoir than as an historical account of the publishing business. While there are certainly merits to writing memoirs and audiences who thrive on them, the title Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future is misleading. Rather, it should be called Book Business: My (Epstein’s) Past, Present and Future in Publishing. A second, rather unfortunate, influence of the lectures from which Book Business was written is that the resulting book feels disjointed, jumping to and fro from different topics to people to issues. The flow of the writing is impeded by the attempt to bring together distinct oral presentations into one cohesive written account. Taken separately, the chapters are wonderful short essays from which the reader can catch a fly on the wall’s view of what it was like to be a publisher in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and so on, including specific details from what type of décor a publishing house had to what a certain author’s typical wardrobe consisted of. While these anecdotes are insightful and interesting to read, the chapters seem to be haphazardly jumbled together without thought of how one should segue to the next. The book does have a few recognizable features that deserve attention, particularly of the reference or biographical nature. The preface is very informational, explaining that the work is the result of the New York Public Library lecture series given by Epstein in 1999. Included at the end of the book is a comprehensive index that encompasses key authors and other persons of interest, places, themes, titles and events that come up during the course of Book Business. In addition there are footnotes found throughout that give additional historical or anecdotal information about the text. Overall Book Business reads as an enjoyable memoir of a person who has a plethora of experience in the publishing field, who has worked with many influential and recognizable authors, created some of the industry’s most well respected publications, won prestigious awards, and remained a steady constant in an ever evolving profession for more than fifty years. What it lacks in flow of writing it makes up in style and ease of reading. Epstein’s ability to transport a reader to a particular time and place is exceptional, especially given that he has never before authored any books. While it falls short of addressing directly the so-called “crisis” that is affecting the publishing industry, the author does point out several concerns within the field. Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future could easily be cataloged within the autobiography section of a public library. Although classified under the “Publishers and Publishing-History-20th Century” and “Publishers and Publishing-Forecasting” subject headings, the text reads more as a personal tale of Epstein’s life in the publishing world than as an historic or forecasting work. Book Business would be a complimentary supplement to more recent historical accounts of the publishing industry such as Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (Public Affairs 2009), John B. Thompson’s Merchant of Culture (Polity Press 2010) and The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control by Ted Striphas (Columbia University Press 2009). It would also serve readers to have Epstein revisit Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future, readdress the concerns mentioned, and reevaluate his predictions of the industry now that eleven years have passed since the book’s publication.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Fulmer

    This is an amazing book about the subject of books written by one of the great connoisseurs of books. Jason Epstein played a role in introducing quality paperback books, the Library of America, and the New York Review of books. He worked for Doubleday and Random House and this book, more of a reflection on his past than a memoir (I believe it is an adaptation of some lectures he delivered at the New York Public Library), is full of tons of anecdotes featuring Faulkner and Edmund Wilson and a par This is an amazing book about the subject of books written by one of the great connoisseurs of books. Jason Epstein played a role in introducing quality paperback books, the Library of America, and the New York Review of books. He worked for Doubleday and Random House and this book, more of a reflection on his past than a memoir (I believe it is an adaptation of some lectures he delivered at the New York Public Library), is full of tons of anecdotes featuring Faulkner and Edmund Wilson and a parade of publishers and booksellers. He recounts the arc of the book business-mainly publishing and bookselling-beginning after WWII when he got his first job, almost by accident, in publishing up until the turn of the century during which he was simply marinated in a kind of New York bookishness. Much of the book is a celebration of a past where great publishing houses reflected the eccentricities of their owners and founders and were staffed by learned people who labored on behalf of books more than anything, not giving much thought to such things as material gain. He also celebrates a bookstore past where independent bookstores had shelves overflowing with books and staff who could find any title with their eyes closed and he rues the way that this bookselling situation was slowly replaced by malls and suburban shopping landscapes. If you love books I suggest you treat yourself by reading this one, for it is a celebration of the book by someone who really knows what he’s talking about.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Janaka

    While somewhat dated at this point, Book Business is still fascinating and essential reading for anyone interested in the history of modern publishing. Furthermore, Epstein’s predictions made around 2000 have largely since manifested—and so the ones that have yet to manifest prove worth considering.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Megan Close Zavala

    Nicely written, fascinating mini history of publishing with predictions for the future of the industry circa 2001.

