This is a follow-up to David’s latest entry  on the supposed death of film criticism.
As academics rather than reviewers, we’ve tried to take advantage of the benefits offered by the Internet. In our pre-blogging days, David used his website to post articles. They came out faster than they would if submitted to a print journal, and they would reach a larger audience, at least in the short run. When we added a blog to the site, it became, as David wrote, “our own magazine.”
For a while putting a lot of entries no place but on the blog seemed fine. Our stat-counter tells us that a lot of the older entries get read. Either a teacher assigns them or someone finds an old link or discovers the blog for the first time through a new entry and then clicks around on a lot of the older pages. So it’s not as though the pieces disappear a few weeks or so after they’re written. The blog has become a large resource by now.
But what about the really long run? I tend to want to see my prose in print. It’s unlikely that the blog will completely crash, but what if it did happen? And what becomes of all the material on the blog in the distant (I hope) future when we’re not around to keep an eye on it?
Ironically, the internet has proved to be a good way of extending the life of our print books. David’s Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema  went out of print, and now it’s online, improved with better pictures, many in color. My Exporting Entertainment was in print for such a short time that few knew I had written it; now it has found a home on the website. Now Planet Hong Kong is out of print as well. David plans to update it and post the new version on the website as well.
Ironically, just as we were contemplating the migration of our books from print to pixels, Rodney Powell, of the University of Chicago Press, inquired as to whether we would be interested in turning a selection of our blog entries into a book. It wouldn’t be necessary to take down the original entries, he assured us. We couldn’t have done that anyway, since our textbook Film Art has just added a feature that alerts teachers and students to relevant essays via URLs in the margins. But we agreed to such a collection, and we’ve just sent in the manuscript for copy-editing. The result, called Minding Movies, should be out next spring.
There hasn’t exactly been a stampede to collect blog entries as books, but some presses, including Chicago, are trying out this new genre. Profile Books has just published classicist Mary Beard’s It’s a Don’s Life , based on her blog  of the same name. (I highly recommend her book, The Fires of Vesuvius.) Economists Gary S. Becker and Richard A. Posner’s Uncommon Sense  (also the University of Chicago Press) culls items from The Becker-Posner Blog .
Apart from blog-based books, the University of Chicago Press has some more traditional books of film criticism in press. One is a collection of Dave Kehr’s reviews from his days with the Chicago Reader (1974-1986). In September it will also publish a book gathering writings by Jonathan Rosenbaum (some of which have also been posted on his website ) called Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition. Chicago has announced a third volume of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies for October of this year. Although some of these pieces have been posted on the authors’ websites after their initial print publication, Minding Movies is unusual in that its entire contents, like those of the Becker-Posner book, were written designedly for the Internet.
Will people want books of blog material that’s available for free online? From our standpoint it seems odd. True, some people just don’t like reading anything longer than a few paragraphs on a computer screen. But choosing the entries to put into the book made us realize how big the blog has become over three and a half years. It’s not easy to just browse through.
This entry marks post number 320 on Observations on Film Art. We were able to include 31 of that total in the book, which will be around 96,000 words. The inescapable conclusion is that we have posted ten volumes’ worth of stuff on the blog. Whew!
Not that we would want to put everything on Observations on Film Art into print. There are a lot of relatively topical items like festival coverage and reports on lectures and conferences and DVD supplements. My piece on the “I Drink Your Milkshake” phenomenon  brought us our single busiest day ever (over 20,000 page loads), but it dealt with a fad and certainly doesn’t deserve to go between the covers of a book. Still, quite a few of the entries do reflect research and analysis of the sort that we would ordinarily put into our articles.
Even before it ever occurred to us that we could put together a blog collection, colleagues had said, “Your stuff deserves to be published as a book.” Maybe that’s a sign of the lingering sense that print publication is still more serious than blogging. Another implication seems to be that, while pieces written to be posted online may be excellent and worthy of publication in any format, they also need to be rescued from the vastness that is the Internet. Yes, Google can help people find David’s entry on staging in There Will Be Blood  in a flash. But if the reader doesn’t have any particular film or other specific topic in mind and just wants to see our best pieces, it’s not that easy.
Incidentally, “Hands (and faces) across the Table,” the There Will Be Blood piece, won’t be in the book. It contains too many pictures, which becomes more of a concern in print. There will be a few of the heavily illustrated entries in the book, but we had to balance those with others that don’t depend on images.
Whether books based on film and other media-related blogs will become a lasting genre has yet to be seen. Perhaps after a period of adjustment to the Internet as a venue for film criticism, we will return to the practice of the 1960s and 1970s, when Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, and other critics routinely saw their material collected as books. We might end up concluding that the Internet has not harmed books in the way that it has some newspapers and magazines.
If blog-based books do catch on, they will provide further counter-evidence to the notion that film criticism is dying out. If they don’t, the failure won’t prove that film criticism is dead, only that now it probably flourishes best online.
[March 22: Coincidentally, TV historian and critic Jason Mittell posted a related entry on his blog today. It’s entitled “Why a Book?”  and ponders the pros and cons of publishing a scholarly book or putting the same material online. The piece doesn’t deal with the idea of a book collecting blog entries, but it touches on factors like long-range availability.]