The Incredible Shrinking Book Review

The National Book Critics Circle is calling attention to the shrinking space in newspapers devoted to books. I first saw this reported in Inside Higher Ed, and commented on ACRLog – and decided to join the organization since the dues are really affordable and I wanted to lend support.

In the LA Times, Michael Connelly says Harry Bosch may not have found his readers if The Black Echo hadn’t gotten lots of play in newspaper reviews. Wouldn’t that be a shame!

The truth is that the book and newspaper businesses share the same dreadful fear: that people will stop reading. And the fear may be well-founded. Across the country, newspaper circulations are down — and this is clearly part of the reason for the cuts to book sections. At the same time, the book business increasingly relies on an aging customer base that may not be refueling itself with enough new readers.

In the past, newspaper executives understood the symbiotic relationship between their product and books. People who read books also read newspapers. From that basic tenet came a philosophy: If you foster books, you foster reading. If you foster reading, you foster newspapers. That loss-leader ends up helping you build and keep your base.

What I fear is that this philosophy is disappearing from the boardrooms of our newspapers; that efforts to cut costs now will damage both books and newspapers in the future. Short-term gains will become long-term losses.

I hope that will not be the case here. I am not a businessman or a newspaper executive, but I believe that the symbiosis between newspapers and books could still work and hold true. I see it happening in my own home. My 10-year-old daughter’s love of reading books is slowly leading her toward the newspaper sections that are spread every morning across the breakfast table.

What is at stake is something more than the financial health of the newspaper and book businesses. The publishing industry has always relied on reviews and on the commentary of great critics in newspapers to champion the new voices of literature as well as regional and genre writing. The reading public has gone to these venues to make discoveries. Now where will new voices be discovered?

Of course, there are lots of online venues for discovering books these days, as Sarah Weinman points out, and booksellers have a lot to do with it. And, of course, there’s The Daily Show – which does more to bring serious non-fiction on public affairs to people’s attention than most newspapers. For faux-news, they take this stuff seriously. No wonder that’s that’s why so many young people go there to find out what’s going on in the world.

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