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Representative Journalism

Part II: Ensuring Book Reviewer Jobs Everywhere

I ended Part I of this two-part post on how to save and produce book reviewers jobs everywhere with this CJR quote from Steve Wasserman, former book editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review:

There is money to be made in culture, if only newspapers were nimble and imaginative enough to take advantage of the opportunities that lie all around them…

The truth is that many people everywhere are interested in almost everything.

Now I am going to explain via Representative Journalism how to work with those “people everywhere interested in almost everything,” including book reviews, book news and, probably most importantly, a bookish culture.

The idea first came to me when I read that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) would be dropping its book reviewer.

Jeff Jarvis, usually a man of vision, agreed with the decision, writing:

In a time of shrinking newspaper revenue and budgets, which would you rather keep: a book editor or a local reporter or editor? You can now link to lots of book reviews — more than ever — but if the AJC doesn’t give you local reporting, who will? If it doesn’t give its readers local news and reporting, then what is its real value?

Jeff, I am surprised, in this case you are not trying to reinvent, you are trying to simply downsize, rather than applying creative thinking. I want local reporting and book reviews too. It needn’t be one or the other.

As you read this, keep in mind that this idea could work with one Representative Journalism book community, but would work infinitely better if , let’s say, there were 50 book communities working cooperatively, maybe one in each state. Then it becomes a $5 million a year operation and since it is mostly — but not necessarily always online — that’s a lot of high quality book review talent with national impact, but also with a regional a flavor.

Any how here is how it works for one single book community:

First step, start engaging a book-lovers Representative Journalism community. In the AJC’s case, you could start to find a community among the more than 5,000 people who signed the petition: Help Protect Atlanta’s Book Review. We want at least 1,000 of them to become members of this Representative Journalism community — an exclusive club of book lovers.

The online platform or platforms have to make every member of this club feel part of the group and to enable them to find others with like literary interests, with the possibility of people having face-to-face self-organizing meet-ups, mini book clubs and other social events. Maybe even dating possibilities and cocktail parties. The AJC will have its handprints over every bit of it and people will appreciate that and value the AJC in ways never thought possible. In other words the AJC, will develop connections in a way that just throwing a newspaper, no matter how wonderfully written and reported, will ever have.

To join the club you have to pay $2 a week or $100 a year. One hundred dollars times 1,000 members that’s $100,000. One would assume that those 1,000 members buy a lot of books, so get a deal for them so that when they join they get $100 in coupons from booksellers, plus they get three pairs of tickets worth $25 each for a total of $150 for three major book events annually that the AJC will host exclusively for the club members.

So now the book lovers have paid $100 each to join their very own Representative Journalism community, but are getting in return $100 in book coupons and $150 in live book events, and will be a part of a vibrant online book community. If they can’t attend an event, they can donate their tickets so that young readers can attend events too.

Yes, everything is online oriented. Nothing need get into the daily newspaper, except as after events or as a special supplement. However, if the community really loves books, it might well want everyone to see what it is helping to subsidize.

Of course, the big question is can you recruit 1,000 people. You won’t know until you try. It will take some cross promoting with the bookstores and maybe public broadcasting. You might even consider paying someone a 10 percent commission for helping build the club. Ten percent of $100,000 is $10,000. Give the person an incentive; if book club members stick with the club for three years, they get a recurring $10,000 commission, so there is the potential for signing up 1,000 quality folks one time but making $30,000 over three years with automatic payments. This commissioned person is a network weaver. The glue that helps hold the network together.

Then pay someone in the club or the network weaver $2,000 to help organize each live event. The promoter in return for his or her work also gets to enjoy a private meeting or dinner with the AJC’s book review editor and the authors. Plus add $2,000 for the venue and $2,000 for the speaker, mostly authors on tour; so costs for a planner, speakers’ fees and a venue is $6,000 an event. Or $18,000 for all three events. To leverage the investment cut a deal with a university, work with public broadcasting and book publishers and sellers. The events are only open to the book club members or co-sponsors, however, they can be turned into stories, interviews, and podcasts for the rest of your audience, which gets the news, but not the inside connection that book lovers will cherish. So far annually we have spent $10,000 for the network weaver and $18,000 for the events. That’s $28,000. We have $72,000 left. Take $16,000 for overhead, and you still have $56,000 to pay for the reviews and book oriented journalism and information.

Speaking of reporting and journalism. Make the book editor a part-time position working out of his or her home at maybe $30,000 a year including expenses. This would be enough to subsidize a scholar, novelist, professional book critic or nonfiction freelance writer who is moonlighting as the book reviewer.

The half time book editor, a big thinker, writes one high quality review/essay a week and is responsible for keeping the book chatter and interaction going with the audience. The book editor also has a stable of book reviewers write a total of five regional book reviews weekly each at $100 a review plus a free book. That comes to $500 a week for reviewers or $26,000 a year. To recap annually $10,000 for the network weaver, $18,000 for events; $30,000 for the part time reviewer; $26,000 for freelancers, and $16,000 for overhead for a total of $100,000.

Have you noticed, we never mentioned advertising — we needn’t, it is not driving this project. Community interest is, relationships are all weaved together providing its members with news and information about books that the AJC’s editor, its events and the audience itself are continuously exchanging in a nonstop conversation. The advertising, if there is any could be the gravy. You might even charge non members a premium fee to attend the events to have more money to pay for the reviewers and editor.

If the AJC doesn’t pick up on the idea, then how about the Oxford American with a Representative Community in each of the Southeastern states. Or nationally what about the New York Review of Books with regional editions. Or if all of them are slow to the punch, what about you. Steal this idea. It’s yours. Just give me credit.

Can it work? I don’t know. This is an open source idea. A Beta idea. It is not perfect. However, in the words of Eric Raymond:

When you start community-building, what you need to be able to present is a plausible promise. Your program doesn’t have to work particularly well. It can be crude, buggy, incomplete, and poorly documented. What it must not fail to do is convince potential co-developers that it can be evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future.

I think this idea can be really neat in the foreseeable future. However it needs book lovers, idea people and alas money crunchers to critique it and to add to it. Let’s build it into something solid, something really neat. Let’s not wait for the future; let’s start it now.

One Response to “Part II: Ensuring Book Reviewer Jobs Everywhere”

  1. Representative Journalism - Blog - Representative Journalism: Hire More Book Review Editors — Part I Says:

    [...] household have about two adults in it, so that leaves us with 5.5 million potential households. In Part II we will see how to tap in those 5.5 million potential households via Representative [...]

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    Leonard Witt

    Leonard Witt is the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication at Kennesaw State University and the chief blogger at

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