The 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."