|Editors||Jim Milliot and Michael Coffey|
Publishers Weekly (PW) is an American weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents. Published continuously since 1872, it has carried the tagline, "The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling". With 51 issues a year, the emphasis today is on book reviews.
The magazine was founded by bibliographer Frederick Leypoldt in the late 1860s, and had various titles until Leypoldt settled on the name The Publishers' Weekly (with an apostrophe) in 1872. The publication was a compilation of information about newly published books, collected from publishers and from other sources by Leypoldt, for an audience of booksellers. By 1876, Publishers Weekly was being read by nine tenths of the booksellers in the country. In 1878, Leypoldt sold The Publishers' Weekly to his friend Richard Rogers Bowker, in order to free up time for his other bibliographic endeavors. Eventually the publication expanded to include features and articles.
Harry Thurston Peck was the first editor-in-chief of The Bookman, which began in 1895. Peck worked on its staff from 1895 to 1906, and in 1895, he created the world's first bestseller list for its pages. In 1912, Publishers Weekly began to publish its own bestseller lists, patterned after the lists in The Bookman. These were not separated into fiction and non-fiction until 1917 when World War I brought an increased interest in non-fiction by the reading public.
Through much of the 20th century, Publishers Weekly was guided and developed by Frederic Gershom Melcher (1879–1963), who was editor and co-editor of Publishers' Weekly and chairman of the magazine's publisher, R.R. Bowker, over four decades. Born April 12, 1879, in Malden, Massachusetts, Melcher began at age 16 in Boston's Estes & Lauriat Bookstore, where he developed an interest in children's books. He moved to Indianapolis in 1913 for another bookstore job. In 1918, he read in Publishers' Weekly that the magazine's editorship was vacant. He applied to Richard Rogers Bowker for the job, was hired and moved with his family to Montclair, New Jersey. He remained with R.R. Bowker for 45 years. While at Publishers Weekly, Melcher began creating space in the publication and a number of issues dedicated solely to books for children. In 1919, he teamed with Franklin K. Mathiews, librarian for the Boy Scouts of America, and Anne Carroll Moore, a librarian at the New York Public Library, to create Children’s Book Week. When Bowker died in 1933, Melcher succeeded him as president of the company, resigning in 1959 to become chairman of the board of directors.
Writers and readers
In 2008, the magazine's circulation was 25,000. In 2004, the breakdown of those 25,000 readers was given as 6000 publishers; 5500 public libraries and public library systems; 3800 booksellers; 1600 authors and writers; 1500 college and university libraries; 950 print, film and broad media; and 750 literary and rights agents, among others.
Subject areas covered by Publishers Weekly include publishing, bookselling, marketing, merchandising and trade news, along with author interviews and regular columns on rights, people in publishing, and bestsellers. It attempts to serve all involved in the creation, production, marketing and sale of the written word in book, audio, video and electronic formats. The magazine increases the page count considerably for four annual special issues: Spring Adult Announcements, Fall Adult Announcements, Spring Children's Announcements, and Fall Children's Announcements.
The book review section, not added until the early 1940s, grew in importance over the past half-century, and it currently offers opinions on 7,000 new books each year. Since reviews are scheduled to appear one month or two months prior to the publication date of a book, books already in print are seldom reviewed. These anonymous reviews are short, often no more than 220 words, and the review section can be as long as 40 pages, filling the second half of the magazine. In the past, a book review editorial staff of eight editors assigned books to more than 100 freelance reviewers. Some are published authors, and others are experts in specific genres or subjects. Although it might take a week or more to read and analyze some books, reviewers were paid $45 per review until June 2008 when the magazine introduced a reduction in payment to $25 a review. In a further policy change that month, reviewers received credit as contributors in issues carrying their reviews.
