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The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read Hardcover – September 17, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-1859847633 ISBN-10: 1859847633 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; First Edition edition (September 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859847633
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859847633
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,868,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The descendant of a distinguished publishing family, Schiffrin has been the gadfly of American publishing ever since he quit his post as head of Random House's Pantheon imprint in a blaze of publicity 10 years ago, complaining that the publisher's new management wanted to trim his list severely, removing from it many of the socially conscious titles he was proud to publish. He went on to found and run the New Press, which, with strong foundation support, has continued to do many of the kinds of books that Schiffrin insists should be published, but which he claims have increasingly been abandoned by big commercial houses. In this brief but pithy treatise, some of which has already appeared in Europe, Schiffrin forcefully argues that publishing only for immediate commercial return is not only economically shortsighted but culturally disastrous. Without being unduly nostalgic for the "good old days," he insists that big American publishers used to offer lists that were much better balanced between popular entertainment and necessary social and political commentary than they are today. He further argues that the attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator of taste, which has, he says, led network television and movies in such depressing directions, has dumbed down publishing to an alarming degree, robbing it of much of its standing as a vehicle for the expression of significant ideas and outlooks that may not have instant appeal. Whether the increasing use of the Internet for publishing will prove to expand this more enlightened mission remains to be seen, but based on past experience with the urgencies of the profit motive, Schiffrin is not optimistic. His book is a salutary and sensibly written reminder of the ideals that drew so many into publishing, and that, if he is right, are so seldom reflected in it today. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

“A brief, incisive social history of post-war publishing in America ... a riveting chronicle of the rise and fall of the American reader.”—Village Voice

“An absorbing account of the revolution in publishing during the last decade.”—Financial Times

“Forceful evidence that corporate insistence on higher profits has been cultural and business folly. Moreover, while arguing this position, The Business of Books provides an absorbing memoir of Schiffrin’s fascinating life.”—Business Week

“Impassioned ... a fascinating account of the post-World War II publishing scene.”—USA Today

“Newsworthy and important ... eloquent and anguished ... impassioned and filled with righteous, if quiet, indignation ... smart, thoughtful and well-presented, News told truthfully and with loving care can always bring some hope.”—The Nation

“Schiffrin takes apart the publishing industry in a detached, careful manner, as if deboning a trout. He is impressively thorough and logical.”—Rocky Mountain News

More About the Author

In close to fifty years as an editor, first at Pantheon Books and then as the founding director of The New Press, André Schiffrin was responsible for a great many books on World War II, including Art Speigelman's Maus and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat. He is the author of several books himself, among them The Business of Books and A Political Education. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Schiffrin has used the benefit of 40 years of publishing experience to develop a powerful argument that society is being denied access to important new ideas through books. This is occurring because of changes in ownership (and management philosophies) in the publishing industry, and similar effects in book retailing.
Along the way in telling this story, you will read many interesting stories about publishing now-famous authors like Gunnar Myrdal (later winner of the Novel Prize) and Studs Terkel.
The former economic concept of a publisher was to earn an adequate income overall, and to operate as frugally as possible. Editors were paid like academics, and physical plant was modest. Profits above what was absolutely needed could be plowed back into books that presented important ideas, but might not earn their keep, and books that would require time to develop an audience.
Books that challenged the conventional wisdom were often best sellers in this environment. That kind of public opinion shift seldom happens today through books.
Mr. Schiffrin uses his own publishing experiences as a microcosm of these issues. Pantheon, which his father founded, was sold to Random House in 1961, and mr. Schiffrin joined to work in marketing. After Random House was bought by RCA, financial discipline was brought in to require that each book seek to earn a profit from its own activities in the near term. That began a process of trimming and redirecting lists.
Later, Random House was sold again, this time to S.I. Newhouse. Plans were soon afoot to greatly reduce Pantheon, and the staff eventually resigned en masse to protest just as the ax started to fall. Mr. Schiffrin left, also, and began a search for funding to start a new publishing house, The New Press.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Victor Cresskill on October 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From a writer's perspective at least, all of Schiffrin's assertions about the publishing industry are stunningly true. In fact, my agent quit the business some years ago after attending a lecture by a revoltingly wealthy and arrogant agent who assured her and the rest of the audience that yes, money is indeed the bottom line.
As Mr. Schiffrin points out, publishers are simply not interested in authors anymore; they are interested only in the book being submitted. That is to say, there is no attempt-as in the days of Max Perkins, the legendary Scribner's editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe-to invest in an author whose first book may not be a great seller, nor even her second but who will nonetheless write books the house can be proud of and may some day turn produce that most marvelous of beasts, the literary bestseller (a la Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Updike, Toni Morrison).

In a smooth, flowing voice that, while it may lack bells and whistles, is exceptionally lucid, Schiffrin tells the story of how publishing houses went from being "family owned and small, content with the modest profits that came from a business that still saw itself as linked to intellectual and cultural life" to an industry in which some of the executives, such as Alberto Vitale at Random House, freely admit they are too busy to read a book! I was riveted almost from the opening page.

Some of the reviewers have accused Schiffrin of being elitist-maybe because he lives on the Upper West Side or because he believes editors should have some say--beyond profitability--in what is being published. They find him distressingly left wing. The fact is, Schiffrin is arguing for all editors, EVERYwhere to get behind authors of their choice.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Peter Kline on October 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
One of the most important functions of publishers for the last 400 years has been to discover and develop new authors who have something important to say about their culture. The development of a truly democratic society depends upon the free exchange of new ideas, many of which may take a very long time to be accepted as valuable. Therefore the willingness of adventurous editors and publishers to take a chance on publishing and promoting new voices is one of the most important contributions to the development of society. At no time in the past has this been as important as it is today when the rate of social and technical change has speeded up so much that many of the old truths about how we need to conduct our lives have changed and new values need to be articulated at an ever-increasing rate. Schiffrin combines history and memoires, it is true, but so far I have found no other source of the information he provides, which tells the story of the dismantling of the capacity of Random House and the publishers it controls to discover and promote controversial new voices. Schiffrin also reveals how the story he has to tell was systematically kept out of the media with a kind of silent consorship that has truly horrifying implications. What emerges from his book is a first hand story of some of the most frightening vanadalism that has ever been inflicted on a social institution. What's most ironic about his story is that the quest for profits actually decreased the rate of the economic growth and profitability of the publishers involved. Schiffrin takes a dim view of the possibilities for recovering from the blow to the solar plexus that the current me-too capitalism of an ever less socially conscious electorate has dealt the publishing industry.Read more ›
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