No one reads book reviews. At least that's the conclusion of the shareholders (I hope it's not the editors) at the Los Angeles Times, which is planning to shrink its Sunday book review section, package it with the op-eds, drop it from the Sunday paper, and put it in the Saturday edition (which is the least-read edition of the week at any major daily).
The plan to retool the L.A. Times Book Review was first reported by LAObserved, an online media review. The report set readers on edge. Any such change could suggest a reduction in book coverage nationwide, since the Times runs one of the few remaining stand-alone book sections in a daily newspaper. (The others are in the [San Francisco] Chronicle, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. The Boston Globe merged its opinion pages and book review in 2002.)
And the Wall Street Journal chimes in:
Book publishers in recent years have moved away from buying ads in standalone book-review sections in favor of paying to stack mounds of books in the front of chain bookstores....
In an era of targeted marketing, publishers say the best time to reach readers is when they are in the stores with money in their pockets looking to make an immediate purchase. But with a sea of titles in the stores -- the average 25,000-square-foot store in the Barnes & Noble Inc. chain now stocks between 125,000 and 150,000 titles -- the only way for publishers to stand out is to pay for real estate in the front and pile those books up high.
It may not be an exact equivalent, but 35 years ago, a lot of newspapers had regular columns -- by 'moonlighting' staff or low-paid or non-paid freelancers -- covering both stamp and coin collecting....
Times change. One- or two-paragraph book reviews on amazon.com often carry as much weight with book buyers as anything Michiko Kakutani might write in the NYT.
Mmmmaybe. A reader-submitted Amazon review is certainly cheaper. But most of the reviews I read there are either one-star or five-stars (total crap! total genius!), and a lot of them are obviously written by people who haven't read the book, but who have an ideological ax that needs scratching, an ideological itch that needs grinding.
Naturally, I don't like the trend -- book reviewing puts ducats in my pockets. But I think the papers are missing a larger point: When you're complaining about slumping subscription rates, why would you make a move destined to disappoint people who are avid readers?