See Steve, See CJR

Former book review editor Steve Wasserman's essay about the decline of newspaper book pages and his own 9-year efforts at the Los Angeles Times is the cover story for the Columbia Journalism Review. Mr. Wasserman makes a number of points that book/daddy has been arguing since last year but are worth repeating here --

-- that it wasn't a cut in publishing advertising that has imperiled book pages ("The argument that it is book sections' lack of advertising revenue from publishers that constrains book coverage is bogus." Even at The New York Times, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. told Mr. Wasserman, the Sunday book review section loses "millions")

-- that most reviews tend to be pretty bland and brief, and blogging isn't really improving this that much ("Sure, two, three, many opinions, but let's all acknowledge a truth as simple as it is obvious: Not all opinions are equal.")

-- that the American newspaper book review never was in a happy, elevated, Edmund Wilsonian state from which it has calamitously fallen: "The truth is that there never was a golden age of book reviewing in American newspapers. Space was always meager and the quality low. Nearly a quarter century ago, according to a 1984 study in the Newspaper Research Journal, the average American newspaper used three-quarters of a page to one page a week for book reviews."

But there is much more -- this is Mr. Wasserman, after all, who is known for holding hostage any conversation, often to flatter himself. Particularly risible is his portrait of his Ideal Editor considering whether to review Sigmund Freud or Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and how he "likes to think I'd have the perspicacity" to get George Bernard Shaw to write the review. Wouldn't we all like to think so? And then there's the thumbs-up he reports getting from the Mexican-American waiter who approves of his Sor Juana coverage. Ah, always in touch with the little people!

Never mind. The essay is still well worth reading, especially on the nature of book review readers and why newspaper management might want to court them but consistently fail to do so:

"Among the paper's most well-off and best-read demographic cohorts--whose members arguably make up any book review's ideal readers--the Sunday Book Review was among the more favored of the weekly sections of the Los Angeles Times. Ed Batson, the paper's director of marketing research, told me that in 2004 some 1.2 million people had read the Book Review over the past four Sundays out of 6.4 million readers. The core readership of what Batson called the paper's "Cosmopolitan Enthusiasts" amounted to about three hundred and twenty thousand avid and dedicated readers for whom the weekly Book Review was among the most important sections of the paper....

"If newspapers properly understood such readers and the lifestyle they pursue, they would, in theory, be able to attract advertising from a diverse array of companies, including movie companies, coffee manufacturers, distillers of premium whisky, among others. Diversification of ad revenue is a key component of a winning strategy of growth. But apart from The New York Times, no newspaper has dedicated sales reps whose sole job is to sell space for book ads. And even The New York Times, with three such reps, finds it hard to drum up significant business....

"The real problem was never the inability of book-review sections to turn a profit, but rather the anti-intellectual ethos in the nation's newsrooms that is--and, alas, always was--an ineluctable fact of American newsgathering. There was among many reporters and editors a barely disguised contempt for the bookish."

September 3, 2007 11:24 AM | | Comments (3)



Here! Here! My sunday is not complete until I've read the book review section of the Detroit Free Press. And when they move it! Hell hath no fury until I find it. Poor husband sits there bewildered because I've snatched the section he was reading right out of his hands in my search for the book review. I've been knwon to squirrel the page away in my office for later perusing while I search the internet for one of the books in question. I even have a stack of cut out reviews for books that have interested me over the years. It's a sort of wish list which I find much more satisfying than the wish list on Amazon. At least with this one I'm reminded why I picked the book for future reading. With Amazon, if the book has been on the list more than 3 months I've forgotten why I listed it.

I find it very odd that people who actually write for a living would look down upon the bookish. And what do they think they are? Purists because they merely write but do not read?

Let us look at Sunday book pages in the large newspapers in America. With all the books published, and some very good ones, the pages focus on the same 5-10 books and when you read the reviews all you have to do is look at the book jackets of the books themselves to see where the reviewer went for information. It is very easy to tell whether or not the book was even read or whether some language was taken directly from the PR packett. As a college instructor, I knew how to tell the difference between skimming, pilfering, and laziness.
Lyn LeJeune
The Beatitudes Network - Rebuilding the Public Libraries of New Orleans

Especially that last paragraph. Boy, Howdy!


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



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by book/daddy published on September 3, 2007 11:24 AM.

The Hellfire Club was the previous entry in this blog.

Trumpet fanfare is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.