Does the NY Times know books?

As readers of this blog know, when it comes to news, I often bash the Times. They put their slant on everything, just like the Wall Street Journal, but the Times v. WSJ story isn’t as bad as the MSNBC v. Fox News one (if anyone’s interested, I ignore both Hannity’s and Madow’s rants and listen to Jake on CNN).  One can argue that any media outlet will have a slant–in this polarized political state, that’s become the new norm.  However, it’s the Times’ book biases that bother me.

Newspapers are fast becoming irrelevant compared to TV and streaming video, of course. But my foray into political op-eds is on hold for the time being as I dedicate more time to my storytelling, so in this article  I’ll focus on what the Times has to say about books. They work hand-in-hand with and are sycophants of the Big Five—after all, they’re a major publisher too. In this blog, I’ve complained about them as much as I have about Amazon (it often seems that Bezos wants to take over the commercial world more than Trump wants to become the despot of the political one).

Here is a black list of recent items that have upset me about the Times’ coverage of books and the publishing industry:

The Times is out-of-date. Because of their pandering to the Big Five, it’s understandable that the Times mostly ignores indie authors and indie publishers (small presses). Most “official mouthpieces” and sycophants of the Big Five do so—that includes major newspapers, websites, agents, and editors, of course. But sometimes that goes a bit too deep into the weeds.  The Big Five, for example, lives in the past with its emphasis on print books over ebooks and charge as much for the latter as the former, when that’s absurd.  When the Times acts as their mouthpiece, that’s prejudicial to readers and also many good writers.

But the Times actions get worse and more insidious. In the Times’ interviews featured in their Book Review Sunday supplement, they ask, “What books are on your nightstand?” Many modern readers have converted to ebooks, so the only thing on their nightstands is a Kindle or some other e-reader! (iPad or smartphone? Horrors!)  In other words, the Times has become the cheerleader for retrograde Big Five dinosaurs.

They feature the old stallions and mares in the Big Five stables. Again, this really goes down into the undergrowth of the Times’s weed patch because they run only Big Five ads. Sure, they allow non-Big Five ads if indie authors and indie publishers are willing to pay Big Five prices. That’s the greed factor.  Even worse, though, they run absurd Big Five ads where some horses in the Big Five stables endorse another horse’s books (to add –ass would be a double animalistic metaphor that PETA might protest, although the metaphor is appropriate in many cases).

Lee Child and Michael Connelly did this favor for James Patterson recently for his new and formulaic Alex Cross book (Patterson doesn’t need any endorsements, of course, although maybe his fandom is slipping), and a larger list of authors destined for the glue factory also did so in a full page ad in the Times. We’re seeing the actions of an exclusive club promoting only its members, a club of literary one-percenters.  Sorry.  I didn’t see one author in this list I’ve read recently!

I don’t like endorsements…period…because they’re evidence that the person writing the endorsement is too damn lazy to read the book and do a review, or, even worse, is just satisfying the whims of her or his overbearing Big Five publisher…without reading the book. They can correct me if I’m wrong, but, in that case, I’d ask them to write the review and not be so lazy!  In their defense, there might be a fear factor: they can’t write a decent review, so they write product reviews like most of the reviews on Amazon.

Best covers of 2017? Book covers are important.  They’re the first thing we see on Amazon or the shelf of any bookstore.  I’m turned off immediately by a novel with some busty, pouting woman or he-man with bulging muscles on the cover, for example, and have learned to look for good artwork.

I didn’t read any of the books in the Times’ list of best books in 2017—not one appealed to me—and I didn’t like their choices for best book covers either. I’m a writer, so I know something about the former; my father was an artist, so I’m not ignorant about art (in fact, my books Rembrandt’s Angel and The Collector show I’m rather fond of it). The Times’ choices of best book covers can’t even be called artistic! What gives?

Questionable algorithms. The Times’ has secret algorithms that create its list of “bestsellers.” No one understands them—I’m not sure even the Times does. OK, maybe book quality doesn’t count, but E. L. James’s new book, Darker, is just as worthless as her Fifty Shades trilogy. Maybe smut and porn weigh heavily as positives in those algorithms?

In general, if I’ve read a book on the bestseller list, it’s by accident, usually done before the book is there, and often a gift from friends or relatives who know I rarely spend more than $5 for any book. Weir’s Artemis is an example (see my book review last week, longer than anything on Amazon or in the Times, I’m sure). Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci will be another.  Both gifts.  In fact, every Big Five book on my “Steve’s Bookshelf” was either a gift or bought on sale. I won’t support greedy authors or greedy publishers.

Anything good about the Times and books? In the Times’s defense, at least they write about books. Most newspapers today don’t even bother. One NJ rag we get usually has more ads than news content…and basically minimizes anything cultural.  (We subscribe to it for the coupons, of course.)  As the number of readers decreases, you can expect book reviews and book ads to become ads for passive and worthless video games and streaming video. It’s a race between that and the disappearance of newspapers altogether.

The bottom line. It’s still that the Times doesn’t know squat about books and yet still helps the Big Five control the book market. Brave old world!

Your opinions might differ. If so, comment on this post. I won’t bite and love to see your opinions, as long as you use clean language to express them.

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