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Ethical Culture Book Review
Holt Uncensored

Andre Schiffrin

The business of books

André Schiffrin has been in the publishing business for over half a century. The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read tells his story, and why he thinks that publishing in the USA has taken the wrong direction.

Writing books is a strange business. For most authors it would be the height of folly to rely on it as their main income - they need a 'day job' as well. Small publsihing companies tend to reflect this ethos - that producing meaningful works is more important than maximising profits, and that the occasional bestseller will support the rest. But successful companies tend to be taken over by larger ones, which may have a different ethos. Schiffin tells of this process in the publishing industry. He joined Pantheon, a publishing house which his father had helped to found, in 1962, when it had just been bought by Random House. For many years he was able to build up an impressive list of authors, in particular those from elsewhere in the world an those with a political message. But with further mergers and takeovers, the quest for profitability began to become paramount. Things came to head in 1990, when Schiffren was part of a mass resignation - he set up a new publishing company The New Press. In a way this book can be seen as a way of giving his side of the story - answering claims that he was naive about the business side of publishing. The autobiographical nature of this book means that it gives a fascinating insight into the world of publishing in the last 50 years.