Byng grew up in the village of Abbots Worthy in Hampshire, England. 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 former deputy editor of The Independent newspaper, Archie Bland.
Education and family
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, with whom he has two children - a daughter Marley and son Leo. Whitney McVeigh is the daughter of a socialite mother and her father is an American banker. Byng and McVeigh separated in 2001, and in 2005 Byng married literary agent Elizabeth Sheinkman, with whom he has two children, Ivy and Nathaniel.
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 among others. In the wake of the two-million selling, Booker-winning Life Of Pi (2001), 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 chose.
- "About Canongate", Canongate.tv.
- Jane Martinson, "List addict prepared to tick off BT television" (interview with Sir Christopher Bland), The Guardian, 10 February 2006. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Emily Bearn, "Whitney McVeigh may have social cachet and an illustrious client list, but there's nothing superficial about her commitment to self exposure on canvas", Evening Standard, 16 October 2009.
- Stephen Jardine, "Canongate .. I liked it so much I bought the company", The Scotsman, 23 September 2003.
- "The real Byng", The Scotsman, 2 June 2006.
- "Elizabeth Sheinkman and James Byng". The New York Times. 3 July 2005.
- The Tatler List — Jamie Byng.
- "The Diary: Jamie Byng", FT.com, 21 April 2012.
- Libby Brookes, "Posh and books", The Guardian, 1 November 2002.
- Natasha Lunn, "Jamie Byng: This Man Will Make You Read More", Red, 31 March 2015.
- World Book Night website