  14. 5 out of 5

    A.L.

    Book publishing is a business I'm idealistic about. I'm fortunate to work for a publisher right now. So when I had the opportunity to grab a free, hand-me down copy of this book from a co-worker I jumped at it. Book Business is a memoir by Jason Epstein of his years in the New York publishing scene. He was an editor at Doubleday, Random House, and is responsible for a number of other successful publishing related ventures. During his career he worked in literary fiction (think: Faulkner and the l Book publishing is a business I'm idealistic about. I'm fortunate to work for a publisher right now. So when I had the opportunity to grab a free, hand-me down copy of this book from a co-worker I jumped at it. Book Business is a memoir by Jason Epstein of his years in the New York publishing scene. He was an editor at Doubleday, Random House, and is responsible for a number of other successful publishing related ventures. During his career he worked in literary fiction (think: Faulkner and the like), academic publishing, magazine and journal publishing, and mass market trade publishing. His experience is broad, and the wisdom he's gained a result is deep. Amid his witticisms and remembrances Epstein also manages to weave in a bit of publishing history. He covers topics like: why publishers ever allowed returns on their product, why book prices are so high, the rise of the "quality paperback," how the market has changed as a result of shopping malls and big box stores, and how bestsellers have changed things too. I especially enjoyed his descriptions of the New York publishing houses in the '50's and '60's. He described them with a nostalgic crush the way Ray Bradbury would describe Hollywood of the same era. Another strength of this book is that Epstein is prophetic and optimistic in his writing about the future of the business. This book was published in 2001. I'm amazed at the things he predicted accurately then (like the rise of digital books and easy, cheap distribution) and equally amazed at the things he predicts that have not yet come to pass (like the someday-in-the-future-ability for everyone to print paperbacks on demand at home). After reading Book Business I shared a few of my favorite quotes with co-workers in a meeting. As someone who sits at the bottom of the publishing corporate ladder, and as an aspiring writer, I found these quotes profound and sometimes humorous: p.43 - The gift of storytelling is uncommon. It can be seen at a glance even by a beginner like myself. p.36 - The editor's emotions are almost as much committed to the outcome as the author's. p.59 - Literature, like all religions, is also a business, though not a very good business. p.4 - Book publishing is not a conventional business. It more closely resembles a vocation or an amateur sport in which the primary goal is the activity itself rather than its financial outcome. p.72 - authors, I would soon learn, sometimes bite when their egos are underfed. If you like publishing you'll like this book. If, like me, you have romantic ideals about how books are made, you'll find a friend in Epstein and you'll probably learn something along the way. I know I did. This book is warmly recommended to anyone bookish enough to care about where books came from (and where they might be going).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dan Kugler

