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Buy An Ad Or We Shoot This Review

WSJ publishing man Jeffrey Trachtenberg has the grim prognosis in this morning’s WSJ: if publishers don’t start buying adspace, your newspaper’s book review section may wither and die. Unless you live in New York, that is, as ads for books were up nearly 10% across every section of the Times taken as a whole in 2006. But the rest are in trouble. In fact, Trachtenberg leads with what was once a rumor but is, a few grafs down, just about confirmed: Come next month, the LA Times is about to wedge its literary coverage into Saturday’s paper along with the op-ed columns, noting, “That would reduce to five the number of separate book-review sections in major metropolitan newspapers still published nationwide, down from an estimated 10 to 12 a decade ago.”

He then adds, “The book review as a separate section is endangered not only at the Los Angeles Times but at other major newspapers like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and San Diego Union-Tribune.” Wait, like those papers? Do the math: If the LATBR goes, and that leaves five stand-alone book sections left, and the NYTBR is one, then logically those are the only other four.

The newspaper people blame the book industry, “the last industry in America to go to for any wisdom about marketing,” according to Chicago Tribune managing editor Jim Warren. But Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch says that print advertising is still useful…”if the author is well-known and if it’s done in conjunction with online campaigns.” So maybe that’s the next question to ask: Are ads like the ones over to our right working out for publishers? Well, okay, let’s cast the net a bit wider; are ads on literary blogs—or, for that matter, blogs that aren’t even about books—selling books any better than their print counterparts? Which actually leads to a bit of semantic nitpicking with the otherwise excellent reportage: When Trachtenberg describes how “publishers are also using independent bloggers to convey news of new titles,” one wishes he had said “relying upon” instead of “using,” since bloggers already catch more than enough flak from old media literary critics for their alleged conflicts of interest vis à vis the book industry.

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