Tom Lutz, who recently launched Los Angeles Review of Books (ambitiously described as “the first major, full-service book review to launch in the 21st century”) has written a small manifesto on the occasion of adopting Susan Salter Reynolds and Richard Rayner, two orphan book reviewers from the Los Angeles Times. Both the former staffers lost their columns in a recent round of books section cutbacks that Mr. Lutz refers to as “a further contraction of the section’s purview.”
(Excuse the aside, but at this we immediately thought of the character Malcolm Tucker’s line from the movie In the Loop: “Within your ‘purview’? Where do you think you are, some f***ing regency costume drama?”)
But yes, it’s true, the section’s purview has contracted, and newspapers all over have cut back their book review sections. And while Mr. Lutz might be right that “the genius of the great American newspapers used to be their comprehensiveness” the whole point of the internet is that the whole world not longer needs to be condensed into a few broadsheet pages. But you know that already. Everybody knows that.
Anyway, leaving Mr. Lutz to his manifesting, the LARB will not be the only “full-service” book review to launch in the 21st century. The BookBeast Section of The Daily Beast, The Daily’s book section and HuffPo Books might not be exactly the same as the old model, but they still cover books. Web sites like The Millions and BookSlut augment traditional books coverage with interviews and essays. More readers than ever can access books coverage from the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books and Bookforum (as well as The New Republic and The Nation), and make friends on GoodReads or write Harry Potter fan fiction or whatever it is that people like to read about books.
There’s also a book site due to launch in October that is backed by Simon & Schuster, Penguin and the Hachette Book Group (which owns Little, Brown and others). It’s called Bookish and it has been described variously as the Pandora, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Pitchfork and Netflix of books. Despite being backed by three of the big six publishers, the site is claiming editorial independence, though to what extent that will be true remains to be seen, as it seems one will be able to buy books on it as well. (One Penguin publicist told The Observer that Bookish had been requesting review copies while a representative of a well-known indie publisher said that they had not heard a peep from the company yet, but it’s too early for that to mean much.)
The Bookish representatives have been secretive and have turned down our requests for interviews with company executives until the site approaches its launch date. A Beta testing site has supposedly been launched for “friends and family” but we have yet to find someone who has seen it (the spokesperson said that “friends and family” was to be taken literally). The editorial content on the site will be edited by Charlie Rogers. Robert Silvers he is not — Mr. Rogers’ previous job was editing NBC Universal web sites, including iVillage, Petside.com, TravelSkoot.com and NBCAutoShow.com and his described specialties include “taxonomy and metadata design” and “web analytics and metrics,” but once upon a time he worked an assistant editor at The Paris Review.
Perhaps as a preemptive way to compete with the unexpected collusion of its competitors, Macmillan has launched its own editorially independent book blog, The Daily Reader (which has not provided daily coverage, but still.)
This is only to say that as terrible as it is that the LA Times reporters got laid off, we might question Mr. Lutz’s assertion that “the tragedy for American culture as a whole is more profound” and that “the pipeline of new talent has been plugged.”