But, recently, there has been a small eruption of articles announcing the death of the book review as we know it. This is definitely a timely subject, but I'm not certain whether it's a "stop-the-presses" kind of notion. Still, the writers under consideration take it seriously and have interesting points to make about the cultural implications of such a development.
The first piece I ran across was on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sunday arts section for Sept. 30. The paper's book critic, Carlin Romano, was the writer.
He noted that last month there were "no fewer than five panels in New York, at venues from Columbia Journalism School to Scandinavia House," all devoted to the theme of the "Vanishing Book Review." (The Columbia Journalism Review, in its Sept./Oct. issue, also ran a piece called "Goodbye to All That" on the subject, by Steve Wasserman, who used to help edit the book review at the Los Angeles Times.)
So why is this happening? "Because," noted Romano, "across the country, freshly written, independent book reviews, a staple of newspapers since the late 18th century, are disappearing. In many papers, they're the latest target of managers seeking to cut costs and maintain profit margins in an era of shrinking ad dollars. More and more book reviews that you read in Paper E have already appeared in Papers A, B, C and D."
Romano then went on to list all the venues that have recently killed their stand-alone book reviews, and some that have killed the book beat completely. He then asked if anyone should care, which is the true question at the heart of this subject.
After establishing that he and many of his like-minded colleagues think that the elimination of book reviews is "dumber than dumb from the standpoint of newspapers," he then went on to "synthesize" the reasons why retaining book reviews is a "no-brainer."
After considering "the unsentimental, pure-money argument" and, by extension, how cutting book reviews doesn't really save newspapers much cash, Romano acknowledged that there are also cultural arguments for why book reviewing should flourish.
"If you don't serve readers, you don't attract readers.
"If you declare in your Weekend section that people should do anything but read on the weekend — catch a movie, watch a DVD, hit the music clubs, go cycling — readers will listen, and many will stop buying your paper.
"If you don't build the attention spans of young readers by treating books as if they're important, young people will spend four minutes with your paper, if that."