Saturday, May 12, 2007

Book Reviewers vs Bloggers?

The book pages and the book blogosphere have been ablaze recently on the subject of whether newspapers book reviews are on their way out, to be replaced by blogs. The latest is a piece by Josh Getlin in tomorrow's LA Times. It is titled "Battle of the book reviews," and he calls for a truce.

The discussion started when the National Book Critics Circle announced a Campaign to Save Book Reviews. The organization pointed to some troubling developments:

Over the past five years, one by one, newspapers have begun to forsake books and their readers. While book review sections at the Washington Post and the New York Times continue strongly, many other newspapers have begun packing up and winnowing down their book coverage. And it started at the top. Not long ago, the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, which has readership levels in excess of fifty percent, was folded into another part of the paper. The community protested, it was restored, but just recently the section was cut in half in order to make space for an advertisement.

Elsewhere at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Sun Sentinel, the New Mexican, the Village Voice, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and dozens upon dozens of other papers book coverage has been cut back or slashed all together, moved, winnowed, filled with more wire copy, or generally been treated as expendable.

A Legal History Blog favorite, the Chicago Trib, recently announced plans to move its book section from Sunday to Saturday, a day with a lower print circulation. The National Book Critic's Circle's reaction to all of this?

[W]e're getting tired of it. We're tired of watching individual voices from local communities passed over for wire copy. We're tired of book editors with decades of experience shown the exit. We're tired of shrinking reviews. We're tired of hearing newspapers fret and worry over the future of print while they dismantle the section of the paper which deals most closely with the two things which have kept them alive since the dawn of printing presses: the public's hunger for knowledge and the written word.

So the board of the National Book Critics Circle has launched a campaign to try and beat back these changes.

For details about their campaign to save the book review, click here.

The newspaper decisions have been based on low advertising revenue from their book sections. But somewhere along the way, attention turned to bloggers, as if bloggers were helping to drive this troublesome development. Getlin picks up the story:

"If you were an author, would you want your book reviewed in the Washington Post and the New York Review of Books, or on a web site written by someone who uses the moniker NovelGobbler or Biogafriend?" Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic, wrote in the Washington Post. "The book review section … remains the forum where new titles are taken seriously as works of art and argument, and not merely as opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting."

Lit-blogger Edward Champion fired back, ridiculing the notion that only printed book reviews matter: "It's okay for the lit blogosphere to exist as a version of your Mom's book club — it's okay for us to talk books and authors and compare notes on favorites, as long as we keep our place," snapped the San Francisco writer, who runs the Return of the Reluctant website. "Have you got that? We must not think for a minute that we contribute anything beyond serving as accessories to the real literary discussions…. We should buy books but not dare to offer well thought opinions on them."

Sounds good, but Champion says the quote is from another blogger, Coleen Mondor of Chasing Ray, who expands on these issues in a thoughtful post today. So much for the facts. Don't you hate blogs when they instantly correct you? Getlin continues:
The accusations flew back and forth. But now there is a growing sense that enough is enough — and that the friction between old and new book media obscures the fact that the two are in bed together now, for better or worse....Many believe there's a healthy synergy between the two. Maud Newton, who runs one of the more respected literary blogs (, was puzzled by the idea that the two are somehow competing. "When bloggers disagree with or agree with an article about books in the mainstream press, it drives traffic to the newspaper," she said.
For more on this from Getlin, with reflections on the state of book culture, click here. Al Brophy at Property Prof has posted on this and promises more.