Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Value for money

Booktrade.info, aka book2book, reports today that the UK book-trade weekly the Bookseller has started to charge fees for reading its online pages, with immediate effect.

For 34 years I read the Bookseller faithfully, every week,and in the beginning I learnt quite a lot from it. Some of what I learnt was quite wrong, of course, but that's because the magazine is in thrall to the publishers. The Bookseller depends for a high proportion of its income on advertising from publishers, so you aren't going to read much that is severely critical of that quarter.

However, over the last few years I have gradually come to the conclusion that most of what is in the Bookseller isn't worth a bent penny of anybody's money, much less £140 a year. The magazine might be worth glancing at if the subscription is paid for with somebody else's cash, but apart from that, forget it. I did not renew my subscription when it fell due earlier this year, though I am still getting letters promising me all kinds of benefits, including, no doubt, a seat at the right hand of God.

The only thing that can be said in the Bookseller's favour is that it does occasionally show a flash of humour (Horace Bent et al.) and an occasional willingness to take the piss out of some of the more pompous members of the publishing community, of whom there are more than a few. This places it in marked contrast to the American equivalent, Publishers Weekly, which is po-faced and politically correct beyond endurance. I used to subscribe to PW too, at hideous cost, but soon abandoned it. PW also wants your money to read their amazing revelations on their web site, but the content is, if anything, even more anodyne than the Bookseller's.

Booktrade.info claims that the Bookseller's decision leaves Booktrade.info as the only free source of online news about the UK book trade. This is probably true, but many US sites, such as Publisher's Lunch, Maud Newton, and the Literary Saloon, seem to pick up, and comment on, anything noteworthy in the UK. By visiting the Publisher's Lunch site you can subscribe to their email newsletter which is informative and not afraid to speak its mind.

I have just had a look at the new improved Bookseller site. It now asks me, God help us all, whether I want Flash. No, I do not want your unspeakably ghastly and trashy Flash, thank you very much. Beyond that the site won't do much for me. The Bookseller also does an email newsletter, to which I subscribe, though it mostly provides news which I have already read elsewhere. Will this free newsletter continue? I ask myself. I can hardly bear the suspense.

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