    A very good book about what it was like to be one of the most innovate editors/publishers from the 1950s onward (paperback revolution, new york review of books, library of amercia)-- meditations on the book industry past and present--fascinating, and a nice, sharp quick read--my thoughts: if you are going to read books, why not learn how they are made? also it has things like this: I did not find Lolita repulsive, nor did I find it the work of genius that it has since been called. I admired Nabokov A very good book about what it was like to be one of the most innovate editors/publishers from the 1950s onward (paperback revolution, new york review of books, library of amercia)-- meditations on the book industry past and present--fascinating, and a nice, sharp quick read--my thoughts: if you are going to read books, why not learn how they are made? also it has things like this: I did not find Lolita repulsive, nor did I find it the work of genius that it has since been called. I admired Nabokov's earlier novels published by New Directions and preferred their cold precision to the plummy and it seemed to me rather cruel, if also very funny, Lolita, in which Nabokov seemed to be congratulating himself on his jokes. I was puzzled by Nabokov's intentions. Lolita seemed to be making a statement. Was Nabokov trying to show that America is unsafe for highly strung emigres like himself who risk losing their cultural identities to a country as shallow and seductive as his innocently corrupt heroine? Or was he simply elaborating an erotic theme he had touched on in his earlier work? Later, when he and I became friends, I asked him how the idea for Lolita had occurred to him. I expected a fanciful answer and was not disappointed. He told me that one day he, his wife, Vera, and his ten-year-old son, Dmitri, had been driving home to Ithaca from a butterfly expedition in the Rockies and stopped for the night in a small Ohio town. Since there was no motel available they took rooms in the home of a Methodist minister. After dinner, when the minster and his wife had retired, Vladimir noticed Dmitri had disappeared. Vladimir found him under a tree on the lawn in the arms of the minster's teenage daughter. Vladimir told me that this encounter aroused his curiosity about the sexual precocity of teenage American girls, and back in Ithaca would sit behind them on the school bus, notebook in hand, recording their chatter which soon emerged in the pages of his novel. I assumed that this unlikely detail, like the story of the minister's daughter, was Vladimir's way of telling me not to ask foolish questions.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zöe Zöe

    This is a book I will highly recommend to those who are eager to learn both how the publishing industry functions and its behind the scene stories. Looking dull, however, the memoir like award winning book tells the history of book publishing industry in the United States since 19th century. It is striking how a person who devoted half a century of his life time to a career path that involved shaping and change a society's intellectual and knowledge landscape. This includes: when Theodore Dreise This is a book I will highly recommend to those who are eager to learn both how the publishing industry functions and its behind the scene stories. Looking dull, however, the memoir like award winning book tells the history of book publishing industry in the United States since 19th century. It is striking how a person who devoted half a century of his life time to a career path that involved shaping and change a society's intellectual and knowledge landscape. This includes: when Theodore Dreiser threw a cup of coffee at the face of his publisher; passionate patron publishers giving W. Faulkner money for his drunken nights; moreover, the author's friendship and personal encounter with the publishing of by-then controversial Lolita and how Nabokov came up with Lolita. Those by-gone era has been created by those who loved books, later on, some of them became great intellectuals. Many major journal and periodicals are recalled and told in the book, such as Partisan Review, New York Times Review etc. Present and future parts are surprisingly accurate as well. Now it's 2017 when I read this book, and the author could already predict the upcoming trends in book publishing industry with a glance at the development of new technology. Not one single prediction of his is missing or misleading, it all happened. Still, there are lots of things changing in the industry, but the essence remains.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    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 present and 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 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 present and 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...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Mccool

    I enjoyed the tutelage of such an experienced publisher and editor as Mr. Eptsein. It's a smooth read that covers the basics and history of book publishing, trends and changes throughout history, what makes it profitable, the author's own autobiographic contributions to the field (including LOTS of namedropping), what makes literature literature, and finally he utters prophecies of the future of book publishing and how it will become a cottage organization once again with the advent of the inter I enjoyed the tutelage of such an experienced publisher and editor as Mr. Eptsein. It's a smooth read that covers the basics and history of book publishing, trends and changes throughout history, what makes it profitable, the author's own autobiographic contributions to the field (including LOTS of namedropping), what makes literature literature, and finally he utters prophecies of the future of book publishing and how it will become a cottage organization once again with the advent of the internet. I was most intrigued by his prophecy that, although book superstores like Barnes and Noble will not fold (I don't know how that relates to Borders...), most bookstores of the future will be a comfortable place where you can get an awesome cup of coffee and sit down on a comfortable sofa with a still warm, perfectly bound manuscript in your hand that was just printed to your specifications on a book printer specifically designed to produce individual copies for three or four bucks a pop. That sounds amazing, and would save the retailers the warehousing and processing costs currently associated with them, and the publishers the risk of printing more copies than will sell.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    It's a pleasant read. Since the author makes predictions (from the view point of 2002) about the effect of the digital revolution on book publishing (incorrect predictions in the case of e-readers), it was fun to read on my Kindle. The author was the founder of Anchor Books and the New York Review of Books, so there's a small amount of material about the storied old publishing world--insider and a predictable paean to various individuals. No special insight. One interesting thing is his thoughts It's a pleasant read. Since the author makes predictions (from the view point of 2002) about the effect of the digital revolution on book publishing (incorrect predictions in the case of e-readers), it was fun to read on my Kindle. The author was the founder of Anchor Books and the New York Review of Books, so there's a small amount of material about the storied old publishing world--insider and a predictable paean to various individuals. No special insight. One interesting thing is his thoughts about the growth of suburbs in the aftermath of World War II being what led to the rise of suburban malls and hence the high rent bookstore chains that demanded blockbuster type turnover. The book is not very interesting. It left me with the feeling that this author actually probably could say much that would be of enormous interest but that he was keeping the truly illuminating stuff to himself. It would serve as a good, comprehensive overview though for someone less familiar with the history publishing in the U.S. It's a short book, painted in very broad strokes.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Colund

