Monday, June 23, 2008

A New Philosophy Regarding Book Reviews

From time to time I remember that this blog is supposed to be about the trade of writing and the business of publishing, and it's usually when I stumble across something truly astonishing, like this. Encounter Books is a publisher with an ax to grind and a point of view to sell — well, so are they all, but unlike most, Encounter Books is honest and open about the fact that they lean decidedly right. They publish Victor Davis Hanson. They publish Thomas Sowell (and if you have the time, Sowell's article on how to write is a treat). They published Climate Confusion, which I believe I'm still pimping in the right column. The most utterly astonishing thing they've published lately, though, is this: Encounter Bids The New York York Times Farewell.
Beginning today, June 23, 2008, Encounter Books will no longer send its books to The New York Times for review. Of course, the editors at the Times are welcome to trot down to their local book emporium or visit to purchase our books, but we won’t be sending gratis advance copies to them any longer.

“But wait,” you might be thinking, “I don’t recall the Times reviewing titles from Encounter Books.” Precisely! By and large, they don’t, at least in recent years. That’s part of the calculation: why bother to send them books that they studiously ignore?

In the last month, Encounter has had two titles on the extended New York Times best-seller list: Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor, by Roy Spencer, and Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, by Andrew C. McCarthy. But that list is the only place you will find these books mentioned in the pages of The New York Times.[...]

Once upon a time, and not that long ago, it meant something if your book was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review. A Times review imparted a vital existential certification as well as a commercial boost. Is that still the case? Less and less, I believe. [...]

Sure, a positive review in the Times still helps sell books. But it’s quite clear that books from Encounter won’t be getting those reviews, so it is pointless for us to send copies of our books to the Times — worse than pointless, because by so doing we help to perpetuate the charade that the Book Review is anything like even-handed in its treatment of conservative books. There is also this fact: the real impetus in selling books has decisively shifted away from legacy outlets like The New York Times towards the pluralistic universe of talk radio and the “blogosphere.” That is why Encounter can see its books on the Times’s bestseller list without ever making it into the paper’s review columns...
If you're interested in the sort of behind-the-scenes cat-fighting that goes on in the Marketplace of Ideas, the full article is worth reading, and you'll find it posted here.

P.S. If you don't trust my endorsement of Thomas Sowell, then how about one from David Mamet?