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

“A riveting chronicle of the rise and fall of the American reader.”—Village Voice
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 changes with authority because he witnessed them from inside a conglomerate, as head of Pantheon, co-founded by his father, bought (and sold) by Random House. And he can write about them with candor because he is no longer on the inside, having quit corporate publishing in disgust to set up a flourishing independent house, The New Press. Schiffrin's evident affection for his authors sparkles throughout a story woven around publishing the work of those such as Studs Terkel, Noam Chomsky, Gunnar Myrdal, George Kennan, Juliet Mitchell, R. D. Laing, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P.Thompson.

Part-memoir, part-history, here is an account of the collapsing standards of contemporary publishing that is irascible, acute and passionate. An engaging counterpoint to recent, celebratory memoirs of the industry written by those with more stock options and fewer scruples than Schiffrin, The Business of Books warns of the danger to adventurous, intelligent publishing in the bullring of today's marketplace.

Reviews

  • “Andre Schiffrin is an old-fashioned New York publisher, the sort that loves and believes in books. Not just best-sellers, but little books with big ideas.”
  • “André Schiffrin presents a somber portrait of American publishing where the pursuit of profit has strangled all creativity.”
  • “Newsworthy and important, eloquent, smart, thoughtful, and well-presented.”
  • “An absorbing account of the revolution in publishing during the last decade.”
  • “Forceful evidence that corporate insistence on higher profits has been cultural and business folly.”

Blog

  • André Schiffrin - In Memoriam

    With the passing of André Schiffrin, the publishing world has lost a giant and Verso a much-respected author, whose razor-sharp analysis of the publishing industry has been vindicated many times over.

    Culturally, intellectually and physically he inhabited two worlds: Paris/New York.

The single most important influence on his life was his father Jacques Schiffrin, a refugee from St Petersburg who arrived in France in 1920 and by 1923, had established a publishing house, La Pléiade, a permanent bequest to French culture. The publishing house started by translating the Russian classics, translated into French by Schiffrin and established a strong reputation as a house of quality, that later became an imprint within Gallimard but with Jacques in complete editorial control. André was born in 1935.

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  • On André Schiffrin



    André talked me into book publishing, when most of my friends were abandoning the dying planet of print for the exciting new cosmos of the Internet. He somehow managed to suggest that publishing was both doomed and indispensable. In any case, he didn’t talk much about the book “industry”—a term he hated—when we first met. Instead, he poured out a stream of questions about The Village Voice, where I was writing and editing—who are the most interesting writers?, what are they covering?, what is she saying about labor? Then questions about the media landscape—how does this compare to what Ehrenreich had written recently? Sen? Ha Joon Cha? Then history—but what about Piven’s arguments about the ‘30s? Arrighi’s? I discovered two things the first time I talked to André. One was what he wrote about his conversations with his good friend Foucault: “Simply talking to him made me feel much more intelligent than I was.” The other is that I knew nothing.



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  • André Schiffrin, 1935–2013



    Photo by Henri Zerdoun

    We were deeply saddened to hear that André Schiffrin had died. He was not only the preeminent radical American publisher of his generation—perhaps of all generations—he was also a Verso author, the writer of the two most trenchant books on contemporary publishing, The Business of Books (2001) and Words and Money (2010).

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Other books by André Schiffrin