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Best Books vs Bestsellers in a Changing Business

Publishing experts debate best books, bestsellers at Wednesday Dec. 4 panel, moderated by 2001-02 research fellow Gayle Feldman

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IN 1975, the year's best-selling book, E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime," sold 232,000 copies, chain bookstores were still a new concept, and the word "marketing" was scarcely heard in publishing houses. By 2000, John Grisham's "The Brethren" exceeded the sales total of "Ragtime" by twelvefold, nearly all best-selling books were published by just five publishing conglomerates, and the business was transfixed by two hot buzzwords that had no role in publishing even five years earlier-Oprah and Amazon. What has happened?

In the last 25 years, corporate consolidation, digital technology and an intensified cult of celebrity have transformed the publishing business, for better and for worse. And while industry observers and casual readers can sense the air of change, there has been scant data and analysis to help us identify the trends. Until now. In 2002, National Arts Journalism Program research fellow Gayle Feldman-a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and New York correspondent of The Bookseller (London)-undertook a research project and report that systematically compares "best books" of the last 25 years with best-selling books of that period. In the overlaps, divergences and trendlines, the story of the publishing industry as it enters the 21st century finally can be told.

Publishing experts will convene to discuss the evolving industry and the report's findings in a panel co-sponsored by NAJP and the Women's Media Group. "Best and Worst of Times: Best Books vs. Bestsellers in a Changing Business" will take place on Wednesday Dec. 4 from 6-8 p.m. in the lecture hall at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, at 116th Street and Broadway.

Featured on the panel, to be moderated by Feldman, are:
• Roxanne Coady, owner of the independent R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn.
• Larry Ashmead, legendary HarperCollins editor whose career has spanned four decades
• Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown and editor of "The Lovely Bones"
• Daisy Maryles, executive editor, Publishers Weekly

NAJP : Events : Panel Discussions : Best and Worst of Times