I was surprised the other morning to see that LDSReview.net was closing up shop. I can’t claim to have been a regular or detailed reader of the service–to be honest, they didn’t review the kind of books I read. But I thought that they served an important role.
Historically, reviewers have served an important role in book publishing, both to let the public know about books and to serve as a check on quality. But it is also clear that the role of reviewers is changing radically.
As a result, I wonder whether or not we should mourn the loss of LDSReview.net.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT suggesting anything about the quality of LDSReview.net’s service. BUT, I am wondering what the role of reviewers will be like over the next 25 years or so.
From what I can tell, we’re moving to an industry with more specialized reviews, and more crowd-sourced reviews, while many traditional book review sources are disappearing. January’s announcement that the Washington Post is shuttering its book review section was just the most prominent example of a substantial decrease in the number of book reviews appearing in newspapers and popular magazines. In addition to newspapers, historically academic journals have also reviewed books in their subject areas.
In contrast, blogs and other websites, usually with much smaller and narrower audiences, have taken to reviewing books in exploding numbers and book-selling websites like Amazon.com have pulled consumers into “reviewing” books, telling others whether they liked the book or not and sniping over often inconsequential details (something I too do in the reviews I write <GRIN>). Naturally, the quality of these reviews is often not quite as good as those they are replacing.
In the LDS market, many of these sources of reviews have been lacking in most of these areas. LDS books have had to compete with other books for space in newspapers and in popular magazines. With the introduction of BYU Studies, Dialogue, the Journal of Mormon History and other LDS-oriented academic journals, academic reviews of some LDS books became available. Only in recent years, with the rise of Mormon email lists (especially AML-list’s invaluable reviews, now managed by Jeffrey Needle) and the rise of the bloggernacle, has there been a steady supply of reviews of LDS books, even if still only a fraction of LDS books get reviews.
LDS books also get the same kind of customer reviews on Amazon.com and other booksellers websites (including DeseretBook.com), except that few books actually get reviews on the sties of LDS booksellers.
The question here really is whether or not this is enough. Are we getting enough reviews? Are they quality reviews? And, does the LDS market have the review infrastructure that it needs?
I thought LDSReview.net helped increase the reviews available. To that extent, at least, it will be missed (unless someone takes up their offer to take over the service).
What worries me is if LDSReview.net was an important and needed part of the market infrastructure. The infrastructure we have is weak as it is. Losing a piece of it doesn’t help us at all.