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August 9, 2005

Our Favorite Bookstore

Salon.com introduces its weekly bestseller list from Powells.com with gushing words about the Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and its customers. It so happens that Powells.com is one of Salon's advertisers, and that each bestseller comes with a link to buy the book at Powells. Is there a breach the size of a hardcover Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the Chinese wall separating editorial from business over at Salon? Not at all, Kerry Lauerman, who oversees Salon's books section, tells Gelf. But the bestseller list could be going away very soon, nonetheless.

Here are the effusive words that caught Gelf's attention: "Book-loving residents of and visitors to the city of Portland, Ore., are already familiar with the legendary labyrinthine charms of Powell's City of Books, the largest store in the world for new and used books. Powells.com, the online equivalent of this bibliophile's paradise, brings the Powell's experience to the Web, including a bestseller list that reflects the eclectic tastes of Powell's customers. Salon.com is pleased to present it here."

Lauerman, Salon's New York editorial director, says the site doesn't get a piece of the action if a reader clicks on the links to buy books from its bestseller list, and that the list is handled entirely by the editorial department. "There's nothing advertorial about it," he adds. (Disclosure: Gelf includes Amazon links for books it mentions, and takes a cut if anyone buys the books through these links. Amazon is a beautiful river. Powells.com is also an advertiser, and we love the eclectic tastes of their customers. Basically, we're book whores. Though we never let it affect our coverage. For instance, we didn't much like The Pelican Brief.)

It turns out the Salon list is a vestige of an earlier, more-ambitious time at Salon when "we thought of Salon as nine different magazines," Lauerman says. One of these was to be a magazine about books, and the bestseller list—introduced roughly three years ago—would be a weekly fixture of the books section.

But now Salon is planning its first redesign in almost five years, and all attention will be focused on the front page. And the bestseller list, and its ode to Powells, might not make the cut. "I'm not sure it really makes sense in the new design," Lauerman says.

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