Publishers Weekly, familiarly known in the book world as PW and “the bible of the book business,” is a weekly news magazine focused on the international book publishing business. It is targeted at publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary agents, authors and the media. It offers feature articles and news on all aspects of the book business, bestsellers lists in a number of categories, and industry statistics, but its best known service is pre-publication book reviews, publishing some 8,000 per year.
The magazine was born in 1872 as The Publishers’ Weekly (the article and the apostrophe were later dropped), a collective catalog where publishers pooled their resources to create one common listing of new books, issued each week. The aim was to keep booksellers and librarians informed of forthcoming titles, but an array of features and articles were added as years went by. The original creator of the magazine, and its first editor, was the German-born Frederick Leypoldt, a passionate bibliographer—so passionate and hard-working that he died prematurely, at the age of 49, in 1884. An early colleague in the enterprise was Richard Rogers Bowker, a literary journalist and also a keen bibliographer, who went on to create the R.R. Bowker Company. Bowker ultimately became the owner of PW, and later began to publish the massive annual Books in Print volumes and assign the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) given to every published book. Another key player in PW’s history, who joined the magazine in 1918 and was active in it for over 40 years, was Frederic G. Melcher, a polymath who served as secretary of the American Booksellers Association, helped create the National Association of Publishers, and launched such notable book awards as the Newbery and Caldecott Medals for children’s books and the Carey-Thomas Awards for distinguished publishing. He also created Children’s Book Week and was responsible for the early extensive coverage of children’s books that has remained a PW tradition.
Owned for much of the 20th century by R.R. Bowker (which in turn was collectively owned by its staff since 1933), Bowker was sold to the Xerox Corporation at the end of 1967, and for the next 43 years PW was in corporate hands. Xerox sold the magazine (and its sister publications, Library Journal and School Library Journal) to Britain’s Reed International in 1985, as part of its Cahners trade magazine division in the United States. Reed later combined with the Dutch giant Elsevier, and in 2002 “re-branded” Cahners as Reed Business Information.
In 2008, Reed put its division of U.S. trade magazines up for sale, and eventually began selling off individual magazines once it became clear that a deal for the entire portfolio could not be struck. In April 2010, PW was bought by George Slowik Jr., a magazine and Web entrepreneur who had been PW’s publisher from 1990-1993. Slowik created a company called PWxyz LLC, and moved the magazine from its Park Avenue South offices to its current location on West 23rd Street in New York City.
The magazine has enjoyed a succession of editors who have expanded the quality and range of its coverage, giving it in the process a remarkable preeminence in its field. Mildred Smith, who joined in 1920 just out of college and ran the magazine for more than 40 years, placed strong emphasis on its news coverage and demanded clear, concise writing from the many industry figures she persuaded to write for the magazine. It still, however, had many old-fashioned features: it ran the texts of speeches at industry occasions verbatim, and was printed in a small format, only slightly larger than Readers Digest. Smith was succeeded by Chandler Grannis, who was passionate about scholarly publishing (he continued to cover university presses’ annual meetings for years after he retired) and book design (he introduced a weekly feature on the subject).
But perhaps it was Arnold Ehrlich, who came from the world of consumer magazine publishing (Holiday; Show; Venture) who did the most to make the magazine one that a lay-reader could dip into with interest. He created a series of author interviews, launched a news section and hired an expatriate American in Paris, Herbert R. Lottman, as the magazine’s first international correspondent. The bilingual Lottman became a household name in publishing circles in Europe, wrote dozens of penetrating features, interviews and a regular column, and made PW into a magazine that was genuinely international in its coverage.
As publishing activity extended beyond the metropolitan cities, Ehrlich also established a group of regional columnists, covering the West Coast, Southern, Midwestern and New England scenes. (A West Coast correspondent for many years went on to become the bestselling novelist Lisa See.) A young editor who had joined PW straight from high school, Daisy Maryles, worked more than 40 years at the magazine and is largely responsible for the development of the magazine’s influential bestsellers lists. Although no longer on staff, she continues to edit PW Show Daily, the magazine produced for attendees of the industry’s annual BookExpo America convention.
Ehrlich hired another figure from the consumer and news world as his managing editor in 1973, John Baker, an Englishman with a background at Reuters and Readers Digest General Books. In 1977 Baker went off to edit a spinoff attempt at a consumer book magazine, Bookviews, which ran its own features and original reviews, plus some reviews from PW. It was carried in Barnes & Noble stores and enjoyed some newsstand circulation, but in the end the hoped-for advertising revenue did not materialize, and it folded after two years. Baker then returned to the magazine as editor-in-chief, where he remained for more than 25 years. Meanwhile, coverage of the bookselling scene was greatly expanded, and international issues were created around the book worlds of Britain, Australia and Canada among many other countries.
Among editors hired during Baker’s tenure were editorial director Jim Milliot and his co-editorial director Michael Coffey (now retired); Diane Roback, who heads up the magazine’s extensive coverage of children’s books; and Sybil Steinberg, now retired, who helped shape the reviews section as it is today.
As the power of the book chains grew, however, and the number of independent bookstores fell, the ad pages declined as publishers poured more of their promotional revenues into in-store promotions and ads in the chains’ own catalogs. The upheavals in the early 1990s involved in the creation of Reed Business Information caused further turmoil, and Nora Rawlinson, a career librarian who had edited Library Journal, was brought in as editor in 1992, with Baker becoming editorial director. Rawlinson added coverage of the library market to PW’s mission, and oversaw the development of PW’s online presence. In another effort to shake things up, Sara Nelson was brought in to replace Rawlinson in 2005. Nelson, formerly a publishing columnist for the New York Post and New York Observer, ordered up an extensive re-design emphasizing color and shorter stories and features, initiated a series of “Signature Reviews” written by name authors, and initiated a weekly editorial column.
