Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Anti-Valentine's Day Card To Huffington Post's Book Section

by Stephen J. Gertz

On February 10, 2012, the day that the largest rare book fair on Earth opened - one of the most significant book events in the world with 200 antiquarian booksellers from around the globe congregating to exhibit the best rare and antiquarian books on the planet - what was on the Huffington Post's Book Page?

Love Me Not - 7 Books You Realy Shouldn't Get For Your Valentine

9 Books That Cause Irrational Phobias

What Is The Vampire Novel of the Century?

Harry Potter and Voidemort Play Plead The Fifth On 'Watch What Happens Live'

JFK's Other Women: 7 Alleged Mistresses

'Game Of Thrones' Season 2 First Look

Funny: Lincoln's Intern Finally Comes Clean About Affair

New Book: Simple Ways To Stop Doing Dumb  Things With Money

New Lemony Snicket Series Begins This Fall

Disturbing Trend Found In New Children's Books

Why EBooks Don't Mean The Death Of Print

Protecting Your Bright Ideas From Literary Scavengers

Watch: Sophie Blackall Illustrates Missed Connections

New Book: Why Sinning Is Good For You

'Twilight Director Says Script 'Sucked'

Which Book Received The Meanest Review Of The Year

12 Lies That Politicians Tell About Jobs

Author: My Book Was Banned In My Country

New Book: Unexpected Ways To Find Your Ancestors

And Your Favorite Dickens Character Is?

Why You've Learned More Languages Than You Think

'Other Press' Wins Nerdiest Superbowl Wager Ever

Why Creative Writing Classes Don't Work

Amy Adams To Help Adapt Steve Martin's Book, 'Object Of Beauty'

The Real Cost Of Library Cuts

Book Roundup: 5 Reasons To Love Madonna

Not a word, a whisper, a who, what, when, or where about the 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair. Yes, it did not take place in Ulan Bator, Patagonia, Mozambique, or Outer Mongolia. It was held in Pasadena, CA, just a few miles out of downtown Los Angeles, one of the nation's major markets and the world's great cities.

It wasn't a secret. It was all over the media in Southern California. The Los Angeles Times featured a story about it on the front page of their Calendar section covering the arts and entertainment. Local radio and television coverage was solid. Even the Hollywood Reporter devoted a full-page to report on it, detailing all the stars that collect rare books and how the California International Antiquarian Book Fair is their mecca.

It's not as if the Huffington Post didn't have a head's-up. I have been an occasional blogger for Huff Post for  a couple of years; a post about the book fair sat in my queue for five days prior to the book fair's opening.  After a few days of nothing, I dropped a note to Huff Post's Blogteam inquiring about it. Would it run? No response at all.

Booktryst's piece on the Fair ran on Monday, February 6th. If Huff Post somehow missed the post in my queue, they would have seen it on Booktryst; we have been on major media's radar since the site debuted, in May, 2010, otherwise they would not have welcomed the cross-posting arrangement soon afterward. And Booktryst's coverage was a page one story on Google News - Rare Books for the entire week leading up to the Fair's premiere. 

The Fair's publicist made direct contact with Huff Post. There was no shortage of alerts.

Now, I am surely disappointed that they didn't run my piece about it. But I am even more disappointed - and rather shocked - that they didn't cover the 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair at all, by anyone, nada, ziltch, nicht, bubkus. One of the most important book stories in the U.S., a major international cultural event, and one of the book world's most anticipated happenings was completely ignored.

But Coked Up Stimulus Monkeys was not; big news on Huff Post's book page.

They did, however, cover a major non-event in the world of rare books: "Watch: The 'Pawn Stars' Appraise A Signed Copy of Edward VIII's Memoirs." It was a signal event for Huff Post, signaling that the 'Pawn Stars' are now another Huff Post novelty-entertainment hook passing for hard book news. The 'Pawn Stars' seem like nice guys but they do not know a damned thing about rare books, or, at least, not enough to provide an informed professional appraisal. It isn't enough to go online to research. You actually have to have deep experience to know how to truly appraise a rare book.

People want to know how expensive a rare book is; the higher the price, the more attractive the story.  A copy of Audubon's Birds of America sold last month for $7.9 million last month.  That got Huff Post's attention. The California International Antiquarian Book Fair certainly had a big ticket volume to crow about: A scarce, hand-colored copy of Rudimentum Novitiorum, published in 1475, the first history of the world in print and the first printed book to contain maps. Asking price: $1,150,000. (It sold). Not too shabby. That eye-opening fact was certainly not buried in any pre-Fair coverage.

The many charms of Arianna Huffington cannot mask the sense that the editorial policy of Huff Post appears to be based upon the promiscuous use of "click-bait" tabloid headers for book stories of dubious newsworthiness and significance, often as thin as rice paper but no where near as durable. "Click-bait"  - luring readers to a story with a grabby pop-headline that may or may not accurately represent content - is not a journalistic crime; it has been going on since the dawn of newspapers. But it is rarely used more egregiously than on Huff Post.

And that is, ultimately, the problem with their policy, which appears to be based upon generating as many pages and page-views as possible with little regard for the quality of stories. Or, it seems, their importance.

Shame on the Huffington Post's Book Section. On this Valentine's Day, the love affair is over.

I am not expressing sour grapes. The 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair was not my story. It was the book world's story, and Huff Post betrayed the world it is supposed to serve. Room, apparently, had to be made for Top Ten Celebrity Rehab Moments, a story about a new novel, the book Gutenberg had in the back of his mind when he imagined movable type but after bleeding with leeches was drained of the vile humour and, purged of sin, printed the Bible instead.

That must have been one hell of an editorial meeting. Perhaps a little bloodletting at Huff Post might cure the sick patient.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed on Booktryst are solely its own, and do not represent those of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), with which I am associated.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email