    I met Jason Epstein in person when the Espresso Book Machine was unveiled at Harvard Book Store this fall. He first introduced his idea to create such a print-on-demand kiosk in this book. Despite being filled with name-dropping on every other page (he hung out with people like Nabakov and Updike and he worked at Random House back when it was still a few small offices in the building that is now the Palace Hotel), this book is a great road map of where publishing has been and it’s at least an in I met Jason Epstein in person when the Espresso Book Machine was unveiled at Harvard Book Store this fall. He first introduced his idea to create such a print-on-demand kiosk in this book. Despite being filled with name-dropping on every other page (he hung out with people like Nabakov and Updike and he worked at Random House back when it was still a few small offices in the building that is now the Palace Hotel), this book is a great road map of where publishing has been and it’s at least an insightful guess about where it’s going in the future. Epstein helped guide the paperback revolution so he’s made excellent predictions in the past. Will his Espresso Book Machine idea be as influential in the publishing world as the paperback revolution? It remains to be seen. I only recommend this book to anyone who wants to go into publishing. Though this book is a pretty fast, easy read, it’s not really for the general interest reader.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gayle Francis

    I read Book Business for a publishing class and found it insightful, well-organized, and very entertaining. It's half anecdote/half history of the publishing world since 1950, originally presented as a series of lectures by Jason Epstein. Epstein writes with a light touch, able to tell deeply involving stories about his time in publishing and use those experiences to make a good guess at what's to come. He's almost entirely correct in his guesses (with a major miss regarding electronic books and I read Book Business for a publishing class and found it insightful, well-organized, and very entertaining. It's half anecdote/half history of the publishing world since 1950, originally presented as a series of lectures by Jason Epstein. Epstein writes with a light touch, able to tell deeply involving stories about his time in publishing and use those experiences to make a good guess at what's to come. He's almost entirely correct in his guesses (with a major miss regarding electronic books and their popularity). The whole book reads like a loving, slightly frustrated tribute to a family member who is generally a fine, upstanding person but does occasionally tell an inappropriate joke to someone's six-year-old. If you have any interest in books from a publishing standpoint, Book Business is a good book to introduce yourself to the varying ways the publishing business works and how it has changed.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hanje Richards

