Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tribune columnist mourns passing of newspaper book section

A lovely, provocative column by Kathleen Parker in the April 25 edition of the Chicago Tribune had this to say about readers:

“People who read books are different from other people. They’re smarter for one thing. They’re more sensual for another: They like to hold, touch and smell what they read. They like to carry the words around with them – tote them on vacation, take them on train rides and then, most heavenly of all, to bed.

“They’re also a dying breed.”

Parker goes on to note that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has eliminated its book editor position. “Whereas 10 years ago, there were 10 to 12 stand-alone book section in the country, today there are only five: Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune and New York Times. Other large papers, such as the Los Angeles Times, have folded book pages into other sections of the paper.”

The demise of newspaper book sections can be attributed, in part, to book publishers who have reduced advertising in print media. “Instead,” writes Parker, “they prefer to spend on front-table book placement in stores that cost as much as $1 per volume and reportedly delivered more bang for the buck.

“But where there are no ads, there are no book sections. Where there are no book sections, there are no reviews to send readers to the bookstore where, curiously, there are more books than ever – 50,000 published annually.”

Parker reports that total book reader is in decline. “Between 1992 and 2002, the percentage of American adults who read any book dropped 7 percent, while literary reading (non-work-related reading of novels, short stories, poems or plays) dropped 14 percent.”

In cutting book sections, Sunday magazines and the comics, newspapers have cut away parts of their soul, Parker argues. “It may be arguable that the soul is not essential to a body’s functioning, but it’s critical to what makes us human and what once made newspapers vibrant repositories of a community’s values.

“The loss of yet another book editor and the homogenization (or possible loss) of another review section may not cause the Earth to shift on its axis, but it is symbolic of the devaluing of American letters. It is also symptomatic of a corporate culture that cares only about the bottom line and owes no allegiance to the immeasurable value of a community’s uniqueness or the profit of an educate populace.”

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