LA Times buildingThe Los Angeles Times published its last standalone Book Review (LATBR) on Sunday, July 27. It must have been difficult reading for subscribers who’ve been lamenting the loss of the LATBR since news of its demise broke on July 21. L.A. Times book coverage, what remains, supposedly will be grafted into the larger paper. Cue my unimpressed cheer.

It’s not that you couldn’t have seen this coming. Over the past year, death knells have been sounding ad nauseam for every subsidiary of the printed word. Newspapers are dying; publishers are struggling; essayists are flopping; book reviews are becoming extinct. No one is reading, at least not as much as they used to, and with less patience.

It’s still remarkable to witness one of the Goliaths fall—if only for how it exposes the flawed sense that something so established couldn’t be flushed away so fast. A July 7th memo from the Tribune Company’s chief innovation officer seems to rail against just this outcome. “Heard a conversation about how Book reporting doesn’t generate revenue and may have to go away,” writes Lee Abrams. “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.”

Abrams is on to something, until he offers a less-than-innovative plan for revamping book sections—which are “maybe too scholarly”—by including more popular, retail-oriented picks. If the Tribune Company messed up in axing the LATBR, at least it got one thing right: Abrams’ fix wouldn’t have made anyone any less upset.

We want our culture, and we want it uncompromising. In a public letter, four former editors of the Review condemn the decision as a “philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of [Los Angeles] and the region.” All around the literary blogosphere, folks are dismayed at the loss of cultural cachet, angered that the Tribune Company could fail to see the edifying nature of the section. A less-literary book review only would have prompted a different strain of disgruntled hand wringing.

Maybe it’s not reasonable to petition a for-profit organization to recognize and uphold the cultural value in a non-revenue-generating section. Maybe it’s not even fair. Even the letter-writing editors concede that problematic reality, closing their reproof with the one threat that matters: “Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review…will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.”

Julie Hanus
8/7/2008 2:58:09 PM

Ah, I can't blame you digitalzen. We have a Sunday subscription to the New York Times at my house, and if the Book Review suddenly wasn't tucked inside... eek. Sunday would just feel so utterly incomplete.

8/6/2008 5:42:05 PM

All I can say is that my LAT sub is history when it expires, and I'll be subbing Quarterly Conversation as soon as I decide which credit card to use.

Alan John Gerstle_1
7/28/2008 7:32:05 PM

The logo for a fashionable blog that addresses concerns regarding the Press and how technology is changing the Press boasts that now every reader can be a writer. I wonder if one of the unintended consequences of the democratization of journalism is that toom many people presume that by having the ability to voice an opinion means that one has an informed opinion.

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