    I think Jason Epstein has some interesting ideas, but I wish he had developed them more fully. I found the bits of publishing history fascinating, and I really hungered for more. Here was someone who knew all these incredible people: authors, editors, book industry heavy-hitters, and I felt like he was holding so much back. He was in high places in the book business for 50 years. I was in relatively low places in the book business for nearly 25 years, and I really wanted him to tell me things. I I think Jason Epstein has some interesting ideas, but I wish he had developed them more fully. I found the bits of publishing history fascinating, and I really hungered for more. Here was someone who knew all these incredible people: authors, editors, book industry heavy-hitters, and I felt like he was holding so much back. He was in high places in the book business for 50 years. I was in relatively low places in the book business for nearly 25 years, and I really wanted him to tell me things. I was also intrigued when he talked about the foreshadowing of what the book business would come to be in the future (this book was published in 2001, and there have been huge changes in that time period) and the future is now, and was last year and the year before and the year before. I am not sorry I read this book, I was interested in what was there, I just felt let down by all that wasn't there. I would give this book 2.5 stars if that were an option.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    I read this earlier in the summer when I was trying to think seriously about opening an independent bookstore. Epstein gives good news insofar as he assures us that the "paperless revolution" is not about to actually happen, and even that big chain bookstores are going to find themselves losing out to smaller, leaner operations as buyers get more niche-oriented, retail rental prices stay prohibitive and we move (sooner or later) into the age of print-on-demand. I wouldn't go so far as to say Eps I read this earlier in the summer when I was trying to think seriously about opening an independent bookstore. Epstein gives good news insofar as he assures us that the "paperless revolution" is not about to actually happen, and even that big chain bookstores are going to find themselves losing out to smaller, leaner operations as buyers get more niche-oriented, retail rental prices stay prohibitive and we move (sooner or later) into the age of print-on-demand. I wouldn't go so far as to say Epstein makes opening a new bookstore sound like a good idea, but he does make a strong case that, with the right approach to finding a little corner of the market, it is still possible. Oh yes, and in the process, he gives a very enlightening history of how the bookselling industry has evolved over the past century.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Amit

    Though I picked up this book to learn about the publishing business (and I did learn, just a little), I really enjoyed it as a story of how passion, perspective, perseverance, and being in the right place are important for entreprenuership. This book, written in autobiographical style, starts off with how the author, based on his university experience, has the insight that 1950s era America was ready for quality paperbacks, an insight people even who went to university before the war would have Though I picked up this book to learn about the publishing business (and I did learn, just a little), I really enjoyed it as a story of how passion, perspective, perseverance, and being in the right place are important for entreprenuership. This book, written in autobiographical style, starts off with how the author, based on his university experience, has the insight that 1950s era America was ready for quality paperbacks, an insight people even who went to university before the war would have missed. It reminded me of how much of today's social networking revolution is lead by young people who have a better feel of for how people of their generation connect with each other. Most of the book is packed with similar interesting stories - from Jason's days at small publishing shops that become divisions of conglomerates to how he started three different ventures during his career.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    A really fun read, more valuable for the behind-the-scenes nostalgia of the past and the thoughtful contemplation of the present state of the publishing world. The "future" part, on the other hand, is pretty comical to read thirteen years after it was written - to wit, "a significant market for books read on screens has not yet emerged, and in my opinion this may never become the major mode of distribution for books online. The more likely prospect, I believe, is that most digital files will be A really fun read, more valuable for the behind-the-scenes nostalgia of the past and the thoughtful contemplation of the present state of the publishing world. The "future" part, on the other hand, is pretty comical to read thirteen years after it was written - to wit, "a significant market for books read on screens has not yet emerged, and in my opinion this may never become the major mode of distribution for books online. The more likely prospect, I believe, is that most digital files will be printed and bound on demand at point of sale machines..." (p. 178) So, fine, Jason Epstein wasn't as clairvoyant about 21st c. publishing as he seemed to be about innovating for the markets of the 1960s and 70s. Regardless, anyone who loves books, and/or loves a good war story about William Faulkner's drunken foibles and W.H. Auden's party eccentricities, will get a kick out of this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading informed and coherent opinions. Too many times people think volume and emotion automatically validate points and give arguments merit. Well Epstein needs neither volume or ranting emotions. He is well informed and gets you to think about publishing in new ways. This is one of those books you'll enjoy simply because it allows you to have a conversation that you may not have otherwise had. And it's all about books and publishing. This is one for people who I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading informed and coherent opinions. Too many times people think volume and emotion automatically validate points and give arguments merit. Well Epstein needs neither volume or ranting emotions. He is well informed and gets you to think about publishing in new ways. This is one of those books you'll enjoy simply because it allows you to have a conversation that you may not have otherwise had. And it's all about books and publishing. This is one for people who like books, all things publishing and thinking about the future of our culture. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with Epstein, you'll find it well worth your time to read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    Expanded from a series of lecture at the NYPL, Epstein’s book is a personal memoir of his publishing career. Thanks to his influential role at Doubleday, Random House, Knopf, and other houses of the American publishing industry, his personal history reads as an insightful overview of modern publishing history. In addition to descriptions of how the publishing industry functions and how publishing has changed from the 1950s to the turn of the last century, Epstein provides his own projections, ci Expanded from a series of lecture at the NYPL, Epstein’s book is a personal memoir of his publishing career. Thanks to his influential role at Doubleday, Random House, Knopf, and other houses of the American publishing industry, his personal history reads as an insightful overview of modern publishing history. In addition to descriptions of how the publishing industry functions and how publishing has changed from the 1950s to the turn of the last century, Epstein provides his own projections, circa 2001, for how publishing will continue to change in light of increasing technological advances.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Adam Ross

