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The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  268 ratings  ·  42 reviews
Post-war American publishing has been ruthlessly transformed since André Schiffrin joined its ranks in 1956. Gone is a plethora of small but prestigious houses that often put ideas before profit in their publishing decisions, sometimes even deliberately. Now six behemoths share 80% of the market and profit margin is all.

André Schiffrin can write about these cha
Paperback, 178 pages
Published November 17th 2001 by Verso (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Justin Evans
Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, history-etc
When I searched for this book on goodreads *by its title*, the first two suggestions were a freakonomics sequel and a Malcolm Gladwell book, which more or less proves that Schiffrin is right and large publishing conglomerates who expect each individual book to make a profit, and each publisher to make a super-profit, are simply incapable of printing good, worthwhile books.

When I finally found it, the two first reviews were both from people who read this book before setting up their own press. I
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
You thought neoliberalism and New Public Management was just for governments, did you? Fear no more;- its force through the channels of business management was just as starkly exploitative and ultimately destructive as it was for governance. In this short, highly readable memoir-turned-study, a founding editor of The New Press remembers how Random House bought out his father's publishing house, Pantheon, and how it was itself, in turn, cannibalized and stripped for profitable parts by internatio ...more
Ashraf Haggag
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brilliant book as It helped me while I was preparing to write my book No Place To Stand Alone, It gives you a deep understanding of the current business climate.
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Man, it bums me out that I'll never get to know André Schiffrin, the man is in an inspiration to me starting Deep Vellum, and I strive to follow in his footsteps--for example, I wrote a little piece about starting Deep Vellum in 2014 that merely echoes so much of what he wrote in this book in 2000! Beyond prescient, a sage, a mountain of a man, a publisher of integrity, a role model. RIP, sir.

"What has happened to the work of publishers is no worse than what has taken place in other
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
At once, both an insider's personal history of publishing in America post-WWII, and a clear-eyed indictment of it.

If you've ever wonder what happened to the wide-ranging, thoughtful, and socially irascible books, those provocative and culture-making imprints like Pantheon and Grove Press, those wild-eyed, counter-culture, and truly dangerous authors and's your answer.

Spoiler alert: the risk-averse giant, greedhead media conglomerates and their cabal of bottom-line bean-counters ar
Aug 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-on-books
A chilling tale of how consolidation among publishers and the demand for short-term profits led to the decline of quality books (including among university presses). Schiffrin edited at Pantheon for many years; his father, a Jewish European exile who fled Vichy France, was the founder of the well-respected publishing house Editions de la Pléiade before founding Pantheon. Once S.I. Newhouse bought Random House, things began to go downhill for Pantheon, and Schiffrin was forced out. In 1990 he fou ...more
Mar 19, 2013 marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: bookwvrms
Recommended to Rand by: Brookline Booksmith
I bought a remaindered copy of this title in 2008 but never read it before later losing the copy in a move.

The two gentleman on either side of the counter when I purchased my copy made much in the way of comment upon my transaction.

Relevant link.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
A very interesting and deeply personal account of the changes to publishing culture in the past few decades. I've rated it three stars as it is not quite the overview of the industry it has been positioned as, instead giving a detailed look at how conglomerate culture has affected Schiffrin's career. The chapter on market censorship was very interesting and I'd have loved to hear more about the impact this will have on readers and wider culture, as opposed to the effect on editors. Worth reading ...more
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
While his noble agenda sometimes feels like it flirts with bias—and thus a subjective / incomplete picture—Schiffrin’s account of the disastrous impact of unbridled capitalism on the post-WWII publishing in America (as well as abroad) should be essential reading for anyone working in the industry, published in the industry, or an aspiration toward either.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this for class but it was still a pretty good book that had me kind of wanting to start my own publishing company.
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
It has some really interesting quotes and insights into the publishing world
Oct 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I started my Press I've read a lot of memoirs by publishers about their presses. This is an interesting book because it deals with the nature of capitalism in the book business. Most companies are purchased by larger companies and they become something else. Sometimes they become less interesting or a water-down version of their work in the past. The argument in this book is regarding the future of publishing and how it is chasing the dollar and in results sort of a dumming down or ignorin ...more
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Books today have become mere adjuncts to the world of the mass media, offering light entertainment and reassurances that all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds. The resulting control on the spread of ideas is stricter than anyone would have thought possible in a free society. The need for public debate and open discussion, inherent in the democratic ideal, conflicts with the ever-stricter demand for total profit."

"The idea that our society has been fundamentall
Mike Violano
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book which is part history of post-WWII publishing, part memoir, and part critique of the publishing business mergers and acquisitions and its effect on literary publishing. As a memoir, Schiffrin is more bitter than sweet although his anecdotes about authors are fun and revealing. The historical notes document the breakthrough titles and authors of classics from Dr Zhivago, Anne Morrow Lindberg's Gift from the Sea, Studs Lonergan by James T. Farrell and oral histories by Studs Tu ...more
Mar 06, 2008 rated it liked it
I got to thinking about this book recently. (Read: I was going through piles of stuff in my room and found this in one of the layers.) Anyway,

Schiffrin's book revealed much to me about the problems and perils in publishing. He alerted me to the dangers of placing commerce before culture. He uses his extensive experience to illustrate how publishing has changed, providing a detailed and diligent account. Also, I appreciate that he offers and examines solutions.