Despite all these efforts, the economics of the book business were working against the magazine. Advertising continued to decline, and circulation descended below 15,000. Reed fired Nelson and other key editors, including Maryles, in January 2009, a move that was widely covered in the consumer press. Subsequently, Brian Kenney, editorial director of Library Journal and School Library Journal, was named editorial director of Publishers Weekly, while maintaining his duties at LJ and SLJ. After a period of many rumors of a pending sale, purchase of the magazine was finally achieved by Slowik.
Slowik redesigned the magazine’s website and its six electronic newsletters and blogs, made the magazine available as an iPad app, added a section that reviewed and announced self-published titles entitled PW Select, and partnered with Nielsen’s BookScan service to quantify the magazine’s extensive bestsellers lists.
Slowik also expanded PW’s international profile with the creation of several digital tools for global publishers: Pubmatch, a database and tool-set for selling international book rights; The Global 50, a ranking of the world’s largest publishers done in cooperation with Livres Hebdo and publishing consultant Dr. Ruediger Wischenbart; he also expanded coverage of international publishing trade events.
For many years, the magazine’s book review section has been a key element in PW’s influence and success, and now occupies nearly half of every issue, covering more than 8,000 titles a year in a dozen categories. These are advance reviews, written on the basis of early galleys of the book, published two to three months before a book’s publication date. They are therefore of great importance in stimulating interest among booksellers and librarians, movie and TV studios, foreign rights agents—and also acting as an early warning system for reviewers in consumer newspapers and magazines as well as TV and Radio news segment producers. Many books receive their only review here, and favorable reviews are widely quoted in publisher promotions, in newspaper and magazine advertising, and on book jackets.
The first reviews appeared in the early 1940s and were called Forecasts, since early reviews included a line or two at the end that attempted to predict a book’s likely success in stores. The label continued to be used long after the actual “forecasting” ceased, and it was not until 2005 that the name of the section changed to simply “Reviews.” One of the feature’s important innovations was that it made no distinction in the reviewing between hardcover and paperback books—this was at a time, in the 1950s and ’60s, when paperback books were seldom reviewed. PW’s review editors have numbered anywhere from six to a dozen, each with a specific area of coverage, and between them they call on the services of several hundred reviewers, many of them specialists in their fields. PW’s reviews are 200-250 words, and are anonymous (though reviewers’ names are printed in the section, but without any indication of who wrote which review.) Today’s much expanded reviews section, headed by novelist and veteran magazine editor Louisa Ermelino, includes boxed reviews, topical review round-ups, author interviews, reviews by name authors and more than 2,000 web originals. The reviews database includes more than 200,000 reviews that relate to more than 1.2 million products, making it the leading book review resource. PW’s reviews are also widely licensed to both consumer and business sites. The physical archive, which includes more than 150,000 additional reviews, is in the process of being digitized.
The reviews department has been led by a number of editors over the years, but two vastly different personalities left a lasting impact on it. Barbara Bannon, who was the chief fiction reviewer in the 1970s and early ’80s (and became the magazine’s executive editor), gave the reviews department an aura of power and high visibility as a result of her own extravagant persona and her acknowledged power to make or break a book with her published verdict. And it was a highly visible verdict because she was the first and only PW reviewer to insist upon the use of her name in connection with any review quoted in an ad or promotion. Sybil Steinberg, whose star rose as Bannon’s declined, had a keener, more sophisticated critical eye, and for a wider range of books. She also yearned to give more prominent attention to books she particularly admired, and it was under her aegis that PW began to award stars to books of exceptional merit, and later to create the lengthier and more prominent boxed reviews. Steinberg also created an annual Best Books list, which the magazine continues to this day. For many years she also edited the magazine’s author interviews, and beginning in 1992 put together the first of four anthologies of them in book form, published by the Pushcart Press.
For most of its life, the reviews section did not review books that were self-published, but in 2010, PW introduced a regular supplement called PW Select. The supplement includes book listings, book reviews, author profiles, and news and feature coverage of the self-publishing industry.
Notably, in recent years, PW has expanded its editorial perspective to include a broader time frame, and to include more post-publication market coverage. In 2011 PW launched PW Tip Sheet, a weekly newsletter that informs librarians, booksellers, and consumers about news of books currently on sale.
In 2012, PW launched PW Live, a series of digital events that includes:
* PW’s Week Ahead podcast hosted at Copyright Clearance Center by Chris Kenneally with PW’s senior writer Andrew Albanese and reviews editor Rose Fox discussing the upcoming news of the week.
* PW Radio, an hour-long, weekly show on Sirius XM Book Radio hosted by Rose Fox and senior reviews editor Mark Rotella.
* More to Come, a regular comics podcast hosted by editors Calvin Reid, Heidi MacDonald, and Kate Fitzsimmons.
* PW KidsCast, a sponsored podcast of author interviews hosted by John Sellers * A variety of live, sponsored webcasts covering industry trends, plus video author interviews.
PW has grown from its historic print edition to include a wide array of products and brand extensions. For more information about Publishers Weekly, visit our FAQ.