Publishers Weekly, now celebrating its 150th anniversary, is familiarly known in the book world as PW and “the bible of the book business.” Focused on the international book publishing business, it is now a multimedia news platform with full horizontal coverage of book publishing beginning with the author-as-creator to publisher, printer, and distributor to the end consumer. Its varied products are targeted at publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary agents, authors, book lovers, 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 prepublication book reviews, of which it publishes nearly 9,000 per year.
The magazine was born in 1872 as The Weekly Trade Circular and in 1873 renamed The Publishers’ Weekly (the article and the apostrophe were later dropped), a collective catalog where publishers pooled their resources to create one common presentation of new books, issued each week. The aim was to keep booksellers and librarians informed of forthcoming titles, and 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 hardworking 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 with 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 Medal and Caldecott Medal 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. For the 150th anniversary, PW plans to relaunch the Carey-Thomas Awards in late 2022.
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 rebranded 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 to 1993, and his partner, Patrick Turner. 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 Reader’s Digest. Smith was succeeded by Chandler Grannis, who was passionate about scholarly and university press publishing and book design.
But perhaps it was Arnold Ehrlich, who came from the world of consumer magazine publishing (Holiday, Show, and Venture) who did the most to make the magazine one that a lay reader could also 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 grew 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 and religious publishing coverage.
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 Reader’s Digest General Books. In 1977 Baker went off to edit a spin-off attempt at a consumer book magazine, Bookviews, which ran its own features and original reviews, plus reviews from PW. It folded after two years. Baker then returned to PW as editor-in-chief, where he remained for more than 25 years.
Among editors hired during Baker’s tenure were editorial director Jim Milliot and his co-editorial director, Michael Coffey; 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 first website. 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 redesign emphasizing color and shorter stories and features.
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. After a period of many rumors of a pending sale, the as-is purchase of Publishers Weekly was achieved by Slowik and Turner, over the weekend before Reed folded 23 other trade magazines, taking a final write-off on March 31, 2010. They brought the entire PW staff with them, including Jim Milliot (now senior vice-president) and Michael Coffey as co-editorial directors, Diane Roback as children’s book editor (now senior vice-president), Louisa Ermelino as book reviews editor (now editor-at-large), Cevin Bryerman as publisher (now CEO), and Joseph Murray as ad director (now associate publisher).
Under Slowik’s leadership, the editorial team’s vision, and the business group’s sales acumen, the magazine’s online presence flourished. PW hired Mediapolis to reengineer the magazine’s website and its 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 the BookScan service to quantify the magazine’s extensive bestsellers lists. In 2019 PW acquired the popular online literary journal The Millions.
PW’s international profile expanded, with the creation of several digital tools for global publishers. They included PubMatch, a joint venture with Combined Book Exhibit, a title database and set of tools for selling international book rights, and the Global 50, a ranking of the world’s largest publishers done in cooperation with Livres Hebdo and publishing consultant Dr. Rüdiger Wischenbart. An Arabic edition of Publishers Weekly, a translation of articles from the American edition, appears regularly through arrangement with the Sharjah Book Fair.
Bryerman increased PW’s coverage of international publishing trade events. In 2016 PW spearheaded the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba for a two-day conference of U.S. and Cuban publishers.
In 2019 Publishers Weekly en Español was launched in partnership with Seville-based Lantia Publishing under the editorial leadership of Enrique Parrilla. The Spanish edition features original Spanish-language news of the Spanish publishing industry, original book reviews, and author interviews. It is distributed in selected Spanish-speaking countries and in the U.S.
One of Slowik’s signature accomplishments was to digitize the physical archive of bound issues of the magazine, which are housed at the magazine’s Chelsea office. The Publishers Weekly Digital Archive took several years to execute. The searchable archive is composed of 7,703 issues, with a total of 667,000 pages, in full color, including all advertising, covers and a Wiki-style correction function. It is sold and managed by Minneapolis-based East View Information Services, Inc.
For many years, the magazine’s book review section, now helmed by Jonathan Segura, has been a key element in PW’s influence and success, and it occupies nearly half of every issue, covering nearly 9,000 titles a year in a dozen categories. These are advance reviews, written on the basis of early galleys of the book, published two to four months before a book’s publication date. They are therefore of great importance in stimulating interest among booksellers and librarians, movie and TV studios, and foreign rights agents—and also acting as an early warning system for reviewers in consumer media, including print, broadcast, and online, as well as 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 1960s, 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 long 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 includes boxed reviews, topical review roundups, author interviews, reviews by name authors, and more than 3,000 web originals. According to Books in Print, the Publishers Weekly reviews database includes more 715,000 reviews, making it the leading book review resource. Another 150,000 reviews reside in the Publishers Weekly Digital Archive. PW’s reviews are widely licensed to both consumer and business sites such as Amazon.com, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Google, LexisNexis, Proquest, EBSCO, Gale/Cengage, OverDrive, and Books in Print.
