I ran across this on the only litblogging site I regularly read, http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php,
which I am sincerely hoping someone will tell me doesn't count as lit, so I can toast them over a blogging flame, because I haven't had a chance to roast someone since I quit paying any attention to the politics list I get in e-mail.
I then went over to google to investigate what other litblogging sites were out there and found a wide variety of other participants in this particularly, er, tempest? Firestorm? Holocaust?
To sum up, in my own calloused and biassed way:
a variety of big newspapers have reduced or eliminated the space they have previously devoted to book reviews, reducing or eliminating staff while doing so
the ones who have kept book reviews have done so, in part, because they generate ad revenue.
A little comment here, conspicuously absent from the online discussion, but crucial to understanding what's happening. The newspapers are not doing this because they are about to stop being profitable. Nope. They are, in fact, obscenely profitable. Their profit margins defy belief. It may be the case that this maneuver will elevate their profits even more, but my money is that this is more about getting rid of any space devoted to anyone (reviewer or reviewed) who might in any way shape or form offend the corporate masters. But hey, that's just paranoid anarchist left-winger me speaking.
some of these big newspapers already hire litbloggers to write reviews for them
many of these big newspapers point people at litbloggers, in their print and/or online edition
none of these reviewers is engaged in Literary Criticism (really. They aren't. And virtually no one says they are, altho read on.)
bloggers post about books, including links to online editions of print reviews
bloggers write reviews of all lengths, from snarky one-worders to actual, full-on Literary Criticism (really. There are actually Literary Criticism-type articles on blogs. Virtually no one says there aren't, altho read on)
some people complaining in print about the demise of this print space are blaming the blogosphere (our corporate masters don't think we matter, because of you guys getting all the attention), saying it's just not right (because the blogosphere is not emitting Literary Criticism), and furthermore, none of you bloggers are credentialled (which is loopy on so many levels it is amazing), and Literachoor will Die Out because if the debate is conducted by amachoors etc.
I think that covers it.
Needless to say, the bloggers ain't happy, and clever ones are drawing analogies to things like the Edinburgh Review in the early 19th century and so forth.
Now, I've actually bought a lot more books as a result of print reviews in the last year than probably My Entire Life prior to this last year, which makes me scratch my head a bit. OTOH, those print reviews were universally in magazines (notably: BusinessWeek, Bitch, Mother Jones, Brain,Child and Mothering -- bet you're wondering about BusinessWeek in that context, hunh?) and universally NOT fiction (I wonder if that's true. Hmmm. I think it is), which apparently takes me entirely out of the debate.
Except it doesn't. Smart Women/Trashy Novels and "Jen"nifer Weiner are complaining because the print media are failing to cover romance novels. Say what you will about romance novels as a category (you will anyway), they constitute like, HALF of all paperback fiction. It would be nice to have someone help us separate the cruft from the good (and, ideally, point out the Don't Miss This Ones, but that might be a lot to ask). And I do read me a lot of romance novels. For a while, I felt a little guilty about this, altho even in the throes of my guilt I was fully prepared to assert that if you read 300 of _any_ kind of books, you were bound to learn something (what? even romance novels? as if they contain nothing at all -- an apparently common belief). Not necessarily as much as if you read 300 of some other kind of book, but just the same.
Now, of course, I am enlightened enough to realize that as romance novels are the literature of romantic bonding and family formation, romance novels _are_ novels, in a way that every other kind of novel (that isn't about bonding and/or family formation) isn't really a novel at all. Ha! That was provocative, wasn't it? I can't believe you've continued to read this far. Please! Complain virulently! I have academic stuff I can cite! Swear!
I hope all the literary bigots out there (yes, I do mean you, the New York Times Book Review) eventually see some kind of light and start pandering to the paying customer. Maybe, when you do, you'll learn something.