Book reviews in newspapers

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece (subscription required) about the paucity of advertisements placed in newspaper book sections by publishers, and the Journal cites that problem as a reason for the tendency to cut back independent book sections as publishers apparently favor of spending ad dollars in places like prominent displays in book stores. The Los Angeles Times‘ recent decision to fold its once-independent book review into other pages is a primary example of the trend. Perhaps the most interesting quote comes in the penultimate paragraph:

“I think it’s time to relaunch [a book review],” Mr. Wilson [of the Philadelphia Inquirer] says. “I don’t understand why newspapers, when they want to cut space, they immediately think of depriving people who like to read.”

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to that point of view, but on the other, I feel like the train has long since left the station (or, for a science fiction metaphor, the ship has already been launched into orbit). Like music aficionados who want hipster blogs and p2p networks, book people have probably already moved substantially online to book blogs and Amazon.

In the time I’ve been alive—which, at 23, isn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things—I can’t remember the Seattle Times or PI having an independent book review section. These days, however, I’d be unlikely to read it even if they did: I get most of my book news from blogs, and now that I write one of my own, I sometimes get the goods about items of interest sent straight to me.

And Jessa Crispin of Bookslut makes another useful observation: “Part of me while reading this article […] was thinking “None of the ‘endangered’ book sections listed here are even very interesting.” Aside from the much maligned New York Times Book Review—I don’t share the widespread hostility so many book blogs have toward it—I read few newspaper reviews. The most interesting stuff too infrequently shows up in newspapers.

BookDaddy, meanwhile, has a slightly different take: the absence of ad dollars is business as usual, and publishers just can’t get the budget to pay for ads. This seems odd—if movies can get ad budgets, why can’t books? Although some of the discrepancy is no doubt due to the fact that movie big movie studios release dozens or at most a few hundred movies a year while publishers release thousands of title, it doesn’t follow that publishers can barely spend anything—unless they’ve realized that those ads don’t move books. And in my case, they’re right because I don’t read book reviews in newspaper, so those ads just can’t move me to buy a book.

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