Book Business: Publishing, Past, Present, and Future
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Book Business: Publishing, Past, Present, and Future

3.4 of 5 stars 3.40  ·  rating details  ·  261 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Jason Epstein has led arguably the most creative career in book publishing during the past-century. In 1952 he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called quality paperback revolution and established the trade paperback format. In the following decade he was co-founder of the New York Review of Books. In the 1980s he created The Library of America and The Reader's C...more
Paperback, 188 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company
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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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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 Disti...more
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...more
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.

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...more
Gayle Francis Moffet
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...more
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...more
Oct 12, 2007 Evan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the future of books
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...more
D.R. Pitcock
This was disturbing look into the disintegrating book business circa 2003. I read it with sadness as Epstein envisioned a world where people essential get their books from a 3-d printer kiosk at the local gas station when you get a cup of coffee. Well it's 2014 and it wasn't so far off.
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...more
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...more
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...more
Nov 23, 2008 Katie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the publishing industry.
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed Epstein's book both for his excellent history of the publishing industry and for his fairly optimistic take on the future of publishing. While some are decrying the death of the book and the industry, Epstein does not see the business as a dying one. Rather, he recognizes that today's publishes need to understand the importance of today's changing technologies and find ways to implement, rather than resist, them. I'm not sure if his "book ATM" idea will ever exist, but it is certainly...more
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...more
Lauren Albert
Is this book dated? Certainly. Since it was published in 2001 and so much has changed in the industry since then, it would have been amazing if it wasn't dated. But it is not as dated as I would have expected. For instance, he seems certain that digital books would become common and explains how suited to digitization are reference books and other changeable but expensive-to-reprint works. I enjoyed his portrayal of his years in publishing back when the bottom line in publishing usually didn't r...more
It took a lot of willpower to finish this book. More than anything else, this book provided me with a lot of authors and publications that I need to learn more about.

I think the problem was that his account of the book business was more personal than I was looking for, though his personal account is undeniably interesting. (He worked for Random House for a gazillion years, pretty much invented the quality paperback, and started the New York Review.)

And his idea of book ATMs makes me a little s...more
Wilburn Newcomb
An excellent book by an experienced editor and former director of Random House. I have only read the 2001 edition with its 188 pages, but a second edition is available with an added chapter, bringing it up to date (2011). One wouldn't think a "business book" would be easy to read, but this one decidedly is. It is a joy to read. I finished it in two days--a record for me, who is a slow reader. The book is also beautifully designed in Mrs Eaves Roman, a widely spaced and squat font that is eminent...more
Quick read. Great exploration of the changing publishing industry with a philosophical twist. It's part Epstein re-hashing his career, part historical musings, and some name-dropping.

But I think someone who's done as much as Epstein deserves a bit of bragging. He has a great vocabulary and his writing really flows along. Makes me wonder what he is like in person. I wish he would write an updated version, or a more extensive exploration of modern-day publishers and bookstores.
After reading Andre Schiffrin's book, I felt disappointed with this one. It lacks the depth and density of Schiffrin's examination, and methinks Mr. Epstein sounds a bit self-inflated at times. (I am happy for him, but I don't need to know about the nifty apartment he found in New York.)

That said, he does make good points about the future of publishing and brings to light how outmoded the present system can be. I just found a lot more substance in Schiffrin.
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.
Chad Post
This is a decent enough introduction to some of the issues in publishing, but man, is Epstein's pretentious, privileged tone super irritating. So irritating. Like, throw the book at the wall irritating. I have a feeling my class on this book will devolve into pointing out all the grating ways that Epstein refers to his class position, his influence on the intellectual scene, and self-proclamations of his genius. Grrr.
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“A civilization without retail bookstores is unimaginable. Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature. The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader.” 1 likes
“Authors, I would soon learn, sometimes bite when their egos are underfed.” 1 likes
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