Look at the demand side to understand the transition from the harsh tone of Victorian book reviews to today's fawning in the literary pages [ '' The death of the hatchet job '', July 29th ].

In the 19th century literature was a mass entertainment, lowbrow and highbrow alike, and written to be read.

It aspired to sell, and needed connoisseurs to write reviews to help consumers navigate the shelves. Reviews contributed to efficiency and were compensated.

The book market has changed. Most of today's books are often too lowbrow to be reviewed by serious publications. [ How many Harry Potter books did The Economist review?]

As for the highbrow stuff, literary prizes drive sales in that market. Book reviews in academic journals are risk-free and not informative, intended for tenure committees.

Mass entertainment is now dominated by film and television, where even highbrow productions are made to be watched and expect to make money.

The critics are not getting less cruel, they just get paid for reviews in other mediums; you can still find harsh reviews aplenty.

The World Students Society thanks author Yoav Sivan.


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