Now titled "Reviews," the review section was once called "Forecasts." For several years, that title was taken literally when a review was followed with italicized sentences that attempted to predict a book's success. The "Forecasts" editor for many years was Genevieve Stuttaford, who greatly expanded the number of reviews. She joined the PW staff in 1975, after a period as a Saturday Review associate editor, reviewing for Kirkus Reviews and spending 12 years on the San Francisco Chronicle staff. During the 23 years Stuttaford was with Publishers Weekly, book reviewing was increased from an average of 3800 titles a year in the 1970s to well over 6500 titles in 1997. She retired in 1998.
Two very different personalities left a lasting impact on the reviews department. According to Publishers Weekly, Barbara Bannon, who was the chief fiction reviewer in the 1970s and early ’80s (and became the magazine’s executive editor), gave the reviews department an aura of power and high visibility as a result of her own extravagant persona and her acknowledged power to make or break a book with her published verdict. And it was a highly visible verdict because she was the first and only PW reviewer to insist upon the use of her name in connection with any review quoted in an ad or promotion.
Sybil Steinberg, whose star rose as Bannon’s declined, had a keener, more sophisticated critical eye, and for a wider range of books. She also yearned to give more prominent attention to books she particularly admired, and it was under her aegis that PW began to award stars to books of exceptional merit, and later to create the lengthier and more prominent boxed reviews. Steinberg also created an annual Best Books list, which the magazine continues to this day. For many years she also edited the magazine’s author interviews, and beginning in 1992 put together the first of four anthologies of them in book form, including Writers and Their Craft: Interviews from Publishers Weekly (2003), published by the Pushcart Press. Steinberg was also a guest on the Charlie Rose TV show, appearing with notable authors Calvin Trillin, Fran Lebowitz and others on "best books" and "summer reading" panel-discussion shows.
In the 1950s and 1960s, paperback books were rarely reviewed, according to PW, one of the reviews feature’s important innovations was that it made no distinction in the reviewing between hardcover and paperback books. PW’s review editors have numbered anywhere from six to a dozen, each with a specific area of coverage, and between them they call on the services of several hundred reviewers, many of them specialists in their fields. PW’s reviews are 200-250 words, and are anonymous (though reviewers’ names are printed in the section, but without any indication of who wrote which review.) Today’s much expanded reviews section, headed by novelist and veteran magazine editor Louisa Ermelino, includes boxed reviews, topical review round-ups, author interviews, reviews by name authors and more than 2,000 Web originals annually.
Some PW critics are actually well-known writers. Katharine Weber was an anonymous PW reviewer before she became an acclaimed novelist. Texas novelist Clay Reynolds, in The Texas Institute of Letters Newsletter (February, 2004), gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the policies of PW and other review publications:
- You were right on the money with regard to the impact reviews in Publishers Weekly (PW), Library Journal (LJ), Kirkus Review (KR) and the New York Times Book Review (NYTBR) have on publishers and sales; what you may not know is that I also write or have written for all of them. I’m approaching 700 reviews, by the way. I no longer write for KR and LJ, as their policies forbid anyone from writing for PW or one of the others (except the NYTBR), and the work they offered was steadier and more reliable. I’ve now done 87 reviews for PW (given three stars in all that time). For years, Sybil Steinberg was the Forecasts Fiction Editor there, but she retired about two years ago, and the position was taken over by Deena Croog [wrong: Deena was an editorial assistant; Jeff Zaleski succeeded Sybil Steinberg]. Sybil ran a tight ship and taut operation. Deena, who sounds as if she’s about 13, is a little less well organized, but she’s a tougher nut to crack in some ways. What’s interesting about the PW reviews, though, is that copy is sometimes altered before printing. On a few occasions, I’ve had opinions utterly reversed from what I wrote. I’ve questioned this, but I’ve never received satisfactory answers. I keep doing it because it’s good work and satisfies the university administration. I’m thinking of “retiring,” though, when I hit number 100.
