“Absolutely Terrible”

The Literary Saloon joins the chorus of bloggers bemoaning the news that Bookforum is losing editor Eric Banks and will introduce current-affairs coverage under the stewardship of new editor Chris Lehmann. TLS thinks this is “absolutely terrible,” but while I know it’s easy to be frustrated with the way book reviewing is treated like a sad-eyed, flea-bitten dog, I don’t get the logic here:

This ridiculous notion of thinking they’ll be more successful if they try to appeal to a larger audience by offering current events coverage seems seriously misguided. How many current Bookforum readers/subscribers leaf through their copies and sigh, ‘If only they had more current events coverage’ (or sports coverage, or whatever) ? Surely almost none.

The better question might be: How many readers see Bookforum on the shelves, sigh, and say “I don’t want to read a bunch of book reviews, I want something more newsy,” and move on to something else? Something, perhaps, like the New York Review of Books. Surely not a whole lot, but Bookforum is a direct competitor of NYRB, and as much as this competition is between a pair of intellectual journals, it’s also a Coke vs. Pepsi-style battle for market share between two players. If adding current affairs coverage seems foolish, so is not paying attention to what the market leader is up to. NYRB‘s circulation is 130,000, while Bookforum‘s is 40,000; I wish the PW story had given NYRB a jingle and asked what adding current-affairs coverage has done for its readership, but I doubt that Bookforum‘s keepers would pursue this route if they didn’t think it boosted it.