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Jason Epstein on the revolution in publishing

This article is making the rounds and getting a lot of discussion. It’s worth the read:

From ResourceShelf:

New York Review of Books
Volume 57, Number 4 · March 11, 2010
Publishing: The Revolutionary Future
By Jason Epstein

“The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends. Meanwhile, for quite different reasons, the genteel book business that I joined more than a half-century ago is already on edge, suffering from a gambler’s unbreakable addiction to risky, seasonal best sellers, many of which don’t recoup their costs, and the simultaneous deterioration of backlist, the vital annuity on which book publishers had in better days relied for year-to-year stability through bad times and good. The crisis of confidence reflects these intersecting shocks, an overspecialized marketplace dominated by high-risk ephemera and a technological shift orders of magnitude greater than the momentous evolution from monkish scriptoria to movable type launched in Gutenberg’s German city of Mainz six centuries ago.”

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Jason Epstein Bio

“Jason Epstein launched the trade paperback format in the US in 1952 as a young editor at Doubleday. In 1963 he was a founder of The New York Review and in 1979 cofounder with the late Edmund Wilson of the Library of America. In 2007 he cofounded On Demand Books. Among his many awards are the National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Book Critics Circle, and the Curtis Benjamin Award given by the American Association of Publishers for enriching the world of books. (March 2010)”

Stephen

Posted on: February 24, 2010, 1:53 pm Category: Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Re: Jason Epstein. Publishing: The Revolutionary Future – The New York Review of Books

    I fully agree with Epstein’s overall perspective on the vast changes that are and will take place both in publishing and our culture. We can only speculate on many of them at this early stage.

    I’m puzzled by Epstein’s comment that “fiction is almost never collaborative.” When was it ever? I can’t think of a single book of fiction or poetry, of the first order, in any culture, that was “collaborative.” What would it be? Maybe some of the old early epics, Gilgamesh, as he alludes to, very rare. Otherwise, a contradiction in terms…

    Despite that caveat, I think it’s fair to say Epstein has his finger on the pulse of the Post-Gutenberg revolution more than anyone else, though I think he’s undervaluing ebooks, though it’s understandable, since he’s placed all his chips on the Espresso Book Machine.

    I should state I’m slightly biased since I have three books available through his Espresso Book Machine.

    My own attempts to understand these transformations, as both a writer and publisher, can be found on my website, if interested:

    Publishing in the Post-Gutenberg Age
    http://www.fglaysher.com/Post_Gutenberg_Publishing.html

    Frederick Glaysher
    http://www.fglaysher.com

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