The recession, combined with the boom in readers turning away from print and to the Web, was a one-two-punch that forced most major American newspapers to cut back their book review coverage—or drop their review sections altogether. In 2008 and 2009 those in publishing were decrying a kind of Armageddon: was it the end of American book culture as we knew it? Turns out, not quite. Jane Ciabattari, who was head of the NBCC from 2008 to 2011 (and now is v-p, online, at the organization), said it has been a tumultuous five years, but “the worst scenario didn’t happen.” While noting there have been losses—she cites the fact that the Washington Post runs fewer reviews than it once did (after folding Book World) and the “contraction” the Los Angeles Times underwent last summer—she said many papers have come up with “innovative solutions” and much coverage has migrated online.
In a world of tightening budgets and increasing pressure to generate revenue directly from content, one paper is testing whether readers will pay for book coverage; the Chicago Tribune launched Printers Row this week, a stand-alone section dedicated to books that costs $99 a year. For those looking for reviews in the existing papers, here’s a breakdown of what some of the major dailies outside of the New York Times (which still has a stand-alone review section), are doing in their print editions.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer
The paper overhauled its coverage in 2009, and now book-related content opens broadsheets in Sunday’s Arts section. The book coverage includes six to seven stand-alone reviews, as well as a column from book editor Karen R. Long. There’s a “new in paperback” section, which also focuses on one title, and a themed capsule roundup.
The San Francisco Chronicle
A pullout Books section runs every Sunday featuring six to nine reviews of roughly 750 words each, along with one or two 250-word capsule reviews. In addition to the reviews, there’s a bestseller list; a 10-title recommendation list from local booksellers; a sample of notable first sentences in new releases; and a 100-word item from a famous local person about his/her favorite book.
The Washington Post
Sunday’s paper has a section called Outlook, where the book coverage runs. In that section there are six reviews ranging in length from 700 to 1,300 words; two short reviews between 150 and 400 words; and a roundup on, as editor/critic Ron Charles put it, “three books on something.” Then, in the paper’s daily Style section, a 700–1,300 review will run, while a “three books on something” piece will also crop up in Wednesday’s Style section. Charles added that book features “appear frequently in Style, but not on such a regular schedule as our reviews.”
Los Angeles Times
The L.A. daily would not offer a figure on the number of reviews it runs. A rep for the paper said: “Our book coverage needs to be looked at in a broader context. It includes more than 500 reviews, features, profiles, critic’s notebooks, and reverse-published blog posts each year.” The rep added that the paper does two stand-alone book sections a year and a “summer reading” preview.
The Chicago Tribune
Printers Row is a 24-page weekly, and it features book reviews, author interviews, and locally themed literary stories. The section also includes the Printers Row Fiction Series, which is a bound booklet of original fiction by Chicago authors. A rep for the Tribune said she could not break down the Printers Row coverage down in numbers, noting: “Since the inaugural issue [has just launched], there are no set numbers other than to say that coverage will certainly increase.” The same rep said that book reviews will continue to run in the regular paper, but also did not provide statistics on frequency or number of reviews.
Beyond the Newspapers
NBCC v-p, online, Jane Ciabattari said there’s also been a “proliferation” of Web sites doing book reviews, with newcomers like the Millions and the Rumpus following in the footsteps of online stalwarts like Slate and Salon. She said there has also been “a growth in book coverage among the trusted gatekeepers,” like NPR, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Nation, the New Republic, and O, the Oprah Magazine.