Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Reviews and Newspapers

I was recently sent listings of what books were being reviewed in newspapers and a few top magazines. For the week from 16-23 August, here’s how it breaks down in terms of publishers:

Faber - 38
Penguin - 15
HarperCollins - 14
Bloomsbury - 11
Vintage - 10
Canongate - 9
Hodder - 9
Jonathan Cape - 8
Chatto & Windus - 8
Picador – 8

The single most reviewed book was a poetry book, which might briefly amaze you until you remember that Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain has just been published. It was reviewed 6 times in that week, in the Daily Telegraph, The (Glasgow) Herald, Independent, Irish Times, Sunday Times & The Times. This week, incidentally, it was reviewed twice in the same newspaper – The Telegraph, not content with one review, published reviews both by Nick Laird and by Adam O’Riordan.

The book which had the most written about it (in news articles, as opposed to reviews) was Tony Blair’s The Journey, with more than 60 articles covering its launch in various ways. It was also reviewed five times – in the Daily Express, Financial Times, Independent, Observer & The Times. Needless to say, it’s now number 1 in the Amazon Bestsellers list. That's notwithstanding the Facebook campaign urging us to place a copy of the book in the Crime section of our local bookshop.

Where are Salt, Bloodaxe, Carcanet etc? Well, nowhere in the papers. Exactly why the national press collude in the hegemony that afflicts British book publishing isn’t clear to me. Coverage doesn’t so much affect readers’ choices by argument as by appearance, so even a mixed or negative review can have a positive effect on sales (Tony Blair's memoir is a case in point). A book that’s seen all over the media countless times is almost bound to sell better than a book that fails to appear. As for the lack of space papers claim to have for poetry, perhaps the Telegraph might want to explain why it found two spaces for Human Chain and none for any other poetry collection. I know Heaney’s books sell extremely well and, as such, deserve to be reviewed, but not at the expense of everything else.

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