They Went That-a Way

June 21st, 2005 · 3 Comments
by Booksquare

For books, and the people who love them, there is nothing more frustrating than failing to reach an audience. The poor book tries. It struggles to be written, forces itself to face humiliation in the form of rejection just because it believes it has something to say, it endures awful covers and misleading blurbs, and then it lands in the market without so much as a round of introductions by the host.

Setting aside our firm conviction that the entire publishing paradigm needs to be revisited, the entire bookselling machine could use a good old-fashioned tweaking. It is true, as Stephanie Merritt argues, that reviews are sales devices, but review sections could do more to reach a broader audience. It is true that bestsellers make more money for bookstores, but the stores could do better by other books by focusing less on co-op money and more on bringing new and intriguing titles to audiences who might find a new author and, trusting the store, might become repeat customers.

Merritt quotes Scott Pack as saying the following as a prelude to his real argument about reviews not augementing sales:

He said simply that most book review pages are ‘very dull’ and that literary editors are ‘turning what should be a force for good in our industry into a complete waste of time’.

We think that by failing to address this very real complaint, Merritt misses a chance at self-analysis. Book review sections in newspapers are dangerously close to obsoleting themselves. While we certainly encourage all manner of intellectual elitism, we also recognize the breadth of reading tastes. Reviewers might not be in the job of selling books, but unread sections of newspapers tend to be targeted for budget cuts.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

3 responses so far ↓

  • Norma // Jun 22, 2005 at 2:46 am

    “entire bookselling machine could use a good old-fashioned tweaking”. Ordinary bloggers seem to be doing their own tweaking.

  • Shanna Swendson // Jun 22, 2005 at 7:49 am

    If newspaper movie review sections operated like most newspaper book sections do, the only films to be reviewed would be documentaries and Oscar-bait movies. What would happen to the film industry if there were few places for audiences to learn about the rank-and-file “commercial” films that are the bread and butter of the industry? And how many people would read the newspaper movie section if it gave no mention of mysteries, thrillers, romantic comedies, action/adventures or science fiction films?

  • Booksquare // Jun 22, 2005 at 8:06 am

    Shanna — my thought exactly. You don’t have to dumb down your review section, but you should appeal to the breadth of readers. It’s scary at first, but once readers trust your reviewers, then they’re going to branch out in other directions.