January 30, 2009

WaPoBoWo Byebye: It’s like deja vu all over again


With all the discussion of the coming demise of the print edition of the Washington Post Book World, here’s something to remember: this happened once before. According to a report in today’s Washington Post, The Post created Book World in the 1960s, with its first stand alone section in 1967, and folded it as a separate section in 1973—before bringing it back in the early 1980s.

What the Post doesn’t say is that, during this first period of publication, Book World was also distributed in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune as the Chicago Tribune Book World. Sharing a book section was an early precursor of the “joint operating agreements” that structure much of today’s newspaper business, as well as the syndication of books coverage from paper to paper. (The two city edition of Book World can also be considered a precursor to this site, which started as a syndicated column and ran in many newspapers without books sections.)

Clearly the recent announcement means less books coverage in the Washington Post; the paper says it will need to reduce it annual reviews, which numbered about 900 in 2008, by about 25 percent. But maybe the cut will also spur some innovation? Perhaps the Washington Post Company, which has been very savvy about supporting online magazines (Slate, The Root, Big Money) might get into the book review game? Or maybe, in the era of huge cuts across all newspapers, there’s an opportunity for an outside interest to put together a newspaper books insert for the papers that are loosing their books coverage, a la SI Newhouse’s Parade?

Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.