My departure (and the Collapse of Books Coverage)

My accepting a buyout offer from The Dallas Morning News last month -- along with my books editor, Charles Ealy -- prompted a surprising (and I admit, gratifying) amount of attention, albeit more as a sign of The End Times than any personal memorial. That attention kicked up several notches when Pat Schroeder, president of the American Association of Publishers, wrote a letter of complaint to editor Bob Mong of the Morning News, and Edward Nawotka reported about it in Publishers Weekly.

You may read some of my thoughts about why I left in my "Welcome to the Jungle" debut post of Oct. 22 below. Mr. Mong was quoted by PW, saying that books coverage would not decrease and that the paper would love to see ad revenue from publishers to support that coverage. Ms. Schroeder seemed to accept these two arguments as starting points for any possible response to the problem, so I e-mailed her, explaining a few facts of newspaper life.

First, the amount of space wouldn't decrease, but it would be filled by wire stories, a (small) number of freelancers and the remaining few writers stretched to cover fields beyond their expertise -- all of this representing a fundamental downshift in the quality of cultural reporting. Second, all arts coverage is supported by movie ads; publishers and booksellers will never have the kind of ad budget to support book pages across the country. But there are significant services of big-city newspapers that have never been supported by ad revenue -- op-ed pages, investigative reporting, editorial cartoons and the like. These were once considered the mark of serious newspapers educating and leading their communities, but it's precisely these money-losing areas that are being gutted by papers under the gun to keep up ridiculously high profit margins for Wall Street.

Reader outrage can actually influence a newspaper's decisions, but I suspect that trying to combat that revenue vise by appealing to a newspaper's traditional higher calling is not going to work. As I pointed out, though, the NFL doesn't support the massive amount of free sports coverage it gets from papers, TV, radio and the internet. It's other advertisers who covet that football-fascinated audience. If the AAP wanted to do anything, it could try to convince advertisers that the readers of books pages may not be the young illiterates with poor impulse control that marketers currently want but neither are they the old and the dying, as conventional ad wisdom has it. They're a well-off, often media-savvy and intellectually- and socially-involved audience. This is not some wildly unconventional, radical re-think: TV networks have come to respond to an older audience (the kids are all off in the clubs or on the computer) and has long positioned "geezer" ads for its news programming. Why not the arts pages?

At any rate, Ms. Schroeder wrote a gracious reply, agreeing with much of my analysis. I bring up all of this because the anger and hand-wringing continue to filter through the internet, with Rebecca Swain Vadnie writing much the smartest, tartest response in her Shakespeare's Coffee blog for the Orlando Sentinel. One caution, though, about that recommended link: The Sentinel seems to be one of those nasty sites that won't let you return to your previous destination, locking you in its clammy embrace.

October 26, 2006 10:23 AM | | Comments (2)



Welcome to the blogosphere!! It's a great start--I never would have found you before and now, here you are. That's worth something...

Thier loss is the blog world's gain. I already adore your blog here and have it amongst my favorite links. Welcome!


Best of the Vault


Pat Barker, Frankenstein, Cass Sunstein on the internet, Samuel Johnson, Thrillers, Denis Johnson, Alan Furst, Caryl Phillips, Richard Flanagan, George Saunders, Michael Harvey, Larry McMurtry, Harry Potter and more ...


Big D between the sheets -- Dallas in fiction


Reviewing the state of reviewing


9/11 as a novel: Why?


How can critics say the things they do? And why does anyone pay attention? It's the issue of authority.

The disappearing book pages:  

Papers are cutting book coverage for little reason

Thrillers and Lists:  

Noir favorites, who makes the cut and why



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This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on October 26, 2006 10:23 AM.

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