A couple of blogs are buzzing with a new reinvent-the-newspaper memo attributed to Lee Abrams, former executive of XM Satellite Radio and since March the chief innovation officer of Sam Zell's Tribune Co. It has a...provocative...section on book coverage in newspapers:
"Books: Heard a conversation about how Book reporting doesn't generate revenue and may have to go away. 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. At XM, we had Opera channels. Low listenership...HIGH passion...AND--it was one of those things that even if people didn't listen or even like Opera, it was one of those things you had to have for completeness. Maybe Book sections in newspapers are just dated. Not the idea...but the look and feel. Maybe they're modeled after a book store in 1967 whereas we're in the Borders, Amazon, B&N era. Maybe they are too scholarly. Maybe they avoid genres like Christian books, Celebrity books and Popular novels, opting instead for reviews of the Philippine Socialist Movement in the 1800's. The point here is maybe Book sections need to be as dramatically re-thought as Borders re-thought retail. Not dumbing down--but getting in sync with the 21st Century mainstream book reader."
Speaking as one with knowledge of both book reviews and book news coverage, I can say that if Lee Abrams thinks newspapers review books like "The Philippine Socialist Movement of the 1800s," or that they ignore popular fiction, he hasn't seen any book sections that I'm familiar with. As for the idea of emulating Borders, someone should tell Lee that Borders lost $31.7 million in the first quarter, the fifth losing quarter in a row. Following that model really would be innovative.