I found another article on the death of book reviews, and wanted to post part of it here:
May 2, 2007Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?
By MOTOKO RICH
Last year Dan Wickett, a former quality-control manager for a car-parts maker, wrote 95 book reviews on his blog, Emerging Writers Network (emergingwriters.typepad.com/), singlehandedly compiling almost half as many reviews as appeared in all of the book pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.Mr. Wickett has now quit the automotive industry and started a nonprofit organization that supports literary journals and writers-in-residence programs, giving him more time to devote to his literary blog. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, meanwhile, has recently eliminated the job of its book editor, leading many fans to worry that book coverage will soon be provided mostly by wire services and reprints from national papers.The decision in Atlanta — in which book reviews will now be overseen by one editor responsible for virtually all arts coverage — comes after a string of changes at book reviews across the country. The Los Angeles Times recently merged its once stand-alone book review into a new section combining the review with the paper’s Sunday opinion pages, effectively cutting the number of pages devoted to books to 10 from 12. Last year The San Francisco Chronicle’s book review went from six pages to four. All across the country, newspapers are cutting book sections or running more reprints of reviews from wire services or larger papers.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 Bookslut.com, The Elegant Variation (marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/), maudnewton .com, Beatrice.com and the Syntax of Things (syntaxofthings.typepad.com), 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 curledup.com,’ ” said Trish Todd, publisher of Touchstone Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. “But we think that’s the wave of the future.”Obviously, the changes at newspaper book reviews reflect the broader challenges faced by newspapers in general, as advertisement revenues decline, and readers decamp to the Internet. But some writers (and readers) question whether economics should be the only driving factor. Newspapers like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution could run book reviews “as a public service, and the fact of the matter is that they are unwilling to,” said Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.“I think the reviewing function as it is thoroughly taken up by newspapers is vital,” he continued, “in the same way that literature itself is vital.”Mr. Ford is one of more than 120 writers who have signed a petition to save the job of Teresa Weaver, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s book editor. The petition, sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle, comes as part of the organization’s effort to save imperiled book coverage generally. “We will continue to use freelancers, established news services and our staff to provide stories about books of interest to our readers and the local literary community,” said Mary Dugenske, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, in an e-mail message.Coming as it does at a time when newspaper book reviews are endangered, many writers, publishers and critics worry that the spread of literary blogs will be seen as compensation for more traditional coverage. “We have a lot of opinions in our world,” said John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle. “What we need is more mediation and reflection, which is why newspapers and literary journals are so important.”Edward Champion, who writes about books on his blog, Return of the Reluctant (edrants.com), said that literary blogs responded to the “often stodgy and pretentious tone” of traditional reviews.
But while online buzz can help some books, newspapers can pique the interest of a general reader, said Oscar Villalon, books editor at The San Francisco Chronicle. Blogs, he said, are “not mass media.” The Chronicle, for example, he said, has a circulation of nearly 500,000, a number not many blogs can achieve.On the other hand, committed readers who take the time to find a literary blog may be more likely than a casual reader of the Sunday newspaper to buy a book. “I know that everyone who comes to my site is interested in books,” said Mark Sarvas, editor of The Elegant Variation, a literary blog that publishes lengthy reviews.And newspaper book reviews, which are often accused of hewing too closely to “safe choices,” could learn something from the more freewheeling approach of some of the book blogs, said David L. Ulin, who edits the book review at The Los Angeles Times.“One of the troubles with mainstream print criticism is that people can be too polite,” Mr. Ulin said. “I feel like an aspect of the gloves-off nature of blogs is something that we could all learn from, not in an irresponsible way, but in a wear-your-likes-and-dislikes-on-your-sleeves kind of way.”Maud Newton, who has been writing a literary blog since 2002, said she has the freedom to follow obsessions like, say, Mark Twain in a way that a newspaper book review could not, unless there was a current book on the subject. But she would never consider what she does a replacement for more traditional book reviews.“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.”One thing that regional newspapers in particular can do is highlight local authors. “While I’m all for the literary bloggers, and I think the more people that write about books the better, they’re not necessarily as regionally focused as knowledgeable, experienced long-term editors in the South or Midwest or anywhere where the most important writers come from,” said Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The New York Times Book Review.Many local authors view the decision at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a betrayal of important local coverage.“With the removal of its cultural critics, Atlanta is surrendering again,” wrote Melissa Fay Greene, author of “Praying for Sheetrock” in an e-mail message. “We all lose, you know, not just Atlantans, with the disappearance from the scene of a literate intelligence.”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.”