Slate is launching a new monthly book review that will take over its home page the first weekend of every month.
The Slate Book Review will include “reviews of the newest fiction and nonfiction; essays on reading, writing, and the great (and terrible) books of years gone by; author interviews; videos and podcasts; and much more.” Editor is Slate’s Dan Kois, who tells the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) he’ll use “a mix of staff writers and freelancers” to produce the content.
In launching the book review, Slate says it’s “going against the conventional wisdom” that book reviews aren’t economically feasible. Of course, that “conventional wisdom” generally refers to weekly print book reviews, and the Slate Book Review will be entirely online (and only monthly). It joins other online book reviews, including the Barnes & Noble Review, The Millions, Shelf Awareness for Readers, the romance-focused Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Bookriot and One-Minute Book Reviews.
In other words, there’s not exactly a dearth of book coverage available online, though Slate brings a trusted brand and some well-known writers to the table. And if it’s not that profitable, well, print book reviews never have been either. I wrote an article about the future of book reviews when I was the editor of Publishing Trends. Here’s my favorite part of that piece:
Book reviews have never made much money. In his 2007 Columbia Journalism Review article “Goodbye to All That,” Steve Wasserman, managing director of the Kneerim & Williams New York office and a former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, recalls asking Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. whether the NYTBR had ever made any money: “He looked at me evenly and said, ‘I think, Steve, someone in the family would have told me if it had.’”
In her book Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America, Gail Pool blames the publishers: “[I]n failing to support reviews with even a minimum of advertising, publishers sent an implicit message: book reviews are expendable.” In his article, however, Wasserman said such arguments were “bogus. Such coverage has rarely made a dime for newspapers.”
In an interview, he told me that “publishers care less and less about reviews. There’s no real evidence that advertising for a book alone helps create additional sales,” and he envisions nonprofit models “closer to NPR” for book review sites; he does not know how online critics will be able to make a living.