In 1967, F. G. Melcher's son, David Melcher, explained what happened to the thousands of review copies sent to PW:
- Needless to say, our house was always full of books, some of which became mine, but some of which were birds of passage which I had to read rapidly before they were taken back to the office. People often ask what happens to all the review copies received at the office of the Publishers' Weekly. They are worked rather hard actually, as I early became aware. Until they have served their intended purpose of being listed, forecast, reviewed, and commented upon, they stay on the working shelves and are taken out, if at all, only overnight or over the weekend. Later they become available for staff borrowing. Finally, they are divided up among the staff.
Before the use of e-mail, reviewers were given paper lined for a character count. They then made two carbon copies, kept one copy and mailed in the other copy along with the original typed on the lined paper. For years, freelance reviewers were instructed to return bound galleys after the review was written, but beginning in 2005, reviewers were allowed to keep those advance reading copies.
Some reviews now are published only online as "web exclusives". PW's long standing policy of not reviewing self-published books changed in 2010 with the introduction of PW Select, a quarterly supplement requiring self-published authors to pay for a listing and the possibility of being selected for a review, as they outlined:
- If you are a self-published author with a finished book that carries an ISBN, you can register to have your book listed in a seasonal supplement that will be bound into issues of Publishers Weekly. Overprints will be available for purchase and bonus distribution. Additionally, a digital edition and online database will be made available. The registration fee of $149 entitles you to a listing of your book—title, author, illustrator (where applicable), pagination, price, format, ISBN, and a description of the book's contents—all of which will appear in the supplement and online database. Authors should also include the online location at which to place orders for their book. All registered listings that meet the above criteria will be listed (though we reserve the right to decline an author's registration and return the fee if we if we deem the book inappropriate to our broad readership).
Magazines and mergers
For most of its history, Publishers Weekly, along with the Library Journal-related titles, were owned by founding publisher R. R. Bowker. When Reed Publishing purchased Bowker from Xerox in 1985, it placed Publishers Weekly under the management of its Boston-based Cahners Publishing Company, the trade publishing empire founded by Norman Cahners, which Reed Publishing had purchased in 1977. The merger of Reed with the Netherlands-based Elsevier in 1993 led to many Cahners cutbacks amid takeover turmoil. Nora Rawlinson, who once headed a $4 million book selection budget at the Baltimore County Library System, edited Library Journal for four years before stepping in as editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly from 1992 to 2005.
Sara Nelson era
Beginning January 24, 2005, the magazine came under the direction of a new editor-in-chief, veteran book reviewer Sara Nelson, known for her publishing columns in the New York Post and The New York Observer. A senior contributing editor for Glamour, in addition to editorial positions at Self, Inside.com and Book Publishing Report, she had gained attention and favorable reviews as the author of So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading (Putnam, 2003), in which she stirred a year's worth of reading into a memoir mix of her personal experiences after a New Year's resolution to read a book each week.
Nelson began to modernize Publishers Weekly with new features and a makeover by illustrator and graphic designer Jean-Claude Suares. The many alterations included added color (with drop shadows behind color book covers), Nelson's own weekly editorial, illustrated bestseller lists and "Signature," longer boxed reviews written by well-known novelists. The switch to a simple abbreviated logo of initials effectively changed the name of the magazine to PW, the name long used for the magazine within the book industry.
She also introduced the magazine's Quill Awards, with nominees in 19 categories selected by a nominating board of 6,000 booksellers and librarians. Winners were determined by the reading public, who could vote at kiosks in Borders stores or online at the Quills site. Reed Business dropped the Quill Awards in 2008.
In the past, the front covers of Publishers Weekly were used to display advertisements by book publishers, and this policy was changed to some degree in 2005. Although new PW covers now feature illustrations and photographs tied to interior articles, these covers are often hidden behind a front cover foldout advertisement. The visual motif of each cover is sometimes repeated on the contents page.
