New York Times Book Review Revamps; Michael Wolff Was Right

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The New York Times Book Review has revamped. Starting with the September 23rd edition The New York Times Book Review will have two separate paperback fiction lists: one for trade paperbacks, and one for mass market books. Each list will be expanded to include the top 20 bestsellers in each category, up from the present top 15 just for paperbacks. From Matthew Flamm in Crain’s New York:

”Business considerations at the Times are also playing a role in the changes. The paper has seen a steady erosion of advertising revenue in the last few years. Book publishing insiders say that adding a third page of lists is clearly aimed at boosting advertising.

”’It’s completely ad driven,’ says a top executive at one of the major houses. ‘People want to buy a position next to the lists.’

”Publishers are also more likely to buy ads — whether in the weekday books pages of the Times or in the Book Review — when their titles are New York Times best sellers.

”Under the new arrangement, the Book Review will list 110 best sellers every week, up from 70.”

This news vindicates Michael Wolff, who has been critical for some time about the relevance of the Book Review. In August 2003 Michael Wolff told The Observer: ”Here’s a little secret, something that I haven’t told anyone before: I stopped reading The New York Times Book Review. It was always one of those things you felt obligated to read, and then I realized no one cared. I now have 45 minutes more free time on Sundays.”

Wolff went even further at the fin de siecle. After an interview with then-editor Chip McGrath, Wolff described the offices of the Review. From New York (October 1998):

”As I left the interview and took a last look at the office, trying to memorize the details of the squalor, I felt at once guilty about my own clear bias toward commercial realities and deeply annoyed that these people, who had at their disposal one of the most powerful tools ever created to promote good books, were squandering it.”

Looks like Wolff was correct.

(image via nymag)