The Business of Books and the World of Publishing

Wednesday, 4 December 2002 - 5:00pm

200 College Hall

The Business of Books and the World of Publishing

André Schiffrin

Director and Founder
The New Press

Imagine being an author who is intellectually red-lined by a publisher because your work is considered insufficiently commercial. It happens more than you might think. Join us as the Penn Humanities Forum hosts a publishing industry firebrand who became so angry over the trend of large commercial publishers to push profit over ideas that he founded his own non-profit publishing house.

Ideas sustain an open society, and books of utmost intellectual value should be published whether they make money or not. So proclaims New Press founder and publisher André Schiffrin. From one of the industry's most outspoken mavericks, learn how the current state of book publishing has changed the way we read.

Before founding The New Press in 1990, André Schiffrin ran Pantheon Books, an independent division of Random House, for 28 years. A not-for-profit publishing house operated editorially in the public interest, The New Press is committed to publishing ideas and views of traditionally underrepresented voices. Since publishing its first book a decade ago, The New Press has been widely hailed as a leading trade publisher.

Schiffrin was for many years a member of the board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom to Publish Committee of the American Association of Publishers, and its anti-censorship group, the Freedom to Read Committee. He has served on the Council of the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Council for the Humanities. He is currently advisor to the American Center in Paris and a member of the visiting committee to the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research. He is author of The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read. In addition, he has written for The Nation, the New Republic, the New York Times Book Review, and European magazines.

Event Synopsis

“The idea that our society has been fundamentally affected by the importance of money is widely recognized. Other values that have been looked to as countervailing forces are fast disappearing. Not only our belongings but our jobs and, indeed, our selves have become commodities to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. There have been other times in history when such changes have taken place. But now, linked to globali-zation and to the industrialization of the media, the effects are all the more staggering.

“What has happened to the work of publishers is no worse than what has taken place in other liberal professions. But the change that has occurred in publishing is of paramount importance. It is only in books that arguments and inquiries can be conducted at length and in depth. ...Books can afford to go against the current, to raise new ideas, to challenge the status quo, in the hope that with time an audience will be found. The threat to such books and the ideas they contain—what used to be known as the marketplace of ideas—is a dangerous development not only for professional publishing, but for society as a whole."

—from The Business of Books by André Schiffrin. London: Verso, 2001, p.171–172.