Earlier this week, it was announced that the Washington Post is doing away with it’s standalone Book World publication. This followed some period of conjecture and speculation by critics and online observers.
Ed has a great roundup that contains a number of different perspectives on the issue.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that more than 100 writers implored the newspaper to keep the book section.
At the risk of sounding like an insensitive jackass, I must admit that I’m not losing sleep over the Washington Post’s decision. The paper claims that book coverage will continue spread throughout the regular paper and also in an online website. We’re all becoming more and more distrustful of corporate claims these days so who knows what will actually happen in the coming weeks and months. But at least for now, the possibility of book coverage remains.
The main reason why I’m not up-in-arms about the loss of the standalone Book World is that I tend to believe that if the section enjoyed active, robust readers, and attracted committed and financially strong advertisers, then it wouldn’t go away. While clearly I love books and I want to read well-argued book reviews, I also realize that a lot of people in this country don’t. So presumably the readership of the section is down, the advertising is down, and the newspaper leadership has to make a choice. I might not like it, but hey, I don’t like that 1,457 flavors of Law & Order and CSI shows occupy every available time slot on television either. I don’t see people storming the gates of the networks demanding they show Hamlet and Great Expectations instead of CSI: Tupelo or whatever they’ve lazily thrown together.
If the newspaper thought they could make money and increase circulation by having a standalone book section or a standalone 14-page spread on the study and hobby of collecting dust mites, they would do it.
Stephen Coll, author of Ghost Wars and other books and a former Washington Post staffer recently put forth the idea of non-profit newspapers with university style endowments. If this were the case, then yeah, arguing a newspaper has to continue a certain section because of it’s cultural importance would make some sense.
Unfortunately, in a for-profit world, the corporation is going to do whatever they think is best for the bottom line. Nine times out of ten, I might argue with the choice that is made. (Private planes, bonuses, and all that bullshit in the news recently.) But I do understand it’s their right to try and do what they think is best for the business.
I’m saddened by the Post’s decision, but I concede that I’m in the minority in this regard. How many other readers of the newspaper won’t even notice the standalone Book World section is gone?