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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007 9:23 am
Newspapers Report Decline of Reviews in Newspapers
Posted by: Keir Graff

Now even the New York Times (“Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?” by Motoko Rich) is writing about the decline of book reviews in newspapers:

To some authors and critics, these moves amount to yet one more nail in the coffin of literary culture. But some publishers and literary bloggers – not surprisingly – see it as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books. In recent years, dozens of sites, including, The Elegant Variation (, maudnewton .com, and the Syntax of Things (, have been offering a mix of book news, debates, interviews and reviews, often on subjects not generally covered by newspaper book sections.

For those who are used to the old way, it’s a tough evolution. "Like anything new, it’s difficult for authors and agents to understand when we say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not going to be in The New York Times or The Chicago Tribune, but you are going to be at,’ " said Trish Todd, publisher of Touchstone Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. "But we think that’s the wave of the future."

Maud Newton offers a balanced assessment…

"I find it kind of naïve and misguided to be a triumphalist blogger," Ms. Newton said. "But I also find it kind of silly when people in the print media bash blogs as a general category, because I think the people are doing very, very different things."

…while Richard Ford reviews the medium without having read it:

Of course literary bloggers argue that they do provide a multiplicity of voices. But some authors distrust those voices. Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. "Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership," Mr. Ford said, "in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t."

And what’s so bad about basements? Plenty of novels have been written in basements, and we don’t give those authors crap about it. Good writing is good writing. Bad writing is bad writing. Some of it is on blogs, some of it is in newspapers.

We’re talking about this in the Booklist Book Club, too.



4 Responses to “Newspapers Report Decline of Reviews in Newspapers”
  1. maggie Says:

    In my neck of the woods, let’s say Red Neckville, the book review is hardly dead. Maybe, b/c news travels slowly to Red Neckvillians or possibly b/c we read the local stuff first and ask for the WSJ or NYT when moving, that we still have reviews. Heck, in one of my Red Neckvillian hollars, Tate Co. Democrat, competition is heated amongst reviewers. “Book Talk” and “Book World” run neck and neck about once a month. Note: I write weekly, while she “chews and spits” monthly.

    As for The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune, wad’em up! My local drawl appears in The Tunica Times and The DeSoto Tribune. ;D

  2. Keir Says:

    Maggie, I’m glad to hear that the book review is alive and well where you’re living. I hear more and more that small-town newspapers are losing local content because they’re getting gobbled up by chains that want them to use wire copy whenever possible–limiting outlets for local writers even more. I’ve seen an occasional book review in my hometown paper, The Missoulian, but it’s not like they make a habit of it. Maybe you could syndicate?

  3. maggie Says:

    Scrap the above crap. I’m merely filler; eventually, liner. :)

    Sorry, The Commercial Appeal changed their format about a year ago, and I love it! Prior to the change, we might get a couple of fiction reviews. Now, we get a mix of 3-4 F/NF, plus local signing news. I’ve sold out! :(

  4. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » Are we all just getting along? Says:

    [...] As the dust settles in the newspapers-versus-blogs punchup, the L.A. Times (”Battle of the book reviews,” by Josh Getlin) explores the common ground: 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. Often the same people who churn out literary blogs are reviewing books for mainstream reviews. (Champion, for example, has a review appearing in this week’s Los Angeles Times Book Review.) [...]

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