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Publishers Weekly, aka PW, is an Americanmarker weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents. Published continuously for the past 136 years, it has carried the tagline, "The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling." With 51 issues a year, the emphasis today is on book reviews.

First published in 1872, the magazine began as The Publishers' Weekly (with an apostrophe), a collective catalog for publishers to pool their resources. That listing of books enabled booksellers to learn about forthcoming titles, and eventually the publication expanded to include features and articles.

Through much of the 20th century, the magazine was guided and developed by Frederic Gershom Melcher (1879-1963), who was editor and co-editor of Publishers' Weekly and chairman of the magazine's publisher, R. R. Bowker, over four decades. Born April 12, 1879, in Malden, Massachusettsmarker, Melcher began at age 16 in Boston's Estes & Lauriat Bookstore, moving to Indianapolis in 1913 for another bookstore job. In 1918, he read in Publishers' Weekly that the magazine's editorship was vacant. He applied to Richard Rogers Bowker for the job, was hired and moved with his family to Montclair, New Jerseymarker. When Bowker died in 1933, Melcher succeeded him as president of the company, resigning in 1959 to become chairman of the board of directors.

Writers and readers

In 2008, the magazine's circulation was 25,000. In 2004, the breakdown of those 25,000 readers was given as 6000 publishers; 5500 public libraries and public library systems; 3800 booksellers; 1600 authors and writers; 1500 college and university libraries; 950 print, film and broad media; and 750 literary and rights agents, among others.

Subject areas covered by Publishers Weekly include bookstores, book design and manufacture, bookselling, marketing, merchandising and trade news, along with author interviews and regular columns on film rights, people in publishing and bestsellers. It attempts to serve all involved in the creation, production, marketing and sale of the written word in book, audio, video and electronic formats. The magazine increases the page count considerably for three annual special issues: Children's Books, Spring Announcements and Fall Announcements.

Book reviews

The book review section, not added until the early 1940s, grew in importance over the past half-century, and it currently offers opinions on 7,000 new books each year. Since reviews are scheduled to appear one month or two months prior to the publication date of a book, books already in print are seldom reviewed. These anonymous reviews are short, often no more than 220 words, and the review section can be as long as 40 pages, filling the second half of the magazine. This requires a book review editorial staff of eight editors who assign books to more than 100 freelance reviewers. Some are published authors, and others are experts in specific genres or subjects. Although it might take a week or more to read and analyze some books, reviewers were paid $45 per review until June 2008 when the magazine introduced a reduction in payment to $25 a review. In a further policy change that month, reviewers received credit as contributors in issues carrying their reviews.

Now titled "Reviews," the review section was once called "Forecasts." The "Forecasts" editor for many years was Genevieve Stuttaford, who greatly expanded the number of reviews. She joined the PW staff in 1975, after a period as a Saturday Review associate editor, reviewing for Kirkus Reviews and spending 12 years on the San Francisco Chronicle staff. During the 23 years Stuttaford was with Publishers Weekly, book reviewing was increased from an average of 3800 titles a year in the 1970s to well over 6500 titles in 1997. She retired in 1998.

Texas novelist Clay Reynolds, in The Texas Institute of Letters Newsletter (February, 2004), gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the policies of PW and other review publications:
You were right on the money with regard to the impact reviews in Publishers Weekly (PW), Library Journal (LJ), Kirkus Review (KR) and the New York Times Book Review (NYTBR) have on publishers and sales; what you may not know is that I also write or have written for all of them. I’m approaching 700 reviews, by the way. I no longer write for KR and LJ, as their policies forbid anyone from writing for PW or one of the others (except the NYTBR), and the work they offered was steadier and more reliable. I’ve now done 87 reviews for PW (given three stars in all that time). For years, Sybil Steinberg was the Forecasts Fiction Editor there, but she retired about two years ago, and the position was taken over by Deena Croog. Sybil ran a tight ship and taut operation. Deena, who sounds as if she’s about 13, is a little less well organized, but she’s a tougher nut to crack in some ways. What’s interesting about the PW reviews, though, is that copy is sometimes altered before printing. On a few occasions, I’ve had opinions utterly reversed from what I wrote. I’ve questioned this, but I’ve never received satisfactory answers. I keep doing it because it’s good work and satisfies the university administration. I’m thinking of “retiring,” though, when I hit number 100.

