The Death of Newspaper Book Sections

Publishers Weekly has a very interesting article about newspaper book sections which points out that, with the exception of the New York Times, book review sections do not bring in enough ad revenue to cover their costs.

Those of us who follow the newspaper industry are used to hearing all ills blamed on declining readership, but those quoted in the PW article essentially take the publishing houses to task for failing to support book sections outside of “their hometown paper, the New York Times.” Of course, one could easily point out that if readership were to rebound, ad revenue would as well, but the article does make a compelling point.

Publishers (who in many ways are just as endangered as newspapers) bemoan our dying literary culture, but then fail to support it in one of the last places where it is clinging to a foothold. I’ve never been a publishing industry insider, so I don’t know if things are just bad all over (perhaps someone can enlighten us), but I wonder if publishers are to blame here, or if they have simply found that the dollars spent in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and LA Times, don’t help sell many books.

In the Comments: Jerome Weeks, the Dallas Morning News book columnist mentioned in the PW story, gives us some additional thoughts on this issue.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Newspaper ads don't sell books, mostly those ads are in there to gratify the egos of the authors, and, sometimes, editors. But there are plenty of branded companies out there who would love the demographics of the Book Review section—the ad sales folks shouldn't be looking to the people who happen to produce the objects discussed, but rather be looking at the consumers of the section and figuring out who, of the comanies seeking that demographic, has got the most money…

  2. I utterly agree with Richard. The Book Reviews should not be looking to advertise books at all – people already reading have clearly, an interest in books and will buy what their tastes dictate! Instead, review sections should gun for banks, car companies, hedge funds, pitch their product and get them to buy the advertising spaces.

    I object to the 'hometown' jibe. Often, if a New York house has an author who writes for a local city publication, it makes more sense to advertise on a local 5-boro level, than throwing out a wider net.

  3. I'm The Dallas Morning News book columnist whose departure — along with that of my book editor, Charles Ealy — prompted the AAP letter and the Publishers Weekly story.

    Having read the story, I e-mailed Pat Schroeder of the AAP with the following:

    The only advertising that keeps newspaper arts pages in existence is movie ads. It is highly unlikely that publishers and booksellers will ever have enough (or consistently enough) advertising budget to spend on print — enough to make a difference to newspaper publishers across the country, that is. It'd be wonderful if they did, but past experience indicates that's a futile hope.

    The fact is, though, as you noted, the NFL doesn't need to buy ads to get abundant, free sports coverage — in print, on TV, radio or online. It's other advertisers who covet that football-fan audience. In contrast, advertisers see the readers of book reviews as the old and the dead. That they're actually an educated and well-off audience has not meant much to firms who primarily pursue young illiterates with poor impulse control when it comes to purchasing the latest must-have trend object. These are long-entrenched, conventional-wisdom ad strategies.

    To make matters worse, printing book reviews, op-ed columns, investigative reporting, editorial cartoons — all of these money-losing services use to be the mark of a serious newspaper, one committed to educating its civic audience. But in our new cutthroat media world, all of these things are being abandoned as newspapers struggle to keep Wall Street happy with high profit margins. The Morning News jettisoned its political cartoonist two years ago.

    So my suggestion to Ms. Schroeder and the AAP in general is that it would be far more effective to target your efforts not at squeezed-out newspaper publishers but at advertisers. Convince them that with an aging boomer marketplace, aiming at older readers is smart.

    Slanting a little away from the 18-to-49 demographic is not some wildly unheard-of, impractical strategy. Television networks have started to come around to the undeniable fact that older people watch more TV — the kids are off at clubs and concerts or online. This is the thinking behind such new sitcoms as Twenty Good Years, for example. This is the thinking behind the 'geriatric' ads that run during news programs like 60 Minutes.

    And if older people watch more TV, they certainly read more, too. So why not switch some ads to the arts pages?

    Ms. Schroeder repled graciously — and agreed with much of my argument.

  4. Jerome, your observation about Boomers hit the bullseye. 77 million people in the US alone who may or may not care where paris danced last night, but who did grow up reading. Now that CBGB is closed boomers have all sorts of free time to read.

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