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Book Business Publishing: Past, Present, and Future [Paperback]

Jason Epstein
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 Jan 2002 0393322343 978-0393322347 New edition
Jason Epstein has led arguably the most creative career in American book publishing during the past half-century. Here he discusses the severe crisis facing the book business today, affecting writers and readers as well as publishers, and looks ahead to the radically transformed industry that will revolutionise the idea of the book.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (1 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393322343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393322347
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 808,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Congenial, erudite, electrifying, this book is a must read for anyone who cares about books and their business. Publishers Weekly starred review Epstein is not only thoughtful and experienced, but also a hell of a good writer. Boston Sunday Globe, Peter Davison Humane, razor sharp, and charmingly told. Kirkus Reviews, starred review Reading [Epstein's] book is like enjoying a great jazz impresario: there's a wonderful riff coming at any moment. New York Times Book Review, Laurence J. Kirshbaum It is possible, even likely, that no one knows more about the publishing industry than Jason Epstein. Norman Mailer A brilliant, moving and profoundly insightful rendering of the history, status and future of American publishing. Toni Morrison History, memoir, and prophecy ... [by a] man who has been at the creative heart of American publishing for fifty years. E.L. Doctorow A must read for all who love books and publishing and for all who wonder whether either will survive. Howard Gardner A wise and insightful book on the present state and the future of book publishing. Michael Korda

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Trade book publishing is by nature a cottage industry, decentralized, improvisational, personal; best performed by small groups of like-minded people, devoted to their craft, jealous of their autonomy, sensitive to the needs of writers and to the diverse interests of readers. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
"Technologies change the world but human nature remains the same." That quote sums up the theme of the 7 essays in this interesting book. Mr. Epstein makes a persuasive case for electronics reducing the costs of reaching readers in ways so that authors and their readers will interact more directly, as they did before the 20th century. The bulk of the book is an anecdotal history of publishing and book retailing in the United States over the last 150 years. In most cases, Mr. Epstein uses his own career for examples of the changes that have occurred in the last 50 years.
Mr. Epstein takes on this challenge from a position of considerable authority. He been a top editor, working with authors like Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal. Beyond that, he has been an important industry innovator, having helped introduce the quality paperback through Anchor Books, being a founder of The New York Review of books, and helping establish the Library of America (featuring authentic versions of important American works in paperback). When time-shared computer services were first expanding, he helped develop the "Reader's Catalog" for getting backlist books.... He was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service for American Letters for "inventing new kinds of publishing and editing."
Basically, the economics of creating a book involve getting the book edited and produced at the lowest possible fixed cost, and then being able to create copies at low marginal cost rates. Anything you can do to avoid any other overhead is all to the good. If an author simply publishes his own work electronically (as Stephen King has started doing), both costs reach a bare bones minimum. The potential for profits is enormous.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough Going 25 July 2010
Format:Paperback
I found this book very tough going. I am in the book business myself and yet found it very wordy and self-indulgent. Not something I'd recommend.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Economic Insights about Books in Rambling Form 6 Jan 2001
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Technologies change the world but human nature remains the same." That quote sums up the theme of the 7 essays in this interesting book. Mr. Epstein makes a persuasive case for electronics reducing the costs of reaching readers in ways so that authors and their readers will interact more directly, as they did before the 20th century. The bulk of the book is an anecdotal history of publishing and book retailing in the United States over the last 150 years. In most cases, Mr. Epstein uses his own career for examples of the changes that have occurred in the last 50 years.
Mr. Epstein takes on this challenge from a position of considerable authority. He been a top editor, working with authors like Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal. Beyond that, he has been an important industry innovator, having helped introduce the quality paperback through Anchor Books, being a founder of The New York Review of books, and helping establish the Library of America (featuring authentic versions of important American works in paperback). When time-shared computer services were first expanding, he helped develop the "Reader's Catalog" for getting backlist books.... He was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service for American Letters for "inventing new kinds of publishing and editing."
Basically, the economics of creating a book involve getting the book edited and produced at the lowest possible fixed cost, and then being able to create copies at low marginal cost rates. Anything you can do to avoid any other overhead is all to the good. If an author simply publishes his own work electronically (as Stephen King has started doing), both costs reach a bare bones minimum. The potential for profits is enormous. Unfortunately for publishers and retailers, this new economic circumstance favors the authors and the readers. More and more book sales are coming from fewer and fewer authors (6 authors did over 60 percent of the top 100 books from 1986-1996). These authors now see themselves as needing business managers more than literary agents, so they can earn profits in more ways from their production. Mr. Epstein forecasts that more successful authors will simply buy the services they need from specialized firms rather than using publishers at all.
The implication of this is that the major publishing conglomerates will soon be dismantled in a scramble to avoid the diseconomies of bidding higher and higher advances. Having not focused on building a backlist business, these firms will be unprofitable compared with alternative investments. The book business will probably go back to being run by people who do it for love of books, rather than love of profits. He sees chain bookstores surviving, but more as a place to have a cup of coffee and meet with others to discuss books. Nonbook outlets (possibly including Kinko's) could become places where you can go to get any book you want made to order. .... Authors will flourish as books always remain in print. New forms of books will arise that allow different combinations of material to be created, just to match the needs of an individual reader.
This book is an expanded version of three lectures that Mr. Epstein gave at the New York Public Library in October 1999. The first chapter has already been published in the New York Review of Books. Unfortunately, after that chapter the book reads like a series of disconnected lectures rather than as one book.
The first chapter is dynamite. The rest isn't nearly as good. The other sections are just detailed expositions of the points in the first chapter. So the content, while charming and interesting, is an elaborated magazine article. If Mr. Epstein had developed his economic insights in more depth, rather than providing a lot of historical background on the industry, the book would have been a lot better. As written, the book is backward looking 85 percent of the time and forward looking 15 percent of the time.
Mr. Epstein needed a stronger editor to take his marvelous thoughts and shape them into something more visionary and coherent than this book is. But it must be tough to edit a legendary editor. I graded the book down one star for these faults. Some will grade it down more. If the book had been better focused and organized on the industry's future, I would have said that it was a more than five star book. So, you could say that I am really grading it down two or three stars for this problem.
Now, please understand that the book is well written. The sentences and thoughts are beautiful. It just isn't formed into the best book it could be. If you like to read books of lectures, you won't mind a bit. So "Book Notes" junkies will love it!
Ask yourself these questions: Where would you like to get your stories and information from the world's best writers and thinkers? How could the material be made more attractive and useful to you? How important are cost and convenience as issues for you?
Cherish the potential of technology to expand our access to each other . . . always!
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a Thorough Enough Analysis 17 Mar 2001
By Michael Sivilli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
After reading the New York Times Book Review write-up and a review in Newsday about Book Business: Publishing Past, Present, and Future, I was excited that someone had finally written a book about the business in which I work. However, readers need to heed the warning: "Don't judge a book by its cover" (or, in this case, its title). I have worked in the book publishing industry for 15 years, and have seen firsthand a great deal of what the author describes in this book. It seemed that the beginning of each chapter captured me, as I personally related to what was being discussed. But after a few paragraphs in each chapter, the author digresses into biographical issues that lend no value or substantial insight into aspects of the general history of the book publishing business, which might affect or interest someone in the industry. With all due respect to the author (and I truly appreciate his attempt at such a work), the book is much too brief to live up to the hype I read in reviews touting it as some type of benchmark work. The author's analyses of the various aspects of the industry are simply not profound enough. He begins a discussion of a particular aspect of the business, and then maunders into a personal story, which is far from relative to general interest.
The book is a very quick-and-easy read considering the author's style, which was obviously maintained throughout (leading me to believe that he was probably his own editor; some sentences are nearly a paragraph long). His use of a William F. Buckley-like vocabulary was probably not necessary for the typical reader. As an editor, I was, however, impressed that I could find but one typographical error in the entire book.
I would not recommend this book for someone interested in starting a career in the publishing industry. It does, however, serve as an amusing little folk tale for those of us already in the business.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What the Web Does to Old Fashioned Publishing! 13 Aug 2001
By Stuart W. Mirsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Like the hedgehog of legend, Jason Epstein in this book has one big idea: The Internet, he says, changes everything! All the rest of this book is commentary, memoir and historical anecdote recalled from a lifetime of experience in the hermetically sealed world of New York publishing.

