Monday, April 30, 2007

Nurture the 'symbiotic relationship'

Thanks to Critical Mass, I came across Michael Connelly's column in the LA Times: The folly of downsizing book reviews:

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, my first book was published in near obscurity. Only 15,000 copies of "The Black Echo" were printed, and the publisher didn't place a single ad for it in any newspaper in the country. It could easily have been ignored or forgotten or simply missed among the thousands of books published to little fanfare every year.

But even without an advertising push, the book got reviewed in newspapers big and small, far and wide. Across the country, newspapers had strong book sections and critics were always on the lookout for a new voice. The Washington Post's Book World devoted half a page to a review of my novel, predicting a bright future for both its protagonist and its author.

That review and others like it stimulated interest in what I had to say. They got the momentum going in the bookstores. Those reviews helped establish the voice of the protagonist, Los Angeles Police Department Det. Harry Bosch, and now, 12 books later, Bosch has led a full and adventurous (albeit tortured) life in Los Angeles. He has explored places and seen things in this city that most people who live here don't even know about. All the while he has tried to understand and make sense of his city and his place in it — just like everybody else who lives here.


The truth is that the book and newspaper businesses share the same dreadful fear: that people will stop reading. And the fear may be well-founded. Across the country, newspaper circulations are down — and this is clearly part of the reason for the cuts to book sections. At the same time, the book business increasingly relies on an aging customer base that may not be refueling itself with enough new readers.

In the past, newspaper executives understood the symbiotic relationship between their product and books. People who read books also read newspapers. From that basic tenet came a philosophy: If you foster books, you foster reading. If you foster reading, you foster newspapers. That loss-leader ends up helping you build and keep your base.

What I fear is that this philosophy is disappearing from the boardrooms of our newspapers; that efforts to cut costs now will damage both books and newspapers in the future. Short-term gains will become long-term losses.

It reminds me of something detectives have often told me while I've researched my crime novels. They say that when they trace events backward from a crime, they often find that the victims made mistakes that put themselves in harm's way.

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