Given that some major metropolitan dailies have pared their book coverage in the past year, the addition of reviews and book-related features at a handful of national publications may be refreshing proof that books are still a vital part of the cultural scene. Here's a look at some recent developments.
On the Radar
At first glance, Radar, the new magazine from editor and publisher Maer Roshan (formerly of Tina Brown's Talk) resembles an edgy tabloid aimed at urban professionals in their 20s and 30s. But a look beyond the summer issue's cover article on B-list celebrities like Laura Flynn Boyle reveals three slots for book coverage.
"The Radar 20" features 20 cultural items, including four or five books. A book page offers a short and quirky book-related think piece (in the premiere issue, Chip Kidd takes a look at Helvetica) and a quote quiz that invites readers to match book excerpts with their sources. Finally, book reviews appear in a two-page back-of-the-book spread.
"Our audience wants to know what they should read beyond what's recommended on TV and in Time magazine. This is a consumer magazine for people who are bombarded by media all the time," said senior features editor Hanya Yanagihara, who started her career at Vintage and Riverhead. "We're looking to include titles from smaller houses and university presses, as long as they appeal to a popular audience."
Backed by former HBO honcho Michael Fuchs and other private investors, and launched with a full-scale media blitz, Radar pushed out 135,000 copies of its first issue, which sold out in New York City the day they went on sale. The magazine will move to a monthly schedule following the September issue, with a one-year circulation goal of 250,000.
"The book section is for book lovers, folks who log onto Amazon and hang around Barnes & Noble," said Thom Geier, the senior editor who took over Entertainment Weekly's book coverage four months ago.
While that may sound obvious, it does reflect a shift in focus for the 13-year-old magazine, which reports a circulation of 1.6 million. Previously, weekly book coverage concentrated on entertainment and pop culture titles under the stewardship of Tina Jordan, who now edits book-related feature stories for the magazine.
While an earlier issue might have offered a chart comparing and contrasting celebrity bios, a recent issue of EW contained a box on An Unfinished Life (Little, Brown, May), Robert Dallek's much-discussed biography of John F. Kennedy. "It explains the big fat book in 60 seconds flat, with bulleted talking points for cocktail parties," said Geier.
Geier's optimal mix is about 60% fiction and 40% nonfiction, and he's working to incorporate coverage of photo-driven books. The section recently featured a q&a with Arne Svenson, the photographer behind Sock Monkeys (Ideal World, Apr.).
With the elimination of the "Book News" column on publishing deals, there's more room for reviews. So far in Geier's tenure, that has meant a lead review, a second review about a half-page long and then a two-page spread with shorter reviews.
Changes are afoot at the quarterly Bookforum as well, although they're evolving gradually. Editor-in-chief Eric Banks termed the spring 2003 issue "sort of a portmanteau," but the summer issue will reflect further changes, and by fall 2003, the new format should be clearly apparent. The magazine—which began as an insert in Artforum in 1992 and became a stand-alone in 1997 that now publishes 30,000 copies quarterly—will have a new tabloid format and lighter paper stock, as well as a change in content.
The number of fiction reviews will remain more or less stable, but there's a shift back to serious, scholarly books in the nonfiction arena. "Originally, Bookforum had a strong focus on writing on the visual arts and that's one of the things I'm trying to return to," explained Banks.
While many outlets seem to be shrinking not only the space reserved for book coverage but the length of their reviews, Banks admitted leaning toward longer pieces. "Essay reviews in the front of the book will be 3,5,000 or 5,000 words," he said. "They're similar to something you'd see in the New York Review of Books or the New Republic."
Despite that impressive length, there will be slightly more titles covered in the new Bookforum, thanks to the new "Noted" section, which features seven or eight capsule reviews.
Candy Is Dandy
An über-hip Web site that spotlights such items as Body Mints (an edible deodorant or, as the site puts it, a "B.O. pill") and $415 Philippe Starck dumbbells seems an unlikely literary showcase. But DailyCandy ( www.dailycandy.com) features about 10 books a year, both on its Web site and in its daily e-mail newsletter, always on publication date.
So far, promotion on DailyCandy has significantly sweetened book sales at Book Soup ( www.booksoup.com), which has a link on the DailyCandy site that allows readers to purchase books. "DailyCandy is making books into bestsellers that wouldn't otherwise have been bestsellers for us," observed general Allison Hill, who oversees Book Soup's two locations in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa, Calif. as well as the Web site.
For example, Book Soup sold 10 times as many copies of Elizabeth Crane's story collection When the Messenger Is Hot (Little, Brown, Jan.) through DailyCandy than in the stores, while hits to the Book Soup Web page featuring the title increased 400% the week it was mentioned. However, Hill noted that those figures don't account for the large number of customers who mention the site when purchasing featured books by phone or in the stores, and of course there is no way to measure how many DailyCandy readers purchase books elsewhere.
Last year, DailyCandy took a new tack on book promotion with exclusive serialization of parts of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend for 10 days leading up to the book's October 22 publication. Knopf executive director of publicity Paul Bogaards wouldn't hazard a guess as to how many of the book's initial sales resulted from the promotion. "It didn't happen in a vacuum," he said, "but, generally, we were thrilled with the first-day sales."