The Nelson years were marked by turbulence within the industry as well as a continuing trend away from serious writing and towards pop culture. Publishers Weekly had enjoyed a near monopoly over the past decades, but it was getting vigorous competition from Internet sites, e-mail newsletters and daily newspapers. The industry was consolidating. Many independent booksellers, who had been bread–and–butter clients of Publishers Weekly, were going out of business. Paid circulation dropped by 3,000 to 25,000 in the mid-2000s, Nelson pushed for significant changes towards modernization, greater use of the Web and more focus on analytical reporting, but she was contending with economic forces working against the book buying market, problems she addressed in a 2005 interview:
|“||The distinction between a trade publication and a general-interest or consumer magazine is becoming ever more blurred... The magazine might not be for everybody who buys books... But I do think there is a good size civilian population that is fascinated by books and the book business. Find a group of three people, and two of them want to be writers or have a book idea. Everyone I know belongs to a book group. There is a crossover population that we should be able to add to the mix without sacrificing our appeal to people in the book business.||”|
Advertising downturn and sale
In 2008, faced with a decline in advertising support, Reed's management sought a new direction. In January 2009, Sara Nelson was dismissed along with executive editor Daisy Maryles, who had been with PW for more than four decades. Stepping in as editorial director was Brian Kenney, editorial director of School Library Journal and Library Journal. The dismissals, which sent shockwaves through the industry, were widely covered in newspapers.
In April 2010, George W. Slowik Jr., a former publisher of the magazine, purchased Publishers Weekly from Reed Business Information, under the company PWxyz, LLC. Cevin Bryerman remained as publisher along with co-editors Jim Milliot and Michael Coffey.
On September 22, 2011, PW began a series of weekly podcasts: "Beyond the Book: PW's Week Ahead".
PW maintains an online archive of past book reviews from January 1991 to the present. The earliest articles posted in PW's online archive date back to November 1995. A redesigned website was unveiled on May 10, 2010.
- Editor & Publisher
- Kirkus Reviews
- Library Journal
- San Francisco Review of Books
- School Library Journal
- BPA Worldwide
- Publishers Weekly
- Beswick, Jay W. The Work of Frederick Leypoldt, Bibliographer and Publisher. R. R. Bowker, 1942.
- Baker, John. Wired for Books interview.
- Hackett, Alice P. 50 Years of Best Sellers and How They Grew: 1895–1945. R. R. Bowker, 1945.
- Miller, Marilyn Lea (2003). Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth: a Biographical Dictionary. Libraries Unlimited.
- Hansen, Harry (1945). "On the Best Definition of an Editor's Usefulness". In Mildred Smith (Ed.), Frederic G. Melcher: Friendly Reminiscences of a Half Century Among Books and Bookmen, pp 24-28. New York: The Book Publishers’ Bureau.
- "Frederic G. Melcher", Library Journal, April 1, 1963.
- "Publishers' Oscar". Time. February 15, 1943. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- "Charlie Rose Show"
- Reynolds, Clay. Biography"
- Reynolds, Clay. The Texas Institute of Letters Newsletter, February, 2004.
- Melcher, David. "Fred Melcher as I Knew Him," American Library Association Journal, January 1967.
- Motoko Rich (January 26, 2009). "Top Editor at Publishers Weekly Is Laid Off". The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2010. "Sara Nelson, ... who was previously a publishing columnist for The New York Post and worked at The New York Observer ..."
- Nelson, Sara. So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading.
- Dwight Garner (July 31, 2007). "Signed, Sealed, Delivered". The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2010. "...a longer, signed piece called a “signature” review. ..."
- "Quill Awards Are Ended", The New York Times, February 27, 2008.
- Edward Wyatt (January 5, 2005). "The Winds of Change Are Felt at Publishers Weekly". The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
- Staci D. Kramer (January 27, 2009). "Reed Tightens The Belt Again: Layoffs Hit Variety, Multichannel, PW; Wage Freeze; B&C Shrinking". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 5, 2010. "At Publisher's Weekly, the layoffs include Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief..."
- Beyond the Book
- PW Archives