In fact, Mr. Epstein has written an interesting if only moderately useful book about the changes he has witnessed in the publishing arena, a book which, regrettably, does not offer much beyond an earlier essay he presented on-line about these same issues, although it is fleshed out here by the anecdotal descriptions of his personal experiences in the field. His basic thesis is that the publishing industry, by rights, ought to be a small scale business, but has grown, over time, into an unpromising corporate behemoth which cannot, in the end, sustain itself. However, the advent of the Internet should bring this chapter of the business to a resounding close, he suggests, as authors discover how to reach readers directly and, thereby, marginalize publishers.

What, after all, do publishers do, he asks? They make books available to the public by investing in titles through a selection and editing process and then by financing the books' production (editing, layout/design, printing and binding), distribution (warehousing, linking with distributors and re-sellers) and promotion (advertising, networking with the review community and sales outreach to retailers). This is not very much, in the end, says Mr. Epstein, given the powers conferred upon authors through the Web.

Thanks to modern e-publishing (on-line electronic publication and print-on-demand), authors can now do much of this themselves through on-line service providers at very minimal cost. The existence of on-line sales outlets such as amazon and bn.com (which have seen their share of book purchases grow from an early 1-2% to a more recently reported 6%) makes all this feasible since buyers cannot easily distinguish between self-published works which are well presented and their more commercially published cousins at the on-line sites. So, says Mr. Epstein, the business he has spent his life in is about to change radically . . . and for the better.

