Former book review editors unite in protest

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Former editors of the Los Angeles Times' Sunday Book Review are protesting the impending demise of the section as they knew it and encouraging readers and writers to protest with them. Here's an excerpt from their letter:

"Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper."

As a book editor who's been through the process of losing a section and being downsized in another, I sympathize with them. But wake up, people! The fiscal health of the newspaper business was in the toilet long before they decided to ax a section. Now is the time to take what you're left with and do what you can with it. Just as the newspaper business as a whole is trying to figure out ways to reinvent itself, book review editors must do the same, whether it be by running shorter reviews, beefing up online content or what have you. Stop complaining about loss of culture and glorifying the past and move into the 21st century -- where books are still plenty and people are still reading!

Read the entire letter here.

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Teresa: Thanks for your comments. Mourning the past has been Wasserman's stock in trade lately, but it gives him the opportunity to tell us how great he was. We must move on.

The problem is that at least one of your measures serves no one, really. Printing shorter reviews? Newspaper reviews already average around 850 words -- and by the time the reviewer describes the author's typical style, gives and overview of the back list and a summary of the latest, all they're left with is a single paragraph of commentary. It's hardly more useful that a jacket copy of a couple of blurbs.

The precedents that I've seen from newspapers (NYT and The Guardian) who have managed to make themselves relevant to the online world have adopted none of the drastic cutting measures that I see at the LA Times. To me, as a young 20+ year old, it looks as if most newspapers interpret "reinvent" as downgrade, pull back, offer less. "Beefing up online content" which adds up to a lacklustre blog and a simple transferral of print reviews as is. I see no increase in value for anyone -- those who get most of their book news in print or online. Maybe you would like to point it out while you scoff at others for bemoaning a "loss of culture"?

While I welcome your comments I disagree that either measure serves no one. I'd say they more likely serve everyone. Personally I don't want to read a whole bunch of long-winded reviews in one sitting. If you provide variety — some longer, some shorter — you'll reach more readers. I'll grant you that some books warrant 800+ words. Most do not. Oftentimes I can get as much out of a 200-word Entertainment Weekly review as I can a 1,200-word New York Times review. As for increasing online coverage, I believe it's a win-win. Longtime newspaper book review readers can get the same content and more if they choose to check out the Web site. Younger folks who don't read newspapers — I applaud you for doing so, though I think you're the minority — might come back to a a news Web site if they see items that interest them. The more you offer to the widest demographic, the better off you'll be. Lastly, people have been bemoaning the "loss of culture" for centuries. The fact is that time marches on, change occurs — including the definition of culture. Certainly we can mourn the loss of what we've been comfortable with, but if we want to stay in the game we need to improve our skills and update our strategies.

There has to be place for you with Phil Gramm and John McCain. Your view is your view. As Zell so politely said to a questioner in a public metting, "F--l you.

I don't know about LA Times, but I do know a lot of other newspapers publish quite lengthy reviews that I feel are unnecessary. Publishing more and shorter reviews of books that are not already popular would be of much more interest to me so that I can discover lesser known books I might like to read.

Everything you need to know about book reviewing can be found in FAINT PRAISE: THE PLIGHT OF BOOK REVIEWING IN AMERICA by Gail Pool (University of Missouri Press, 2007). It is a thoughtful and entertaining examination of the culture of book reviewing.

The way I see it . . .
1. The length (word count) of a review has little correlation with the quality of a review. In fact, natural selection favors economy. Why should book reviews be any different?
2. Blogs have had a huge impact on book reviewing. The decline in print reviews is increasingly offset by blogging. Nature abhors a vacuum.

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on July 21, 2008 2:41 PM.

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