Bookslut, an online magazine and blog which draws 195,000-240,000 unique visitors a month, will publish its last issue in May, 14 years after it began. “The archives will remain up until apocalypse comes,” writes Jessa Crispin, the publisher. “Thanks for keeping me company through the years.”
“I don’t have the background people in publishing have,” Publishers Weekly quoted her eight years ago. “Bookslut is on the outside: we’re not located in New York, we’re not print, and we take things less seriously than the New York Times Book Review.
“But that’s why we became popular. I talk about books in a casual, off-the-cuff way. We’re making book reviews more accessible without dumbing it down. That’s what was missing in the national discussion of books.”
The Net is full of crappy sites devoted to junky books. Bookslut is different. It reviews not just good novels but also serious nonfiction. The March issue offers us a long interview with the author of Negroland: A Memoir. Bookslut contributor Ashley Patronyak writes: “Margo Jefferson is a master of appearances. Growing up in the Chicago branch of Negroland—a liminal realm of existence she describes as ‘that small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty’—she had to be.”
I reached out to Jessa to find out why Bookslut was shutting down. “For now, I’d like to keep the reasons private, until I figure out the best way to address them,” she emailed me.
For all I know, the reason for the shutdown could simply be that she wants move on to something else in her life. Such an explanation would be in character for the author of The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries. If eagerness for the new is the reason, then I understand. Same for other personal considerations. That might be all there is to it.
But I also wonder if something else could be at work here—whether Jessa is displeased with something in the book world or the online part of it, despite the continued stream of visitors to Bookslut. Or have technical issues arisen, or business issues or mixes thereof? I have no idea.
Here at TeleRead, which dates back to the mid 1990s and switched to a content management sytem in 2002, I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is to maintain an older site. Google doesn’t help. It keeps changing the SEO rules, and meanwhile the WordPress technology behind the scenes becomes more complicated, not less. Yes, the interface is better. But I am sick, sick, sick of the never-ending war among plug-ins, or, worse, the need to get TeleRead’s WordPress settings just so for the all-powerful Google gods.
If TeleRead shuts down, the reason won’t be ad-blockers. It will be because Google, WordPress, Facebook, Amazon and brethren have made the Net an increasingly challenging place for smaller and medium sized sites hoping to hang around for the long term. Witness the hassles that The Digital Reader encountered from Amazon over ad-related issue.
The good news at TeleRead is that I have a veteran SEO consultant at work on the case. I remain positive. We have yet to tap our potential in some major ways; one is the possible inclusion of TeleRead in Google News. Merit should count foremost. But this would also be a nice way for Google to make up all the fiendish algorithm changes over the years and its insufficient feedback for TeleRead-sized publishers trying to fine-tune their sites.
Meanwhile, whatever the reason for the impending demise of Bookslut, I do not just sympathize. As a fellow publisher, I empathize. The very best of luck to Jessa Crispin in whatever comes next for her!