Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Review: Book Business: Publishing, Past, Present, and Future

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book to read now. It was published in 2001 and Epstein got some things right, some things wrong. I don’t think he saw how Amazon would come to dominate the book selling business. And, I think the jury is still out regarding his optimism as it relates to our ability to sort out the good stuff from the bad.
“The critical faculty that selects meaning from chaos is part of our instinctual equipment, and so is the gift for creating and recreating civilizations and their rules without external guidance. Human beings have a genius for finding their way, for creating goods, making orderly markets, distinguishing quality and assigning value. This faculty can be taken for granted. There is no reason to fear that the awesome diversity of the World Wide Web will overwhelm it. In fact, the Web’s diversity will enlarge these powers, or so one’s experience of humankind permits one to hope.”

I did find his take on the decline of publishing, pre-Amazon, interesting. This is an angle I had not considered. It might be considered elitist by today’s standards, but I do believe it has merit.
“Our industry was becoming alienated from its natural diversity by an increasingly homogeneous suburban marketplace, demanding ever more uniform products. Books are written everywhere but they have always needed the complex cultures of great cities in which to reverberate. My publishing years coincided with the great postwar dispersal of city populations and the attrition therefore of city bookstores as suburban malls increasingly became the centers of commerce, so that even the well-stocked chain bookstore branches located in cities evoke the undifferentiated atmosphere of shopping malls rather than the cosmopolitanism of the cities to which they happen to have been transplanted.”

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