Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Books in newspapers 2.0 or something?

I'm a bit behind on this, but David Mehegan of the Boston Globe posted this blog entry about Lee Abram's memo regarding books sections in newspapers. It seems Senor Abrams is formerly of XM Satellite Radio and now the "chief innovation officer" of Sam Zell's Tribune Co. Mehegan quotes the memo's section on newspaper coverage of books, so I'll copy and paste:

"Books: Heard a conversation about how Book reporting doesn't generate revenue and may have to go away. WAIT! Maybe Book reviews and coverage are one of those things that don't generate revenue right now, BUT--are trademarks for newspapers and elicit high passion from readers. At XM, we had Opera channels. Low listenership...HIGH passion...AND--it was one of those things that even if people didn't listen or even like Opera, it was one of those things you had to have for completeness. Maybe Book sections in newspapers are just dated. Not the idea...but the look and feel. Maybe they're modeled after a book store in 1967 whereas we're in the Borders, Amazon, B&N era. Maybe they are too scholarly. Maybe they avoid genres like Christian books, Celebrity books and Popular novels, opting instead for reviews of the Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1800's. The point here is maybe Book sections need to be as dramatically re-thought as Borders re-thought retail. Not dumbing down--but getting in sync with the 21st Century mainstream book reader."

Mehegan kinda dismisses this quote, but I'm not ready to entirely. It's not written by someone who reads a whole lot, obviously, but there is some idea(s) to salvage perhaps. Mehegan's right, it's not a problem of newspapers reviewing obscure books per se. But first, I like the thinking that we should retain the sections even if they're not the most popular, a la the opera stations. And book folks like us are passionate and demanding when it comes to books. And they could use a revamp oft times to be punchier and livelier and engaged. Show covers, mention publishers, and provide a short column with some insider news, why don't you, newspapers? Make it cool to like books and want to know about authors. Make authors cool.

Mehegan is right about one thing: the Borders analogy wasn't the way to go. Sorry, Abrams, but that was the wrong direction. Instead, why not think of independent bookstores that are thriving by being active, different, and knowing their local customer base? Why use nasty, oversized, underfed Borders?

Again, the main clearly doesn't read much, but maybe we could use this quote to start a more promising conversation about mainstream culture's coverage of books and publishing. Maybe.

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