Call me old-fashioned, but I think that one of life’s joys is to sit down with a good newspaper. Though I’m someone who’s spent a career working on web sites, there’s some really special about a quiet morning with a paper. And some coffee.
A newspaper is easier on the eyes than a glowing screen. It also offers the chance of serendipity, of stumbling upon some article you never would’ve read, just because you have to turn pages to find the article you’re looking for. A newspaper is also mostly distraction-free (no videos blaring, no animating ads) which, IMHO, makes reading an article in print a richer and more rewarding experience. Things I really want to absorb, I need to see on paper.
Today comes the news (ironically, from The New York Times), that the Washington Post is ending Book World, its Sunday books supplement. Economic reasons are cited. I find this hard to believe. Washington is one of the most literate cities in the country, filled with readers, and writers, too. Hop on the Metro, visit a coffee shop, stroll through a park and you’ll find scores of people lost in good books. The city is home to excellent and popular bookstores, like Kramerbooks and Politics and Prose. With the wide range of books that people in DC read, there’s got to be a need for book reviews.
How much could Book World really cost? Reviewers aren’t paid much and the books are sent for free by publishers. There’s the cost of newsprint, I guess, but the review is printed on the cheapest paper available – the CVS coupons are on much better stock.
Also, book reviews are not something that’s done well online. Reviews on Amazon are a jumble of contrary opinions and there’s always the lagging suspicion that some of them have been paid for. But when Book World puts a tome on its cover, you know it’s an important book. Print (in contrast to the democratic online world) does authority really well, which is what you’re looking for in a book review. You want expert opinion before you invest your time and money. For example, Jonathan Yardley in Book World is someone whose reviews I trust. I’ve been reading them for years and following his recommendations. He’s an authority that I trust.
Are there book reviews on Washingtonpost.com? Maybe. I visit the site often, have devised my own ways of navigating the labyrinth, but am not sure I could find them. “Try to find the book reviews” – that would make a good web site usability test for the folks at the Post, so eager to take away the sections of the paper that people actually use and enjoy. Perhaps they should spent more time figuring out what their audience wants instead of penny-pinching cost cutting.