by Jan Nathan
Dear Reviewer: Please Join Us
in the 21st Century
For years, I have spoken on
panels with people from review media across the United States who offered one
big reason for not reviewing books by independent presses: the books were not
readily available in bookstores nationwide. This was and probably still is very
true, especially now that more and more new titles are fighting for the
shrinking shelf space in stores. But, as some reviewers might be surprised to
hear, lots of titles from major houses weren’t—and aren’t—on
bookstore shelves either.
The reviewers’ point is that,
whether they work in print or on air, they want to provide a service for their
audiences, and they don’t feel they’ll be helping readers by recommending books
not available in bookstores.
Well, 20 or 30 years ago, I would
have agreed with them. Back then, when people wanted to purchase a title they
had just read or heard about, they went to the nearby bookstore to see if it
was there. If it wasn’t, sometimes they ordered it. I emphasize the word <span
since a title had to be really intriguing to get a customer to place a special
order that could take six to eight weeks to arrive. Typically, readers would
find a substitute and forget about the book they originally wanted. .
But today? Today, the world of
bookselling and retailing offers so many more options that reviewers who want
to present the best information for their readers need not worry about them
having trouble finding or ordering any book.
We know from various studies that
the typical frequent book buyer is well educated and has discretionary funds
for purchasing books. Undoubtedly that typical book buyer visits bookstores to
buy books but also shops for books elsewhere, primarily on the Internet.
Besides the huge bookselling sites such as Amazon.com and BN.com—which
offer just about every book in print (and many out of print), often at a
discount—there are numerous special-interest sites that sell books. And a
Google search for an obscure title will probably lead quickly to five or ten
sites that have it.
So if reviewers want to provide
the best information and service for their readers or listeners, it’s time for
them to change the way they select books to review. Reviewers should review any
and all books that provide something valuable for the consumers they serve.
I encourage all reviewers to move
into this century’s book-publishing community.