01.01.70 | Sophie Rochester
There was more bad news for the book industry this week, as Suzi Feay, literary editor of the Independent on Sunday became the third national newspaper literary editor in as many months, to be made redundant. It is unclear what these redundancies mean for the books pages: even though a commitment to books is being reassured by some newspaper editors, their future remains uncertain.
It's almost with nostalgia now that we think back to the publicity campaigns of 10 years ago – where publicity teams would religiously cut out a pile of national print cuttings, fanning them out to authors and editors alike. But for a long time now publicists have had to rethink how they promote titles in the face of new media.
When some of the national newspapers first started to run book reviews online there was a reluctance from some publishers to take them seriously as a source of 'proper' publicity and even today the print national review has somehow retained a status superior to its online cousin. I have to confess that the physical tearing out of a review from a print newspaper still gives me more satisfaction than printing out an online review . . .
But this is nonsensical when you compare the audience figures. Guardian.co.uk Books, which was first to appoint its own 'online literary editor', now boasts a readership of 1.5 million unique users. With more than four times the readers of the print newspaper* this should make the new generation of online literary editors the new power holders in the book industry. And yet, if book publishers had to decide between an online review and a print review for a paperback edition then I'm sure the print review would still be deemed more 'weighty'.
Perhaps this scepticism of the online review stems from the early days of the major online retailers? Book publishers were accused of abusing the user-generated review system by getting publicists to write gushing reviews of their own titles – which inevitably made readers cynical about the integrity of the online review.
But it's important to make a clear to distinction between the online review camps and how they have evolved. There are user-generated reviews linked to online retailers, the major book bloggers (such as Dove Grey Reader - who boast impressive audience figures and have already become a staple on book publicists mailing lists) and the online media books sections – to name but a few.
In addition, the online national books sections have created a multitude of ways to promote an author – the chance to record audio and video interviews (demonstrated by Telegraph Books Online), sample chapters, cross-references to back-list titles, links to related titles, reviews with no shelf-life, informed comment and importantly the chance to link easily to online book retailers. The online books pages should no longer be seen as the poor cousin of the print edition, as they hold the future to the way books are reviewed and promoted.
What we can only hope is that the weight and experience of those literary editors made redundant in this transitional period is not lost. It is vital that their years of skill and understanding of the book publishing industry, and the rich content opportunities provided by books, is brought into this new world order. As the world's media industries scramble to take centre stage online, through providing the best possible content, their expertise should be sought after by many.
*ABC figures Dec 2008