A Question of Audience: What the Publishing Industry Should Know About Those Who Report About Them

Sometime soon, Julie Bosman will move beats and report on the publishing industry for the New York Times, replacing Motoko Rich (who will now report on the economy.) Bosman’s a familiar face, having filed book-related stories between September 2006 and February 2007, and I presume her prior experience vaulted her to front-runner status for Rich’s old job because the learning curve wouldn’t be as steep. It also pre-empted a half-joking post in my head for a while that would have offered advice to the paper’s incoming publishing reporter. Or at least, mutated it into a larger consideration of what it means to report on a specialized niche for an audience that may have different wants and needs than the niche.

I’ve become increasingly aware the longer I’ve written about publishing for a business news site that some stories that are big news within the industry carry little relevance outside of publishing circles. That means certain news items I pay attention to and analyze to death via Twitter, such as Random House’s most recent reorganizations of the Bantam Dell/Ballantine and Crown divisions, won’t merit larger stories. It also means that certain topics that are discussed endlessly in the publishing bubble (especially the digerati-populated one), while relevant to the outside world, have to be written about in a way that might come off as eye-rolling rehash

So yes, I suppose what advice I’d have for Julie Bosman, or any incoming publishing reporter at any consumer-oriented publication, is to remember that your industry contacts and sources want you to get the story right and be comprehensive and thorough, instead of picking and choosing what will make thee best narrative (this, I think, has been the crux of Publishers Lunch’s semi-ongoing series of posts playing factcheck on the NYT’s e-book and agency model stories over the last few months.)

But I also think it’s important for the publishing industry to remember that the NYT isn’t catering to them, and that their audience, being broader and larger, has very different considerations. Just as that paper’s considerations will differ from its so-called competitors, so that certain stories are a natural for one publication and will never appear in another.

None of this is earth-shattering, but I don’t think I’ve seen a real breakdown of what kinds of book and publishing stories appear from each publication. So let me offer my own interpretation of who’s covering the beat and their publication’s given audience:

Associated Press (Hillel Italie): Exclusive scoops on book deals by notable politicians (George W. Bush, Sarah Palin), Celebrities/Hollywood types (Marilyn Monroe, James Cameron, John Sayles) or journalists (Bob Woodward). Plagiarism scandals. Lengthy profiles of historians, biographers, politically-minded folk, and literary figures with some degree of longevity (Deborah Eisenberg). Notable awards, like the National Book Awards, the NBCC Awards, and the latest inductees into the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

New York Times (formerly Motoko Rich, now Julie Bosman): Higher-end revolving door, such as CEO exits, massive layoffs, authors switching houses when there’s a lot of money involved, book deals of a seven-figure variety. Increasingly more stories on e-books and digital developments as it affects readers. Profiles of recently published or about to be published authors with some buzz. Notable awards.

Wall Street Journal (Jeffrey Trachtenberg): quarterly reports for big publishing houses. New digital developments (like Google Editions, when an e-reader is supposed to ship/why it’s been delayed). Some author profiles, especially from an industry/book sales standpoint, though increasingly those are being done by colleague Alexandra Alter.

USA TODAY (Bob Minzesheimer): big features on authors, either bestselling (Stephenie Meyer, Rick Riordan) or on track to be (Wes Moore). Snippets of information relating to the USA TODAY bestseller list. Notable awards. Ever mindful that its audience is national, reads the paper at hotels, doesn’t have a lot of time for depth.

New York Magazine (Boris Kachka): analysis on the so-called end of the publishing industry. Q&As/in-the-field pieces on authors who have a specific anchor to New York City. More of a “glamor” (trade publishers, big six, agents and editors you’ve heard of) focus instead of a business one.

New York Observer (formerly Leon Neyfakh, now Molly Fischer, who spends most of her time editing the Daily Transom blog): Andrew Wylie’s latest literary estate grab. Book deals by hot new literary writers. Profiles of bright young literary things. Reorganizations at large publishing houses, with analysis. E-books, not so much.

GalleyCat (Jason Boog): Publishing moves, with memos attached; Q&As with literary agents, editors and other industry types; job ads; half for publishing industry types, half for authors. Increasing emphasis on e-books and digital.

EBookNewser (Craig Morgan Teicher, though not for much longer; replacement TK) What the name says: all things e-book and digital. Product reviews and conference reports. Some crossposting to GalleyCat.

DailyFinance (moi): Quarterly reports. Ron Burkle and his ongoing battle with Barnes & Noble. Borders successful last-ditch effort to secure more financing and stay alive. E-books and digital with a financial or retail angle. Publishing moves at the executive level (i.e. Random House adding an M&A person, Macmillan falling afoul of the World Bank.) 

The National Post (Mark Medley)

author profiles; the “ecology of publishing” series from many vantage points, including editorial, book publicity, marketing, e-books.

The Globe & Mail (John Barber): Author profiles of the NYT “lots of buzz” variety. Not as much on the purely industry news side, and those big stories – Amazon opening up a consignment warehouse in Canada proper, the parallel importation debate – are handled by others, including James Adams. 

FYI, I’m leaving out truly trade-oriented publications and websites

(like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Lunch, Shelf Awareness, Publishing

Trends, BookBrunch, Book2Book and The Bookseller in the UK, Quill & Quire in Canada, Publishing Perspectives for the entire world, to name a few) – that are geared towards the publishing community, or varying

slices of it, as well as book-focused but not necessarily publishing

focused publications who, say, might write up literary galas and book

awards but aren’t so concerned with publishing. (Jacket Copy, run by

Carolyn Kellogg, has some industry and digital stuff, but the focus is

more generally bookish. Almost all the newspaper-run book blogs are just that, so less concerned with industry news.)

It also goes without saying there are

fewer people who are devoted outright to the publishing beat. The

Washington Post had Bob Thompson for years, but he’s retired and no one

has really replaced him. Josh Getlin covered publishing for the Los

Angeles Times until he was laid off in 2008, and while author profiles

abound, publishing stories really do not. Keith Kelly used to pay more

attention (hence “NY Post dollars” for book deals, due to the inflated

numbers almost always reported in his stories) but less so these days.

When Mike Fleming was at Variety, he used to report on publishing as it

related to the film business every now and then. Now that he’s at [

Deadline]28, it’s less of a priority.

In any case, I hope this haphazard guide – which, based on past experience, is subject to immediate and obsolescence-inducing change – explains why some stories run in some publications and not others, and why audience is a huge consideration in what you’ll read in said publications.