Thursday, May 03, 2007

Best-selling crime novelist Michael Connelly joins the chorus of voices urging newspapers to save their book review sections. Connelly writes that his popular Harry Bosch novels never would have found an audience without favorable newspaper reviews, and that he’s no exception: Newspaper book reviews allow many new authors to gain a foothold with readers. Connelly also argues that book review sections encourage people to read books, and people who read books also read newspapers. Thus, cutting book review sections is self-defeating for newspapers.

Both arguments are compelling. Certainly, I love reading book reviews, and I agree it’s lamentable to see newspapers cut back on their reviews. I’d have fewer objections if I saw newspapers pouring the resources they save by cutting book reviews into beefing up their local news coverage. You need to give people some reason to read the paper—they won’t do it merely out of civic obligation.

As for the impact on new authors, I’ll certainly have to concede that Connelly—whose writing I enjoy—knows a lot more about the publishing industry than I do. However, I’m optimistic that there are still places to find good book reviews, especially online. Yes, I am including the customer-written reviews on Amazon and other online retailers. From a cultural standpoint, they are no substitute for professionally written reviews. But in terms of generating sales, I have to think they have an important role, as do the recommendations from Amazon. I’ve discovered plenty of decent books and music that way.

It’s just hard for me to believe that people who like reading books are going to read less of them—or revert to reading only established authors—because newspapers stop reviewing books.

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