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Post to End Stand-Alone Book Section

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Washington Post is dropping Book World as a separate Sunday section and moving its coverage of books and publishing elsewhere in the paper.

"Of course it's disappointing," Rachel Shea, the editor who will oversee The Post's coverage, said of yesterday's announcement. "It's nice to have a separate section with big display and a big shout-out to what the most important book is. But it's not worth gnashing our teeth about too much."

In dropping one of the few remaining stand-alone book sections in American newspapers, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said that the coverage will be shifted to the Style section and a revamped Outlook section. Shea said that The Post would publish about three-quarters of the roughly 900 reviews it has carried each year. The change will take effect Feb. 22.

Brauchli said the motivating factor for the decision was to cut expenses at a time when The Post, as well as newspapers across the country, is under growing pressure because of declining revenue and circulation.

"Clearly, we value coverage of books and literature," he said. "Our readership is, among metropolitan areas, one of the most literary populations in the country. We understand they read and care a lot about books on contemporary affairs, as well as literature and fiction."

Because Style and Outlook have higher readership than Book World, the paper's book coverage will reach more people in those sections, Brauchli said.

Book World will live on in digital form, as a site on washingtonpost.com that will include not just an archive of reviews, but also reporting on publishing and a calendar of Washington area literary events. It will still be published occasionally as a special section, focusing on such themes as children's books and summer reading.

The paucity of publishing advertising in Book World -- a section that is a fraction of the size of the ad-rich New York Times Book Review -- has sparked concern for years that The Post might pull the plug on the section.

"You can't just blame publishers, because they have their own financial constraints," said Shea, now deputy editor of Book World. "There's pretty much one publication they advertise in, and it's not us." The San Francisco Chronicle still has a weekly book section; the Los Angeles Times folded its stand-alone section in 2007.

Marie Arana, who edited Book World for a decade before leaving the paper in December, said the move is "tough to take because it's been an institution for so long." She said the potential for more daily coverage of books is "very appetizing and attractive. But we'll have to see how that works because space is tight in the paper."

Although Book World was never self-supporting, Arana said, Katharine Graham, The Post Co.'s late chief executive, told her more than once "that it didn't matter, sales be damned, because the mark of a good newspaper was its book section."

The Post created Book World in the 1960s, folded it as a separate section in 1973 and revived it in the early 1980s. Shea said that The Post will offer other newspapers a one-page digest of five reviews each week.

The revised Outlook section will include a column by Pulitzer Prize-winning Post critic Jonathan Yardley and The Post's Washington bestseller list. Style will carry columns by another Pulitzer-winning Post critic, Michael Dirda.

Brauchli, a former Wall Street Journal editor who took over the Post newsroom in September, did not deny an element of sadness in the move.

"Journalists tend to be literary people," he said. "We not only read books, but many people in this newsroom write and have written books. Anything that can be construed as evidence of commercial failure is unfortunate. But we are committed to this area of coverage because we know how important it is to our readers and our society."

The architecture of the Sunday paper will change, with the editorial and op-ed pages moving out of Outlook and into the back of the front news section, where they now appear during the week. On Sundays, those pages will be expanded from two to three pages to allow more room for commentary. The Close to Home page of reader feedback will be moved to the Metro section.

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