With the surprising announcement that former NY Post and NY Observer publishing reporter Sara Nelson will take over as editor-in-chief for the trade rag, now various places--the New York Times included--are pondering what the future of the magazine is and how they can compete with other industry-focused places in print and online:
After decades of enjoying a near monopoly on coverage of the book publishing business, Publishers Weekly in recent years has often lagged in competition with Internet sites, e-mail newsletters and daily newspapers. The consolidation of the publishing business and the demise of many independent booksellers has eaten into the magazine's pool of potential subscribers. Its paid circulation of 25,000 is down about 3,000 from the peak in recent years. Perhaps worst of all for a publication focused on a single industry, even subscribers are not certain about where the magazine is aiming.
"The magazine, to me, is obsolete," said Jim Harris, the owner of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, one of the country's best-known independent booksellers. Though he reads a daily e-mail newsletter from Publishers Weekly, Mr. Harris said the magazine's news articles were not timely and its reviews were published after his store had already made its decisions about whether to buy a new book.
David Rosenthal, publisher of the flagship imprint at Simon & Schuster, goes even further:
"I'm not entirely sure who they are writing the magazine for these days," he said. "Is it being written for people in the publishing business? For booksellers? For book producers? It's a little unclear."
Perhaps the problem--or perk, depending on your perspective--is that PW tries to be all things to all people in the industry. But by doing so, it often falls down.
The last time I read the magazine on a regular basis was when I was selling books, and even then I was struck by how stale some of the news items were. I'd imagine it'd be even worse now, what with the advent of blogs and more importantly, Publisher's Marketplace in terms of reporting on deals, critical news items in the publishing industry, and keeping tabs on personnel changes. (It's interesting to note that PM claims nearly 30,000 subscribers to its Publishers Lunch Newsletter, which means that there are more people who read it than who subscribe to PW.)
But is the magazine actually obsolete? Not as long as they keep the focus on what people pay most attention to--the reviews. One thing I have noticed of late is that more and more of these reviews appear closer to the publication date, which seems rather pointless--if it's a trade publication, shouldn't it be ahead of the curve of newspaper reviews or online pundits? A month is too short a lead time; two or three might work better in order to keep PW as a leading contributor to industry dialogue instead of morphing into a dinosaur.
Also, I've never really understood the lack of bylines on the reviews. I suppose the idea is that the reviews are supposed to reflect a uniform opinion given by the magazine, but so as newspaper reviews are supposed to reflect the opinion of the newspaper (or at least try to, when freelancers are on the payroll) why shouldn't trade magazines be held to the same standard? Besides, it's a false idea anyway; careful attention paid to PW's reviews can, and likely do, reveal differences in voice, taste and opinion. It seems more prudent to let the people behind the reviews have credit for such.
Obviously, Nelson's hiring can only go so far; it's impractical to believe PW will undergo a substantial overhaul. But I suppose I don't subscribe to the belief of its obsolescence, and I hope, in some way or another, it finds its true voice in the publishing industry.
But let me turn the floor to the rest of you: what does Publishers Weekly mean to you? Do you pay it much attention? What are its strengths and weaknesses? And what should it change?