    I was expecting this book to be more about book business in the abstract, but it turns out it was more of a memoir sort of thing. This didn't make it bad, per se, and was an interesting window into publishing in the 20s and 50s. Epstein was the inventor of the trade paperback book (the hardcover-sized soft cover book) and founded the New York Review of Books. He also had some good things to say about the current chaos in the publishing industry, and the effect the e-book revolution will have on I was expecting this book to be more about book business in the abstract, but it turns out it was more of a memoir sort of thing. This didn't make it bad, per se, and was an interesting window into publishing in the 20s and 50s. Epstein was the inventor of the trade paperback book (the hardcover-sized soft cover book) and founded the New York Review of Books. He also had some good things to say about the current chaos in the publishing industry, and the effect the e-book revolution will have on fiction (he argues there has been no breakthrough in book making as big as the e-book since the invention of the printing press). Good stuff.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nikita ~ BRB Reading

    The publishing world truly fascinates me. There's so much the industry has witnessed - and so much more that's still changing. I found this book particularly interesting because I've been keen on learning about the publishing world. It took a lot of research to discover this book and time to find an available copy on Amazon, but I'm glad I finally got around to reading it! Among other things, Epstein has even written in detail about how The Library of America and The Readies Catalog came into ex The publishing world truly fascinates me. There's so much the industry has witnessed - and so much more that's still changing. I found this book particularly interesting because I've been keen on learning about the publishing world. It took a lot of research to discover this book and time to find an available copy on Amazon, but I'm glad I finally got around to reading it! Among other things, Epstein has even written in detail about how The Library of America and The Readies Catalog came into existence; the idea and execution behind both. The personal insights, the relationships, the faces of publishing, the trends, the risks -- there's so much this book has to offer!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anne Callahan

    Founder of the New York Review of Books and longtime editor at Random House Jason Epstein's memoir of his life as a publisher. Epstein waxes nostalgic for the days of publishing-houses-as-gentleman's-clubs. Epstein catalogs his successes.* Epstein pats his friends on the back. Etc. *Which include, besides the founding of the venerable New York Review of Books, both Anchor Books -- some of the first high-quality trade paperbacks in the U.S. -- and the Library of America, for which we should certai Founder of the New York Review of Books and longtime editor at Random House Jason Epstein's memoir of his life as a publisher. Epstein waxes nostalgic for the days of publishing-houses-as-gentleman's-clubs. Epstein catalogs his successes.* Epstein pats his friends on the back. Etc. *Which include, besides the founding of the venerable New York Review of Books, both Anchor Books -- some of the first high-quality trade paperbacks in the U.S. -- and the Library of America, for which we should certainly applaud him.

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