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January 28, 2009


Nettie Hartsock

Superb insight! Espescially loved "Stop whining;start writing!"

Levi Stahl

David Ulin's section at the LA Times is the one I always hold up as an example of what an innovative editor can do when faced with cuts: the LAT still covers a lot of books, in large part because of Ulin's decision to embrace online coverage, including online-only columnists and a well-written blog. Here's hoping the Washington Post can achieve something similar.

Leonard T. Carruthers

I think your analysis is a little simplistic. Currently we have both print and online outlets for book coverage. Soon we'll only have online. How is that an improvement? The loss of coverage, especially in a medium that still reaches so many people, is disappointing. It's not a tragedy, but for people who love books it's sad.

Eileen Kavanagh

Thanks for labeling those of us who still like print "old fogeys." We wouldn't be reading your blog (and appreciating it a great deal) if we weren't comfortable online. But that doesn't mean we don't still like print. And there are still many, many people who don't like to read online. So screw them? Do you think the NYTBR would carry the weight it does if it had been a couple of pages in the style section? My local paper has one page (sometimes only a half) on books, once a week. It isn't worth much, but I still look forward to it. I'm an old fogey who has I-don't-know-how-many feeds in my google reader, I follow a few people on twitter (although I'm not yet convinced there's any real value there), AND I read a print newspaper every day. I guess I'm just supposed to get over it. I have no point here, but I wish you weren't so dismissive of some of your readers and a lot more people who aren't. And by the way, why do you refer to Updike as an autodidact? He had a summa English degree from Harvard. Just curious.

Cine Cynic

I feel that stopping print isn't a big deal as long as a magazine is continuing in one way or another. Readers read in the medium in which the material is available to them as long as they like what they are reading. Initially it was just print, then print and digital, now just the latter.

I too am curious about the 'autodidact' reference.

Sarah Weinman

Fair point on "autodidact", which wasn't the right word (not to mentioned I spelled the damn thing wrong), so I used Michiko Kakutani's more accurate phrase. Leonard was a Harvard man too (even if he fled for Berkeley mid-college career) though does one need to be completely self-taught and outside the realm higher education in order to be an autodidact?

Eileen - I believe you're interpreting my post under a binary code assumption that does not necessarily take all the practical measures into account. There's more to life than 101010 (and so on!)

Eileen Kavanagh

I suppose Updike was autodidactic in some things, and he certainly didn't go through the modern path of MFA-writing workshop-and whatever else the literary path is these days. He also was perhaps self taught in some of the subject matter that he wrote about, as you mentioned in your Smatterings post (Dinosaurs?) I'll have to check out that link.

I don't really understand your binary response, so I'll just leave it as is. I knew you weren't saying that print is dead, long live the internets--I probably just flashed on the term old fogey (but only because it's true). And I hate to see the passing of newspapers, even if it's inevitable. I'm nearing 60, and I learned to read by reading the Sunday comics. My parents got three papers a day (one morning, two afternoon editions), and I hate to see them go, even if their replacement is perfectly acceptable, and probably more small-d democratic.


What I take from Sarah's fine analysis is that it isn't an "either/or" choice. If you like print, fine, but welcome to capitalism, a standalone book section needs to be able to pay for itself. And advertising departments are about 15 years too late in discovering that a readerly audience is typically an educated/affluent/desirable one. So why are many book sections still supported by old-fogey ads like those for rare book dealers instead of ads for Lexus and Rolex? Or is this exactly what Sarah and Mr. Ulin are pointing out when they say that the book industry and its supporting enterprises like a newspaper book review section somehow feel they are grandfathered out of the rules of economics everyone else plays by and then are shocked when economics rears back them?

Yes, a print book review section has plenty of right to exist so long as it can support itself. But readers are not obligated to support its lack of creativity in doing so.

Dave at Read Street

Sarah, you nailed it by noting the shift from passive to active consumers. Although a drop in newspaper revenue has sparked cutbacks, book review sections are guilty of ignoring major shifts in bookreading. Millions of Americans are in book clubs, but how many book sections write about their issues? The sections take little notice of the burgeoning book blogs. And they do little to draw readers into a conversation about books. There's still a great appetite for information -- and conversation -- about books; that's why we started The Baltimore Sun's Read Street blog.


Interestingly, i just recently discovered John Updike... I haven't fallen in love with all of his work yet, though i'm starting to enjoy his candid writing style;

his passing is a sad loss indeed


The problem with ditching the in-print reviews, as newspapers are increasingly doing, is that an awful lot of book readers are some of those very "old fogeys" you seem to be disparaging -- people who love to curl up with a book, but have never warmed to the online world. They're being done a huge disservice, and so are the authors who would have been highlighted on those pages.

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