Byng grew up in the village of Abbots Worthy in Hampshire. He is the second son of the 8th Earl of Strafford and Jennifer May, brother to the author Lady Georgia Byng, and through his stepfather, Sir Christopher Bland, the former Chairman of the BBC, British Telecom and Royal Shakespeare Company, he is the half-brother of print journalist and now Deputy Editor of The Independent newspaper, Archie Bland.
Byng was educated at Winchester College, a boarding independent school for boys in the cathedral city of Winchester in Hampshire in Southern England, followed by the University of Edinburgh. While attending Edinburgh University, he ran a funk, reggae and rare groove night club named 'Chocolate City' (after the Parliament classic) at The Venue with his first wife Whitney McVeigh, a talented figurative painter, with whom he has two children - a daughter Marley and son Leo. The Scotsman</ref> Byng and McVeigh separated in 2001 and Byng has since married Elizabeth Sheinkman.
After graduating, he convinced Scottish publisher Stephanie Wolfe Murray to give him a job at Canongate, then a respected but still somewhat marginalised Scottish company founded in 1973. When Canongate was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1994, Byng, then in his mid-20s, instigated a buyout, aided by his business partner Hugh Andrew, his stepfather (former BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland) and then father-in-law (co-chairman of the multinational investment bank Salomon Smith Barney). His first move in overhauling the company’s image was to establish the ultra hip Payback and Rebel Inc imprints, dedicated to championing cult authors. The Pocket Canons (1998) published in partnership with Matthew Darby was Byng's first runaway success: selected books from the Bible individually packaged with new introductions by the Dalai Lama amongst others. In the wake of the two-million selling, Booker-winning Life Of Pi, Canongate won Publisher Of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2003, reportedly posting pre-tax profits of more than £1 million for that year.
Byng is the initiator and Chair of World Book Night, an event in which on 5 March 2011 (following World Book Day on 3 March) one million books - 40,000 copies of each of 25 carefully selected titles - were given away to members of the public in the UK and Ireland. It entailed 20,000 "givers" each distributing 48 copies of their chosen title to whomever they choose.
- Hon. James Edmund Byng The Peerage.Com Date: 22 May 2004. Retrieved: 15 September 2012.
- Earl of Strafford Cracroft's Peerage. Retrieved: 15 September 2012.
- Interview: Sir Christopher Bland - List addict prepared to tick off BT television The Guardian newpaper. Date: 10 February 2006. Retrieved: 4 September 2012.
- The Scotsman
- World Book Night website
- The Peerage: The Honorable James Edmund Byng
- Interview by Peter Murray
- Time Magazine interview: "The Big Byng Theory" by Lauren Goldstein, 27 October 2002
- The Guardian, "Posh and books" by Libby Brookes, 1 November 2002
- The Scotsman, "Canongate...I liked it so much I bought the company" by Stephen Jardine, 23 September 2003
- The Times, "Loose Canon of literary publishing" by Andrew Billen, 10 January 2005
- The Scotsman, "The mane man" by Catherine Deveney, 23 October 2005
- The Telegraph, "Barack Obama's publisher: Wild child Jamie Byng" by Rowena Mason, 13 January 2009
- Vulpes Libris, "Interview with Canongate – Publisher of the Year" by Lisa Glass, 9 June 2009
- "Interview: Jamie Byng, publisher" by Chitra Ramaswamy, 6 March 2011