Jason Epstein, the legendary Random House editor who combined a deep passion for literature with a shrewd business mind, died on February 4. He was 93.
After beginning his publishing career at Doubleday, Epstein joined Random House in 1958, where he edited works by such authors as E.L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal. Soon, he became as well known for his author list as for his publishing innovations.
In 1952, looking for a way to make hardcover books more accessible, Epstein borrowed a format that had been used in British publishing to start America’s first trade paperback publisher, Anchor Books. During a New York City paper strike in the early 1960s, he cofounded the New York Review of Books, and would go on to create the Library of America.
Epstein's final innovation came in 2006, when he cofounded the On Demand Books company, which began marketing the Espresso Book Machine. The Espresso Book Machine prints books from digital files from various locations, including bookstores, although its high cost has limited its success.
“We mourn the passing of our extraordinary, pathfinding former colleague Jason Epstein—editor, publisher and publishing entrepreneur, and visionary,” Penguin Random House said in a statement. “With his founding of our Anchor Books, which was the creation of the trade-paperback format, and his decades of distinguished editorial and publishing leadership and vision, he helped shape Doubleday, Anchor, Random House, Vintage Books, and the larger literary community and culture like no other.”
Among the many awards Epstein won was the Poor Richard Award, presented by the New York Center for Independent Publishing in 2010. In announcing the its choice, the award organizers said that Epstein “embodies the award's true spirit, with his creativity and tireless devotion to the written word.”