Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Bloggers are killing criticism?


I suspect this interview with TLS editor and Man Booker Prize judge Peter Stothard will stir up a fair old storm online. I think he's got a fair point with regards to the decline of literary criticism in newspapers and journals, but I'm not really sure what the blogosphere has to do with that. I suspect word of mouth has always been as big a driver of sales as reviews, and surely the internet is just that on a large scale?

His claim that "People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we'll be worse off," is rather strange. Even if you accept that the professional critics generally get things right (and they clearly don't, as they often disagree violently with each other), the book-buying public don't necessarily pay that much attention to them, and never have. I don't remember critics encouraging people to buy Jeffrey Archer's novels, for example, but his sales never seemed to suffer.     

5 comments:

Elizabeth Rimmer said...

He means, of course PAID criticism. Those of us who are doing it for love are just killing it for people who want money. But I'd rather read a critique by someone who does it for love, although it does mean, as they mentioned on the Magma blog, that people only review stuff they like!

Matt Merritt said...

I don't even have a problem with him wanting to protect a source of income, if that's what it's about. But surely the answer is to make sure that the journals and newspapers raise their standards and make their criticism both indispensable and significantly different to what you're getting on the blogs. As editor of the TLS, he's in a position to do something about that.

David Clarke said...

This is a strange argument. Is he suggesting that people will only read one review of a book and therefore choose between a printed and an on-line source? When I'm interested in a book, I'll happily read several reviews from various sources.

Also, blogs are quite often in the business of plugging the gaps. Mainstream publications like The Guardian or TLS publish few reviews of poetry, for example, and even specialist journals such as Magma can't cope with reviewing all the titles that come out. Sometimes, a mention in a blog represents significant extra exposure for a book that might well deserve it.

Matt Merritt said...

Yes, I think you're dead right on both counts, David. I'm the same - I tend to read all the reviews, if possible.

I think you're second point is even more pertinent. As you say, even poetry mags only manage to scrape the surface, if they're to do the books justice (Magma and Tears In The Fence are two favourites of mine on that score), so blogs have a role to play in filling the gaps.

johnfield1 said...

No, bloggers are not killing criticism but an editor who is, in effect, calling bloggers plebs might not bring the TLS many new readers.

As the other commentators here have said, there's a world of difference between paid criticism and wanting to share the things that you love. Blogging probably does have a spirit of philanthropism which is at odds with professional reviewing. Just look at how many of us reply to comments posted on our blogs.

If a blog manages to tempt a single reader to try something new, then we're creating the TLS's precious audience for them.