Jason Epstein has led one of the most creative careers in book publishing of the past half century. In 1952, while a young editor at Doubleday, he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called ‘paperback revolution’ and established the trade paperback format. In the following decade he became cofounder of The New York Review of Books. In the 1980s he created the Library of America, the prestigious publisher of American classics, and The Reader’s Catalog, the precursor of online bookselling. For many years, Jason Epstein was editorial director of Random House. He was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters and was given the Curtis ‘inventing new kinds of publishing and editing.’ He has edited many well-known novelists, including Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E. L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal, as well as many important writers of nonfiction.
In the piece below, Tqwana Brown, a student in Prof. Soares’ Entrepeneurship Class this spring, blogs about the guest lecture that Mr. Epstein, who is also on the Advisory Board for the MS in Publishing program, gave last week.
With such a long and storied career in publishing, Jason Epstein has probably seen it all – or helped usher it in. So, what does the father of the Paperback Revolution think of massive changes taking place today in the industry? He calls in the “Post-Gutenberg Era”, helped along by the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey. While the books themselves may polarize readers, Mr. Epstein says they revolutionized publishing, in that E.L. James didn’t need a Big 6 publisher. Random House came along after she and her books were already established hits.
And while some conventions and mainstays of publishing may become extinct, books according to Mr. Epstein will always have an audience – even the ink and paper versions. Speaking to a class of would-be entrepreneurs, he presented a cautiously optimistic view of what’s to come in publishing.
What does he think of all the low-quality self-published stuff out there? “It’ll work itself out”, vanishing on its own, based on reader preferences.
The Amazon/DOJ agency vs. wholesale pricing model issues? That too will work itself out. He theorizes it as Amazon’s way of forcing traditional publishers into this new Era.
And what of editors, copyeditors, publicists, etc.? Those positions, he believes, will always be needed. Just in different capacities. More freelance opportunities, perhaps. Or ventures reaching out to these indie authors. Agents too would change, becoming business managers and brand builders.
But, what does he see not surviving this digital revolution? Warehouses. With the infinite and malleable options offered by electronic space, physical warehouses – and large quantities of print books – can’t compete.
Territorial and translations rights also could no longer exist in their current states. This is something he suggests we, as newbies to publishing, should be looking into and developing. With the immediate and instant availability of digital material, Mr. Epstein sees a need for universal rights and simultaneous translations. Cooperation that he sees as a major difficulty in an industry that doesn’t want to, but has to change.
So, while some opportunities will go the way of Borders, Jason Epstein believes that there are so many still out there waiting for up and coming professionals to seize and capitalize on. After all, he didn’t invent paperbacks, just recognized a need for them and took advantage of the occasion at the right time. And he hasn’t stopped, just find the nearest Espresso Book Machine.
Tqwana Brown is in her second semester in the MS in Publishing program. A former high school English teacher, Tqwana is shifting gears to the publishing career track. She is interested in working on in the editorial side of book publishing or as a Literary Agent.