When Pamela Paul stepped down as editor of the New York Times Book Review in April 2022, the news came as a shock to many of her colleagues. Paul had joined the Book Review, the paper’s standalone Sunday book reviews section, in 2011, and served as its editor since 2013. In 2016, Dean Baquet, who was then executive editor of the Times, decided to bring all of the paper’s books coverage—the daily Books section, book news, publishing industry news, and the Book Review—under Paul’s aegis.

“Everyone was surprised,” said Tina Jordan, deputy editor of the Book Review, of Paul’s departure. “She’d been there almost 10 years. We weren’t expecting it.” (Soon after leaving, Paul joined the paper’s Opinion section as a columnist, where she has developed a bit of a reputation in media circles for her subject matter and style.) While the search for Paul’s successor was underway, Jordan took over on an interim basis.

In July 2022, Gilbert Cruz was named to succeed Paul, having previously served, since 2018, as the culture editor at the paper. Like Paul before him, Cruz oversees all books coverage at the Times. He started the job in August, when the book publishing industry is notoriously quiet, but nevertheless immediately set to work. The transition in leadership, Jordan said, was “pretty seamless.”

First on Cruz’s to-do list was to solidify the Book Review as the face of all of the paper’s books coverage. Overseeing a team of more than 20 editors, critics, and reporters, he has spent the past year “making sure the staff feels like a whole”—that is, a single unit united under one banner. “Something I’ve been telling the entire staff is that there’s one brand here, and it’s the New York Times Book Review,” he explained. “Everyone on this desk works for the New York Times Book Review—even if you’re a reporter, and your stuff never appears in the Book Review because it closes 10 days before it hit stands, you still work for the Book Review. Because when most people think of our books coverage, the Book Review is the thing that stands out in their mind.”

The Book Review is the nation’s largest and most storied standalone newspaper book reviews section, having been in print since 1896—and it’s one of the few remaining. At a time when books coverage has been slashed at papers around the country and reviewers on Goodreads and BookTok hold increasing sway over sales, what role the Book Review plays in today’s publishing ecosystem is something of an existential question.

One way to retool the Book Review for the current age, Cruz said, is to grow its digital readership. “That’s really what I came here to do,” he added. For him, this means doubling down on digital efforts and launching new digital franchises, as well as “trying to think about audiences that we’re not reaching right now.”

Under Cruz, the Book Review is also streamlining its coverage. It no longer runs “double-reviews” (two reviews by different critics of a single book), which Cruz felt “sends a mixed message to the reader.” It has also begun running reviews by the paper’s staff book critics—Dwight Garner, Alexandra Jacobs, Jennifer Szalai, and Molly Young, who had traditionally only appeared in the daily paper, which Cruz saw as a missed opportunity. (“We have this amazing product that is more than 100 years old, and our main voices on books never appeared in there!”)

Moreover, the Book Review has started publishing different kinds of features, such as author profiles and a new “Read Your Way Around the World” series, which is spearheaded by deputy news and features editor Juliana Barbassa. Barbassa has also led much of the Times’ coverage of industry news, including the proliferation of book bans and AI’s impact on publishing.

Though the Book Review covered an estimated 2,300 books last year, its print editions have noticeably slimmed down in recent years. While occasional special issues—its summer reading and holiday issues, for instance—remain robust, Cruz doubts it will ever return to the larger page counts of yore.

“I can’t tell the future,” he said, “but I would challenge anyone to show me a print publication that has gotten bigger” over time. Nevertheless, he hopes that during his tenure, “people who primarily experience the Book Review through the print product get their money’s worth.”

In describing his vision for books coverage at the Times, Cruz repeatedly used the word experiment. He spoke of testing new things, keeping what works and scrapping what doesn’t. He believes that over the course of many experiments that “the Book Review is going to become more of a book publication.” One of his primary goals, in this first year at the helm, “is to try a lot of stuff.” His other goal: “not to mess this up.”