This morning on my way to work, I listened to an NPR story about the loss of book reviews in newspapers. It was sort of interesting in a technologically inept sort of way. Listen to it here: "Book Reviewers Decry Fewer Newspaper Pages by Martha Woodroof"
If you don't have time for that, here's a quick summary. How do people find books to read? Supposedly, it used to be through book reviews published in newspapers. And now newspaper editors, faced with BIG PROBLEMS such as loss of subscribers and disappearing advertising dollars are consolidating sections that don't generate much revenue for the expense. It turns out that newspapers are a business, who knew?
This is a real problem for "people who buy a lot of books professionally" aka librarians. Now who can they trust to spoon feed them brief book reviews for their purchasing pleasure?
In a related subject, on slashdot.org today, there is a story titled "Blogs Are Eating Tech Media Alive" Again, it's the same story. Advertising dollars are leaving, readers are leaving, and it turns out that tech media like Red Herring and PC Magazine can't cope with the changes.
Instead of lamenting the loss of "REAL JOURNALISM", let's talk a little bit about the economics of journalism. How does dead tree journalism work? Say it's 1980. You want to open a magazine. What do you need?
Almost all of these things share something in common; they require MONEY and lots of it. Photographers have to eat, even if you are just paying them for the photos you use. Paper mills don't give their product away. All of that gets folded into the price of the content.
Now let's contrast that with the economics of "NEW MEDIA" aka blogs. What do you need to run a blog?
So let's really think this through. What does Hearts of the Gods cost me to publish? Nothing but my time. And eventually, I may even be compensated a bit for that. What would it cost me if I wanted to publish a hardcopy version of Hearts of the Gods? Figuring I'm reaching ~40 people a day x 30 days a month x 12 months a year = 14,400 copies. Say I can print them at $0.07 a page with a cheap high volume laser printer and dirt cheap paper and only print one page - that's $1008. Now I have to find a way to distribute them. Stand on a street corner? Drop them from an airplane? Too much trouble!
The reason traditional media is being wiped out is that it costs so damned much to produce. You simply can't compete with a free blog. Supply and demand. There are millions of alternative sources of information that cost zip. And all of them can compete directly with dead tree media for eyeballs. Market forces are unstoppable no matter how much you dislike the new reality.
So what are the librarians to do? How about reading blog reviews by people who read the book? Can't trust a single source? Read three. Or look at the "most popular seller" list on Amazon.com. It can't be that hard.