Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Disappearing Newspaper Book Section

The long, sad slide of the American daily newspaper has myriad implications, one of which impacts book coverage. Just as public schools throughout the land tighten their fiscal belts by dropping arts programs, the newspapers are jettisoning their arts coverage, including book reviews.

To be sure, The New York Times retains its redoubtable Book Review section on Sundays, which clearly runs at a loss. (A recent 28-page section contained four pages of paid advertising, plus a full-page ad for the newspaper itself, hardly a recipe for profit.) With this staunch and admirable committment to books, The Times stands virtually alone.

For example, the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation's largest papers, has steadily whittled down its book coverage. Its tabloid Sunday book section was successively (1) morphed into the Sunday Arts section, (2) inexplicably moved into the low-readership Saturday edition, and (3) consigned to the back of Saturday's main news section, where it jockeys for position in a jumbled neighborhood that includes the comics, obituaries, and movie ads, and it rarely occupies more than two or three broadsheet pages--a space that also includes book events advertising.

The Tribune is not alone. In February, The Washington Post dropped its stand-alone book section , leaving The Times and the San Francisco Chronicle ( a newspaper that is itself on life support) as the only U.S. dailies with discrete sections devoted to books, as compared to about a dozen a decade ago.

A large part of the reason for this trend, of course, is a lack of book advertising. With fewer newspaper readers all the time, publishers choose to spend what limited publicity dollars they have in other ways. Some publishers pay for premium placement of their books in the chain bookstores. Others opt to spend on promotional trips for only their top-tier authors.

Whatever the reasons, we authors--unless we write best-sellers--need to realize that newspaper reviews of our books probably is history. All of us need to find new avenues for reviews, and I for one would be interested in your thoughts on this brave (?) new world of publishing.

Robert Goldsborough

1 comment:

Miranda said...

I come from a small town in WV and the concept of a newspaper with book reviews is completely foreign here. I usually choose the books I read from recommendations of friends on the web and reading the backs of books at the local walmart. I'll buy a book if the plot sounds like it could hold my interest. I'm not sure I would respond well to a book review. I never liked reading Steinbeck and Hemingway but many people consider them great authors. Their opinions weren't very effective at convincing me to like these authors' work.

And I'd also like to mention that I wouldn't have found your blog if it wasn't for Nero Wolfe. I first watched the A&E episodes and then began collecting the books. I don't think the New York Times is currently reviewing the Wolfe series but yet, here I am reading your blog.