The accusations flew back and forth. But now there is a growing sense that enough is enough – and that the friction between old and new book media obscures the fact that the two are in bed together now, for better or worse. Often the same people who churn out literary blogs are reviewing books for mainstream reviews. (Champion, for example, has a review appearing in this week’s Los Angeles Times Book Review.)
Many believe there’s a healthy synergy between the two. Maud Newton, who runs one of the more respected literary blogs (maudnewton.com), was puzzled by the idea that the two are somehow competing. “When bloggers disagree with or agree with an article about books in the mainstream press, it drives traffic to the newspaper,” she said. The cutbacks at newspaper book reviews are unfortunate, but hardly the fault of bloggers.
“This was truly a false dichotomy,” Mark Sarvas, who runs the L.A.-based blog the Elegant Variation, said by phone. “The two sides needn’t be in opposition, certainly not at this time. There is a vast ecosystem of information about books out there, and all of it needs our support.”
(I wonder if it’s only bloggers who “churn out” their content, or if those who write for print publication do, too. And does Champion “churn out” his blog before he turns to “writing” his L.A. Times book reviews?)
Champion and Dirda make nice (Dirda with an asterisk):
“I think cutting newspaper book coverage is an abject and unfortunate development,” said Champion in an e-mail to The Times. “I also think it’s egregious for either of the two sides to wag schoolmarmish fingers at each other. The litblogs could use more editorial care; the newspapers could use more passion and spontaneity. But here’s the good news: the twain can meet.”
“It’s great that people should voice their opinions about the books they love or hate,” Dirda wrote in an e-mail, sounding more conciliatory but still noting that he prefers traditional book reviews. Blogging “encourages a vital literary culture, just as book clubs and other discussion groups do. But we still need the common ground of book review sections…. Perhaps there is a modus vivendi that will allow both kinds of literary discussion and opinion to flourish. I hope so.”
And, once again, there are too many books:
PERHAPS the pervading sense of scarce resources is compounded by a publishing industry that produces more books than even the most robust cultural conversation could possibly include. Last year there were 120,000 new titles released, far more than American consumers could be expected to navigate. Only a relative handful get media attention.
On another statistical matter, I’m not sure why the newsies persist in comparing newspapers’ circulations to blog visits (or, for that matter, why they don’t know the difference between a hit and a visit):
Still, the numbers are telling: The literary blogs are reaching a small audience. While larger newspapers have hundreds of thousands of subscribers, the Elegant Variation, for example, has an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 hits a day, while Champion’s Return of the Reluctant is averaging 40,000 visits a day.
What, exactly do those numbers tell us? A newspaper may have 500,000 subscribers but, unless the newspaper releases its own reader surveys, we don’t know how many people read the book review section. While we’re guessing, it’s entirely possible that Champion’s 40,000 visits is more action than some newspaper book sections get. (Especially when the book section comes wrapped with an inch or so of advertising circulars…but now that you’re moving to Saturdays, Chicago Tribune, I guess we won’t have that problem anymore.)