Jason Epstein, Publishing Editor and Creator, Died at 93

Some who have followed Mr. Epstein’s career have seen the contradiction between his left-leaning politics – often evident in his own writing for The New York Review of Books – and his love of luxury: cigars Montecristo, custom shoes, delicious food and, for his home libraries in Lower Manhattan and Sag Harbor, mostly hardcover books.

However, he saw no contradiction in that. His popular ambition to reach a wide audience with books that are both intellectually satisfying and affordable could become the reality of a populist who wants the best for everyone.

Mr. Epstein sees the digital universe as a potential ally in that pursuit, whether through e-books or print-on-demand. In the year 2000, he said in an interview in the PBS program “The Open Mind” where publishers “launch a book into retail without knowing where it is going.”

“Barnes & Noble ordered a book from Random House, we printed 10, 15, 20 thousand copies,” he continued, “but who knows where and on what shelf and which staff will open the package and whether they will. Do you know what the books are about or who they are for? We don’t know that.

“That explains,” he continued, “why so many books are returned from booksellers to publishers that don’t sell. And why is it sometimes difficult to find the book you are looking for in a bookstore. And why is it so hard for authors to find their way to their niche readers. But in this other system you will have targeted markets for each author. Technology makes it possible and so it will. Not today, but last. That will create a whole new world.”

However, Mr. Epstein sees book publishing as more than just a business. To him, it was almost a call, a call that could struggle to turn a profit. He said in the same interview that publishing “is more comparable to what priests, teachers, and some doctors do than what people who become lawyers, entrepreneurs or street brokers do.” Wall – what they do.

“It’s a mission, you feel like you’re doing something extremely important and worth the sacrifice, because without books we wouldn’t know who we are.”

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a former senior book reviewer for The Times, passed away in 2018. William McDonald and Alex Traub contributed reporting. Jason Epstein, Publishing Editor and Creator, Died at 93

Fry Electronics Team

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