F. G. Melcher's son, David Melcher, explained in 1967 what happened to those thousands of review copies sent to PW:
Needless to say, our house was always full of books, some of which became mine, but some of which were birds of passage which I had to read rapidly before they were taken back to the office. People often ask what happens to all the review copies received at the office of the Publishers' Weekly. They are worked rather hard actually, as I early became aware. Until they have served their intended purpose of being listed, forecast, reviewed, and commented upon, they stay on the working shelves and are taken out, if at all, only overnight or over the weekend. Later they become available for staff borrowing. Finally, they are divided up among the staff.

For years, freelance reviewers were instructed to return bound galleys after the review was written, but beginning in 2005, reviewers were allowed to keep those advance reading copies.

Magazines and mergers

Cover of November 6, 2006.
Today, it is part of Reed Business Information's Publishing Group (a subsidiary of Reed Elsevier), which includes Variety and Daily Variety, as well as the book publishing trade outlets Criticas, Library Journal and School Library Journal. For most of its history, Publishers Weekly, along with the Library Journal-related titles, were owned by founding publisher R. R. Bowker. When Reed Publishing purchased Bowker from the Xerox Corporation in 1985, it placed Publishers Weekly under the management of its Boston-based Cahners Publishing Company, the trade publishing empire founded by Norman Cahners, which Reed Publishing purchased in 1977. The merger of Reed with the Netherlands-based Elsevier in 1993 led to many Cahners cutbacks amid takeover turmoil. Nora Rawlinson, who once headed a $4 million book selection budget at the Baltimore County Library System, edited Library Journal for four years before stepping in as editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly from 1992 to 2005.

Sara Nelson arrives

Beginning January 24, 2005, the magazine came under the direction of a new editor-in-chief, veteran book reviewer Sara Nelson, known for her publishing columns in the New York Post and the New York Observer. A senior contributing editor for Glamour, in addition to editorial positions at Self, and Book Publishing Report, she had gained attention and favorable reviews as the author of So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading (Putnam, 2003), in which she stirred a year's worth of reading into a memoir mix of her personal experiences.

Nelson immediately began to modernize and streamline Publishers Weekly with new features and a complete makeover by illustrator and graphic designer Jean-Claude Suarès. The many alterations included added color (with drop shadows behind color book covers), Nelson's own weekly editorial, illustrated bestseller lists and "Signature," longer boxed reviews written by well-known novelists. The switch to a simple abbreviated logo of initials effectively changed the name of the magazine to PW, the name long used for the magazine within the book industry.

She also introduced the magazine's Quill Awards, with nominees in 19 categories selected by a nominating board of 6,000 booksellers and librarians. Winners are determined by the reading public, who can vote (from August 15 to September 15) at kiosks in Borders stores or online at the Quills site.

In the past, the front covers of Publishers Weekly have been used to carry advertisements by book publishers, and this policy was changed to some degree in 2005. Although new PW covers now display illustrations and photographs tied into interior articles, these covers are often hidden behind a front cover foldout advertisement. The visual motif of each cover is sometimes repeated on the contents page.

Advertising downturn

In 2008, faced with a continual decline in advertising support, Reed's management sought a new direction. In January 2009, Sara Nelson was dismissed along with executive editor Daisy Maryles, who had been with PW for more than four decades. Stepping into the editorial director spotlight was Brian Kenney, previously editor of School Library Journal and Library Journal. A New York City librarian for almost 20 years, Kenney received his MLS when he was 14.


PW maintains an online archive of past book reviews from June 2006 to the present. The earliest articles posted in PW's online archive date back to 1995.


  1. "Frederic G. Melcher," Library Journal, April 1, 1963.
  2. Reynolds, Clay. Biography"
  3. Reynolds, Clay. The Texas Institute of Letters Newsletter, February, 2004.
  4. Melcher, David. "Fred Melcher as I Knew Him," American Library Association Journal, January 1967.
  5. Quills Literacy Foundation
  6. School Library Journal
  7. PW Archives

See also

External links

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