How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read
Author: André Schiffrin
Publisher: Verso, London & New York
Published: August 2000
Find The Business Of Books at your local book shop. Here it is on Amazon
André Schiffrin was Managing Director at Pantheon Books for three decades. He wrote this book during his first ten years away, after forming The New Press.
The book reads as a memoir, a history, a critique, and a manifesto. It succeeds at them all.
Schiffrin offers us a beautiful picture of the New York publishing world of the 1960s– encounters with figures like Bennett Cerf of Random House (the man some credit as responsible for bringing James Joyce’s Ulysses to print in the U.S., as well as being Truman Capote’s longtime editor, among other claims to fame), early struggles with corporate dealings, and many stories about Pantheon’s groundbreaking editorship at that time.
He goes into detail, with bitterness but also candor, about the significant decline in both public readership and in the ethics of the publishing world during the second half of the 20th century.
The Business of Books is the only book about books I’ve encountered to discuss the business side of this (largely) artistic industry while remaining artful and digestible itself. The book moves chronologically, tackling major issues as the years roll by, eventually concluding with Schiffrin’s decision to leave Pantheon, start his own press, and write this book.
In this copious collection of an expert’s thoughts are passages such as: “It was the decision to discount books– particularly best-sellers– that made chains the phenomenon they are today…German minister of culture and former publisher Michael Naumann predicted that if discounting was allowed in Europe, 80 percent of Germany’s four thousand book stores would fold.” (pg. 124)
Another thing to be noted about this book is that it was published ten years ago. The bulk of what the internet has done to, for, and against print has happened since 2000. There are decade-old statistics that seem shocking now, and many have probably grown worse. If we’re lucky Schiffrin is still keeping a close eye on the constantly evolving publishing world, and will offer his thoughts again.