Prominent Newspapers Change Book Coverage

by Adrian Versteegh

Daily News

Online Only, posted 9.29.09

Two of the country’s most prominent newspapers announced significant changes to their book coverage last week. The Chicago Tribune not only reformatted its Saturday books page but officially launched Printers Row, a literary blog featuring expanded content and contributions from readers. The San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, scrapped its usual best-seller list on Sunday in favor of lists provided by the Northern California Independent Bookseller Association.

Billed as “a community for readers,” the Printers Row blog is being curated by Tribune literary editor Elizabeth Taylor, who is stocking the site with both in-house writing and material culled from elsewhere on the Web. Weekly departments include the “Literary Smackdown,” in which two readers are asked to face off on a topical literary question (the current subject of contention being Amazon’s Kindle), and “Lit/tech,” which is given over at the moment to a discussion about blogs that become books. The new site also spotlights local “bookplaces”—stores, libraries, and the like—and carries a distilled listing of Chicagoland literary events.  

The San Francisco Chronicle instituted a less visible but equally significant shift last weekend when it replaced its staff-compiled best-seller lists with rankings sourced from the Northern California Independent Bookseller Association (NCIBA), a nonprofit trade organization that supports the region’s independent bookstores. Like most papers, the Chronicle has suffered severe cutbacks recently, and book editor John McMurtrie said the change was a way of alleviating pressure on remaining staff while giving a nod to the “rich history” of the Bay Area’s independent booksellers. “I didn’t see any reason not to recognize them and to draw readers’ attention to them,” he told Publishers Weekly. The NCIBA, which has been issuing best-seller lists since 1999, gathers its data from regular surveys of nearly three hundred independent retailers in the nation’s second largest book market. Under the new partnership, the Chronicle will run four weekly rankings covering hardcover fiction, hardcover nonfiction, paperback fiction, and paperback nonfiction.