The tragic death of publishing entrepreneur Byron Preiss on July 9 at the age of 52 shocked the industry, which this week recalled him as a visionary with an unbreakable love for books and unmatched energy for new ideas. Preiss knew and worked with an impressive range of publishing figures (including many editors at PW). We would meet him for lunch or see him on a trade-show floor, and he'd instantly break into a passionate description of a new, often sophisticated, project.
A founder of companies such as iBooks, Byron Preiss Visual Publications and Byron Preiss Multimedia, his was a life filled with entrepreneurship. Three decades in the book business yielded projects innovative in both conception and execution, from interactive stories to elegantly packaged children's books to seminal graphic novels. At a time when many publishing figures shepherd through books conceived by others, Preiss's projects were inextricable from their creator. He generated ideas, reached across formats and broke the mold.
We talked to some of the leading players in the categories he helped shape.
At the dawn of multimedia publishing, there was Byron Preiss Multimedia, founded in 1992, and which brought out a wide range of projects, with titles from the likes of Isaac Asimov and John Steinbeck. He was one of the first publishing people to work with Microsoft. And he worked on paper-and-ink interactive series that would prefigure the multimedia phenomenon to come.
Jack Romanos, president, Simon & Schuster: "Byron saw things in an interactive sense way before there was even the word interactive. So it was logical that when digital publishing started to evolve he'd be at the forefront.
He saw books where other people didn't see them, and he saw them in a way that other people didn't see. He was always the perfect combination of creative force and entrepreneur. Had he not this tragic accident, he would have been working until he was 75, and you'd be writing about him then the way you do today."
Preiss was instrumental in introducing the modern graphic novel. As far back as 1976, when he published Red Tide with Jim Steranko, Preiss saw promise in this genre-busting format, even bringing many illustrators and authors into the book business. More recently, he set up a deal with Stan Lee through his stake in the Komikwerks Web site and published books by the legendary Joe Kubert.
Paul Levitz, president, D.C. Comics: "Byron was one of the first to believe in the graphic novel. His early publishing experiment was the first time any one in book publishing took comics seriously. For our generation, the comics industry was a small community that loved something most people thought was junk for kids. Byron saw a future for comics, where comics are cool, important and in bookstores, that looks like the world of comics today."
From Billy Crystal to Mia Hamm, Carl Reiner to Billy Joel, Preiss frequently packaged and published some of the entertainment world's most celebrated figures. A member of the Friars Club, he could often be seen inside talking book deals—and convincing talented people to do some of their most exciting work.
Carl Reiner, producer and writer; co-author, with Mel Brooks, of The 2000 Year Old Man Goes to School :"He was a loving man. He nudged us. He was 30 years out of line, 30 years ahead of his time. His concepts were original. The day it happened, I saw a full-page ad for [our] book and I thought, 'He should be having a lot of fun now. He should be enjoying it.' "
He came up with original ways to do things and pairing people. When we did Tell Me a Scary Story, I couldn't believe that his work was better than the story. He was a marriage broker—he put things together and they worked. Matching an idea with a man and another man. People and ideas."