TEXT Vol 11 No 2 October 2007


Editorial


'Extraordinary, compelling and masterful mystery bestsellers': Current newspaper reviewing

 

 

One of the contexts writers write into is that of the critical reviewing industry. Reviews by book critics - good or bad - in newspapers, journals and television programs, and also on the web, contribute to the success or otherwise of a creative work. Some newspapers and TV shows have more influence than others - for various reasons, including their individual status as reviewing publications/programs and respect given their particular reviewers. Some magazines and periodicals, as arms of larger companies which also operate publishing houses, give greater reviewing space to books produced by co-publishers in their conglomerate stable.

None of the above is news to writers who have suffered the slings and arrows of the reviewing industry. But how significantly do university writing programs teach about this area? We are currently impelled by our universities to teach from research contexts into career-path contexts. But how well do we know the critical industry, its dynamics, and its influence on writers' careers?

Recent research from DowJones' Factiva Insight media benchmarking group - Coverage of Books in Australian Newspapers (2007) - looked at newspaper reviewing in Australia for the first 6 months of 2007. It found the following, according to its summary:

  • The bigger publishers - HarperCollins, Allen & Unwin, Penguin, Random House, Pan Macmillan - win larger shares of reporting and reviews of books in Australia.
  • The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian generate the most coverage.
  • HarperCollins gets most coverage from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Herald-Sun and the Age.
  • The Daily Telegraph gives attention to books from Pan Macmillan.
  • The smaller publisher Scribe wins space from its local newspaper the Age followed by the Sydney Morning Herald.
  • Australian book reviewers like writing about mysteries and bestsellers.
  • And they are fond of the words 'extraordinary', 'compelling', 'page-turner', 'stunning'.
  • Also popular is describing a writer as a 'master' or their works as 'masterful'.
  • 'Unputdownable' is creeping into reviews. It appeared nine times in the first six months of 2007. (Factiva Insight 2007)

Looking deeper into the data graphs Factiva Insight provide in their Powerpoint publication, one can see that:

  • In six months the Age published 365 book reviews, the Sydney Morning Herald 263, the Australian 210, the Canberra Times 157, the Courier Mail 122 - these are the major group of reviewing newspapers, and the others followed.
  • The others in the survey comprised 15 newspapers around Australia with a total of 823 reviews for the six months.
  • In the six months, in the major group, HarperCollins received 382 reviews, Allen & Unwin 357, Penguin 340 and Random House 312.
  • Then there was a big jump down to the middle group: Pan Macmillan 149 reviews, Hachette Livre 115, ABC Books 115 and Scribe 96.
  • And then there was another big jump down to the lower group: MUP 45, Black Inc 44, FACP 33, UNSW Press 21, UWA Press 8, and UQP 7.

There are plenty more stats in the publication, but some of interest are:

  • The Sydney Morning Herald and the Herald-Sun prefer to review Penguin books.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age prefer to review Allen & Unwin books.
  • And the Daily Telegraph and the Herald-Sun prefer to review Pan Macmillan books.

The word-analysis Factiva has done is possibly amusing in several ways, but the graphs show that:

  • The words 'mystery' or 'mysteries' were used 329 times in book reviews in the six months and were mostly used by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
  • The word 'bestseller' was used 244 times in book reviews in the six months and was mostly used by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
  • The word 'extraordinary' was used 241 times in book reviews in the six months and was mostly used by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian.
  • The words 'master' or 'masterful' were used 201 times in book reviews in the six months and were mostly used by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
  • The word 'compelling' was used 200 times in book reviews in the six months and was mostly used by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
  • And then there was a big jump down to the word 'page-turner' which was used 60 times in book reviews in the six months and was mostly used by the Herald-Sun and the Daily Telegraph.

There's food for thought here. Providing that we can teach our students to write mystery bestsellers that are extraordinary, compelling and masterful - and possibly page-turners - we'll be doing a good job in terms of current university requirements that we ready our students for the industry.

 

Nigel Krauth
Jen Webb

 

Reference

Factiva Insight 2007 Coverage of Books in Australian Newspapers, Factiva Insight: Media Benchmark, chris.pash@dowjones.com. Ppt slide 2. return to text

 

 

 

 

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TEXT
Vol 11 No 2 October 2007
http://www.textjournal.com.au
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb
Text@griffith.edu.au