Backed by social media support from author and Maine resident Stephen King, a petition and lobbying effort by the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance has successfully persuaded the Portland Press Herald to reinstate its local book review coverage.
MWPA executive director Joshua Bodwell learned last Wednesday that the newspaper intended to cut its monthly $400 budget for reviews in the Maine Sunday Telegram. The decision, which Bodwell said the newspaper had sent to contributors but did not intend to announce publicly, would have eliminated regional and local book coverage. Going forward, the newspaper’s book review content would have come entirely from wire services.
According to Bodwell, the impact of the cuts would have been twofold for Maine writers and publishers, 1,350 of whom are members of the MWPA. Contributors would have lost a small, but necessary, source of income. More broadly, Bodwell said, the MWPA was concerned that wire service reviews would overlook books "about Maine, set in Maine, or written by Maine authors, [and] that impacts the vast majority of our members.”
On Friday, the MWPA launched an online petition that Bodwell said was, “carefully worded to be supportive of the newspaper.” The petition asked the newspaper to reconsider its decision and find a better outcome in consultation with the MWPA. At the same time the petition was launched, MWPA member Stephen King took to Twitter, asking his 5.1 million followers to “tell the paper DON’T DO THIS.” As of Sunday, the petition had over 800 signers, and King’s tweet had been shared nearly 9,000 times.
The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will no longer publish local, freelance-written reviews of books about Maine, set in Maine, or written by Maine authors.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 11, 2019
Retweet this if you're from Maine (or even if you're not). Tell the paper DON'T DO THIS.
In response, the newspaper launched a subscription drive to raise the funds to save the section, using the promotional codes KING and CARRIE—a reference to King’s bestselling novel—for different subscription levels. In an article published on Saturday, Press Herald executive editor Cliff Schechtman said that the drive had garnered 100 new digital subscriptions, which will allow the newspaper to retain the reviews budget. The newspaper did lay off a number of reporters outside of its freelance book reviewers, on Friday.
“We have so many Maine authors who are members who aren't able…to attract national reviews,” Bodwell said. “That they may be able to receive coverage in the largest newspaper in the state is crucial.”
Maine’s literary landscape has grown in recent years with the opening and expansion of independent bookstores across the state, from Portland to Lewiston and Bangor. In an era in which newspapers have steadily cut back on book coverage, Bodwell told PW he hopes the MWPA’s drive to save the book reviews can be an example for how similar communities can turn to literary non-profits to “rally support and encourage creative problem solving that results in real change.”
This article has been updated to reflect new information.