Industry pundits and publicists have noted and mourned the declining space given to book reviews in newspapers and magazines over the last decade. But now that declining space has wiped out what was once an inevitable accoutrement to the book’s author and title — the publisher’s name. While the NYTBR, Time, and The New Yorker may still list publishers and pub price in their reviews (though not necessarily elsewhere), plenty of other media have dispensed with both. People no longer mentions publishers (or studios or labels, for that matter) in its Picks & Pans section. New York Magazine abandoned publishers and prices in its reviews mid-2003. Entertainment Weekly — a magazine that is, after all, devoted to reviewing — still lists publisher and price, while the website (www.ew.com) includes the pub date and allows the user to check on all previous books by that publisher that have been reviewed.
On the other hand, though it still covers music and movies, Newsweek doesn’t even bother to review books. It usually mentions a topical one somewhere in its pages, sometimes referring to the publisher. Reader’s Digest has an “Editors’ Choice” page, with author, title, mini-review, even pictures of the favored books — but no publisher nor price (nor any explanation of what an Editors’ Choice is).
What’s behind the demise of publishers’ imprimaturs? One reviewer at a prominent magazine for young women told PT that the section editor “made a command decision about a year ago not to ‘waste space’ in the reviews by mentioning the publisher. ‘The reader doesn’t know or care about the publisher,’ she told me.” But, adds the reviewer, she still makes review decisions based on who the publisher is.
Carol Fitzgerald, whose bookreporter.com site contains reviews (with publisher) and author interviews (without publisher), agrees that consumers aren’t won over by the colophon. “We have never heard a reader say, ‘I would love to read another Doubleday book,’ or ‘I love Time Warner titles.’ We joke that if I stood on the corner telling people they would get $1,000 if they could tell me who published Dan Brown, no one would win. Unless I was on the corner of 56th/Broadway.”
So what effect, if any, is this having on publishers? Martha Levin, Publisher of Free Press, says that “it’s a terrible blow to the publisher’s ego, but we all know the consumer doesn’t care.” And, she adds, for those who do care — like other publishers — it’s more cumbersome when there’s just a title or author, requiring visits to Amazon.com or bn.com to track down the missing data. Steve Fischer, US Director of Sales and Marketing for Thorsons, said that, ironically, it was sometimes a benefit. The company is part of HarperCollins UK, which means, if the books are not listed by imprint (Thorsons or Element) but under HarperCollins, readers are sometimes confused when they ask for the book in a store or go to HC’s US website and don’t find it there. Ultimately, says Fischer, “I’m happy to get a mention anywhere, especially when they mention the author.”