But the Huffington Post Books section gives off a persistent air of not trying very hard. It’s launching with prominently-highlighted posts like “What Is Arianna Reading?” (In Praise of Slowness), “WATCH: The Simpsons Mock ‘The Secret,'” and “Palin vs. Cheney: Who Will Sell More Books? (POLL).” To be fair, the first few days a blog is in operation are often a little bumpy, and the Palin/Cheney poll appears to be a repost of a slightly older Huffington Post bit. But is this a road map for what’s to come?
HuffPo is upfront about one of their issues: People in the publishing world are, for the most part, not into blogging. “[E]mployees of large publishers may be wary after what happened to Jason Pinter, a former Random House editor who lost his job in 2007 because of a blog he kept,” they speculate. As the blog picks up and gets more contributors, in the publishing world and elsewhere, it will get better and feed its own success.
HuffPo Books’ partnership with The New York Review of Books is a great move, content-wise and PR-wise, but it’s unclear how much synergy actually exists. NYR already posts many of their reviews on their website, and according to their advertising kit, the average age of their readership is 62. Finally, a sober 4,000 word article on the secret history of the National Security Agency jangles against the backdrop of Sarah Palin and Simpsons clips.
There’s also the matter of staffing: Amy Hertz is a major, respected figure in the publishing world, but this is only a part-time job for her. “Arianna really wanted Amy, who had a commitment to her current job at Penguin, so we made a different arrangement than our usual one: Amy working part-time, with a full-time associate editor who reports to her,” a HuffPo rep told Mediaite, adding that the associate editor will be Jessie Kunhardt, who will be working on the section full-time. The rep denied widespread rumors that the search for a section editor had been ongoing for at least a year-and-a-half.
Launching a book site in this cultural climate and in this economy is a bold, even noble move. The site should be able to draw good contributors, and Hertz is a good pick for editor, though it’s a pity there won’t be more of her. But without a non-web traffic-based bulwark like Beast Books or the NYR‘s print edition, the temptation will always exist to go for broad, easy appeal: to dip into the cookie jar of old HuffPo.
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