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 1980s (and who 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 early 2012, PW introduced a regular supplement called PW Select. The supplement included book listings, book reviews, author profiles, and news and feature coverage of the self-publishing industry. PW utilized the pool of submissions as a source for selecting titles to be reviewed, for the first time allowing all self-published titles to be submitted for review consideration, at no cost. Those reviews appear in the more than 35 syndicated outlets where PW’s reviews are licensed.
On the heels of PW Select’s success, in 2014 PW launched BookLife. This website, a joint venture with Mediapolis, is dedicated to serving as a resource for self-published authors and writers considering self-publishing their books. Simultaneously, PW hired Carl Pritzkat (now COO) from Mediapolis as president of BookLife and to handle PW’s business development. BookLife became a PW supplement, growing from quarterly to now weekly, subsuming PW Select, which remains as a marketing program for self-published authors to promote their books within BookLife. BookLife focuses on three main areas: a book’s creation, including editing and cover design; publishing—the physical making of the book; and book marketing, including distribution, publicity, and sales.
In addition to the BookLife supplement, self-published titles selected for review are published within the review pages of Publishers Weekly magazine alongside reviews of traditionally published titles. In 2019, BookLife Reviews launched as a paid review service for self-published authors who wanted to pay to have their books reviewed.
The BookLife Prize, which is a $5,000 writing prize, launched as a fiction-only award in 2016 and added nonfiction as a separate contest in 2019. The BookLife Prize has had more than 6,000 entries to date.
In 2020, in conjunction with U.K.-based BookBrunch, BookLife launched the U.S. Selfies, an award carrying a cash prize for the year’s best self-published book.
Notably, in recent years under the direction of Jim Milliot and Michael Coffey—and beginning in 2014 under the sole direction of Jim Milliot as editorial director after Coffey’s retirement—PW expanded its editorial perspective to include a broader time frame and to include more post-publication market coverage. In 2011 PW launched the PW Tip Sheet, a weekly newsletter that informs librarians, booksellers, and consumers about news of books currently on sale.
Other e-newsletters, which are all free, include:
In 2012, PW entered the realm of podcasting:
PW also opened a new category of sponsored content:
Subsequently, PW started PWxyz Studios, dedicated to sponsored, advertiser-driven products and newsletters. Grab-a-Galley promotions, while not technically part of PWxyz Studios, were another new initiative to engage advertisers and librarians. E-blasts were created for advertisers to reach PW’s burgeoning mailing list of well over 150,000 trade and consumer newsletter subscribers.
During this period, PW's social media presence increased exponentially across all platforms, helping to draw traffic to the PW website, which sees 1.2 million unique visitors per month. In addition to frequent postings on nearly all social media channels, PW hosts a booksellers group on Facebook and, on Instagram, the “Picture of the Day” feature that is also published in PW Daily.
Publishers Weekly hosts regular live and virtual discussion series about current issues in book publishing as they evolve. Panel discussions cover an array of topics ranging from the annual PW Salary Survey, supply chain issues, diversity in publishing, global rights, and issues facing librarians.
PW Star Watch is an award to honor up-and-coming individuals in the publishing industry. The annual award was launched in 2015 with the stated intention “to identify and celebrate talented emerging leaders in the U.S. publishing community, bring recognition to them on a global stage, and provide them with additional mentoring and an expanded network.” The inaugural winner was Helen Yentus, the art director for Riverhead Books in New York. The annual award is given in the fall in New York and offers a cash honorarium to five finalists, of which one is name the “Superstar.”
Publishers Weekly entered the events realm in 2015. In association with the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Global Kids Connect was a conference to address issues of international importance to children’s book publishers. The annual conference took place in New York and ran two years.
PubTech Connect was launched in 2016 with New York University’s School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing (NYUSPS). The conference continues virtually on an annual basis.
The New York Rights Fair was a move to acknowledge the need for an annual gathering of literary agents that would be held in tandem with BookExpo America. In 2018, Publishers Weekly joined forces with BolognaFiere to create a fair rich with industry and author panels. The New York Rights Fair ran from 2018 – 2019.
The most recent opportunity arose with the Covid-19 pandemic and the demise of BookExpo. After ReedPOP announced the end of BookExpo, a hallowed U.S. book publishing tradition, PW determined that the need for an industry event far outweighed the pandemic-enforced closures of event spaces.
The U.S. Book Show was inaugurated in May 2021 to much acclaim, with an opening keynote by Oprah Winfrey and three days of editorial “buzz” panels, celebrity and literary author interviews, a special track for librarians, and a wealth of media coverage from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and others. With the U.S. Book Show’s resounding success, Publishers Weekly announced the 2022 dates, May 24 – 26, 2022.
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 its FAQ at publishersweekly.com/pw/corp/faq.html.