Another read
This book isn't exactly brimming with piz-zazz. As utterly fascinating as the subjects are it reads like a scholarly journal for most of it.
The best parts are where Schiffrin gives personal insights into the lives and personalities of some the great book publishers.
There is no doubt in my mind the Schiffrin is someone I'd like to have over for dinner and listen to more stories of publishing's successes and failures.
But without that pre-dinner drink in his hand it may all still
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Andre Schiffrin, a longtime editor at Pantheon before he was forced out by corporate ownership who prized profit more than culture, was the founder of the New Press and, by his account, a publisher with a keen sense of scale and focus on fighting the good fight. His memoir, which occasionally devolves into lists of important writers he's published (one doesn't get the sense he's boasting about his editorial acumen; rather he touts these writers, who he clearly values), is a fascinating look at A ...more
Nov 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
A solid 3.5 stars on this one. Memoir of one of the grand old men in traditional publishing, one who watched the giant corporate takeovers and consolidations of the last several decades from a ringside seat. It's a history that ends before the advrbtnifbtge ebook, but is still quite relevant for understanding how book publishing got to the point it's at now. My only criticisms are with the rather self-congratulatory tone and a certain level of intellectual snobbery in his writing. It uncommon fo ...more
Jeff Phillips
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I learned of this book perusing the site of the small press Two Dollar Radio, and am glad I learned of it, and eventually read it. Not only does it reflect the publishing industry, but of production and communication in general being driven by an obsession with money and growth. The final chapter has left me reverberating with both despair at how business in general is orchestrated by a handful of corporations, but with excitement at the hope of restarting industry from the ground up, with enoug ...more
Nov 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Another really interesting look at the changing history of the book publishing industry from an insider. Schiffrin's book is a bit more pessimistic than Jason Epstein's (in fact, Schiffrin attacks Epstein in The Business of Books for being too optimistic about the future of book publishing). And, clearly, as Schiffrin's experience at Pantheon demonstrates, the changes that have been brought to publishing as a result of corporate takeover leave much to be lamented. Even so, Schiffrin's new endeavors w ...more
Jan 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Always was wondering just how corporate buyouts really were changing what I had access to as a reader. Well, here's the insider who has told it all. Awfully personal, awfully insiderish, but awfully clear-eyed about the corporate, bottom-line, best seller influences on the book world. Wasn't expecting to really get into this, but it was a one sitting dessert.

Schiffrin was responsible for first publishing Studs Terkel's books, found him based on some radio broadcast transcripts from C
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Made me realize how political the book/publishing industry is. Partly an autobiography, partly a survey of the business, and very much a critique of how greedy and anti-intellectual the industry has become.

It's kind of ridiculous how many names he drops and how many people he has met over the years, but I guess it comes with the territory. For example, he signed Matt Groenig in the early 1990s just as The Simpsons was getting huge. He drops all of these names casually as well as the titles of m
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I'm reading this for my MPS program and it's definitely geared toward a niche audience. BUT if you're at all interested in the formation of Random House as a publishing power, casualties along the way, and the establishment of The New Press (albeit with a memoiresque authorial bias), I highly recommend this slim volume. Easy reading with a behind the scenes glance at the publishing industry, it definitely expanded my understanding of our current publishing culture despite its publication year of ...more
Nov 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very interesting read, though had some scary information about the publishing world! There seems to be more to the story though than Schiffrin offers, and I would have liked for him to explore some of the strengths of publishing house changes. All in all, though, I am a big supporter of independent book stores and publishing companies making decisions based on social change instead of profit gain.
A careful, important informative look at the alteration of publishing from a visionary pursuit, the "gentleman's career" into a profit-driven market. Schiffrin is old-hat at publishing and a voice much needed in today's economic climate. I was reminded of the importance of small publishers and independent bookstores, and to the necessity of introducing readers to books in the old custom of intellectual stimulation and growth, distinct from the prevalent pursuit of financial gluttony.
Apr 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Lindsey Reilly
Recommended to Portia by: Read about it in Harper's magazine, in Schiffrin's own commentar
A very interesting accout from Andre' Schiffrin. This is a definitely a good book for anyone entering the publishing industry to read, about how very different publishing was before corporate conglomerates took over the industry. Also interesting for students of mass communication, journalism or related fields.

Looking forward to his most recent book as well.

Alia Salleh
Apr 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In simple fluent language and sharp experienced eyes Schiffrin shared his experience in the USA publishing world, with particular concern on the effects of corporate takeovers on small independents. While the experience is American (and some British anecdotes), it is valuable for any local publishing scenes especially the dynamics of publishing houses and trends on public opinion.
Jan 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: misc
This book gives a history of the book publishing business starting just before World War II. It's sad to see how corporate America as really censored the market by not being willing to publish books that won't make a lot of money.
Chris Kepner
Aug 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is an engrossing account of how publishing changed in the second half of the 20th century. Schiffrin discusses disturbing issues like market censorship in this informative yet accessible volume.
Kevin Kosar
May 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I am glad a friend recommended this book to me. However, my review of it is less than enthusiastic. See it at
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André Schiffrin was a European-born American author, publisher and socialist (born 1935).
Schiffrin was the son of Jacques Schiffrin, a Russian Jew who emigrated to France and briefly enjoyed success there as publisher of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, which he founded, and which was bought by Gallimard, until he was dismissed on account of the anti-Jewish laws enforced by the Vichy regime. Jacqu