Unfortunately, his own book does not go much beyond this basic point, aside from the interesting life experiences in the publishing world he has to recount. And so I was somewhat disappointed by it. I came to it hoping to learn more about the publishing business and how to circumvent it, having been a rejected author for the better part of my professional life.

(In the interests of full disclosure I should say, at this point, that I am one of those "empowered" authors Mr. Epstein seems to be alluding to who has found an alternative to the closed world of "big" publishing through the exigencies of the Internet. Unable to place my first novel with a bona fide commercial publisher, I went the POD -- print-on-demand -- route to generally good reviews. But I have found that this means of publishing falls well-short of expectations as I still lack the means to connect with the big-time review community, which seems to have a prejudice against the self-published, or to promote my book on a scale which the traditional publishing world can offer.)

So I was looking for more in Epstein's book, hoping to learn something I did not already know and gain insight into how I might parlay my foray into on-line based self-publishing into something bigger. But Epstein doesn't deliver that. Instead he offers only a few insights and generalities about changes in the offing.

And yet, perhaps that's the best one can do, as this is a new and growing field and none of us can really foretell the future, not even a man of Mr. Epstein's substantial experience. At the least, I think his basic insight is correct, that the Internet does indeed alter the present landscape dramatically. Still, as noted, I was left a trifle disappointed at the book's end (which came rather quickly, as it's a very short book). Aside from learning a bit about Epstein's own contributions to publishing past, and seeing reiterated in words my own experiences with on-line publishing, and learning that Epstein doesn't hold out much hope for outfits like amazon either (he proposes, instead, that amazon become a broker to publishers and authors, taking a small fee for linking readers with the books they want, through a publishers' consortium, each time a sale is rung up), he doesn't have much that is new to tell us.

And, if I may be picky for a moment, I was a little put off by the editing/proofing of the book which I expected more from, given its professional provenance. I counted at least three typos (including two "thats", a common enough error, and the use of the word "identify" when "identity" was meant, among them). Worse Mr. Epstein got his reference to Albert Payson Terhune wrong! Terhune was famous for his books about collie dogs but he did not write any Lassie books, contrary to what Mr. Epstein reports. That was a fellow named Knight. Terhune wrote LAD, A DOG and numerous subsequent works based on the generations of Lad. A one-note theme, to be sure, but he kept me reading in my youth and was probably the first writer to inspire me to try my own luck in the publishing arena. Unfortunately, I did not have the same good luck as he did in finding a publishing outlet, until the advent of the Internet which, as Mr. Epstein suggests, may well, and hopefully will, change everything.

SWM
author of The King of Vinland's Saga
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Book Business: Publishing: Past, Present, and Future 19 Jan 2001
By Carol Lowe Crinean - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jason Epstein has had a wonderful 50 years in the publishing industry. Good for him. I respect all that he's done. But upon reading this book, which was touted as "the book they'll be talking about for decades," I am terribly disappointed. I bought the book hoping to find some insight into the publishing world of today. The first chapter or so, and a bit at the end of the book, gave me information and his opinions, which I value. The article "Mistah Perkins, He Dead," written years ago, however, says much more succinctly what this 175-page book for $25 ever did. And believe me, I kept hoping.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two Incomplete Books in One 6 Mar 2005
By A. Bowdoin Van Riper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Jason Epstein has had an extraordinary career in literary publishing, and if he ever writes a full-blown memoir of that career, it would make interesting reading. Epstein has also watched the publishing industry change radically since he entered it in 1950, and thought deeply about it. A book-length discussion of those changes would also make interesting reading.

_Book Business_ reads like condensed versions of both those books, inexpertly woven together. It jumps frequently and (it seems to me) awkwardly from big-picture analysis to "there I was having drinks with Nabokov" anecdotes. Ultimately, neither half of the story is entirely satisfying.

The business analysis is interesting as far as it goes, but too narrow. Epstein dismisses all of popular fiction in a sentence as "formulaic melodrama," and (aside from literary criticism) barely mentions serious non-fiction at all. He seems to make no distinction between "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and Harlequin Romances, or between David McCullough's "John Adams" and the latest diet book. His ideas about the future role of the internet in publishing are equally narrow. He spends pages explaining (in 2001!) why Amazon.com can't possibly succeed. His enthusiasm for print-on-demand "book vending machines" is infectious . . . but takes little account of the staggering mechanical (not electronic) challenges they would present.

The literary-memoir side of the book also feels curiously shallow. The anecdotes about Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the like are fascinating, but the sum of them feels like an after-dinner speech on "Great Authors I Have Known" rather than a discussion of what it's like to edit great writers. The stories from Epstein's career are also great reading, but they are so obviously *just* the high points that they give little sense of the texture of his career as a whole. Did he *never*, in fifty years in the business, suffer a setback?

There's much here that's interesting, and Epstein is a graceful writer, but I think in the end I'd have rather read the two separate, longer books he might have written.
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