When I asked Leonard Maltin about the future of his eponymous "Movie Guide'' in 2012, he said: "I’m slightly amazed there are enough people over the age of 40 who are in the habit of looking things up in a book, our book. I can’t predict what will happen five years from now.''
Just two years later, the 2015 edition of "Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide,'' out Sept. 1, will apparently be the last. And if "video killed the radio star,'' as the Buggles song went, then the culprit in this case is the IMDB and other websites that provide instant (if not always entirely reliable) information.
“With ready access to information on the Internet, our readership has diminished at an alarming rate,'' Maltin writes in the introduction to the latest edition, which was quoted by his longtime collaborator Joe Leydon on his website.
“The book’s loyal followers know that we strive to offer something one can’t easily find online: curated information that is accurate and user-friendly, along with our own reviews and ratings,'' Maltin continues. “But when a growing number of people believe that everything should be free, it’s impossible to support a reference book that requires a staff of contributors and editors.”
I've been a fan -- and regular user -- of the book, originally called "TV Movies,'' since I bought a copy off the paperback rack at the CCNY bookstore in 1969. Published as a standalone, it eventually became a semi-annual and was publishing annually by the time I met Leonard in 1980 -- who was living on W. 89th St. in Manhattan two years before "Entertainment Tonight'' lured him to Hollywood.
"For the first edition, in 1969, we built a list of 8,000 titles from scratch,'' he recalled in the 2012 interview. "We were intended to be a rival to Steven Scheuer’s ‘Movies on TV’ and by golly, for the longest time we got it right. It was rare to find anything playing that wasn’t in the book. And now, all bets are off. The studios are cutting back on their releases year by year, but because of home video, streaming and movies on demand and all these other new outlets, more films are making their way into the arena than ever.
"There’s a lot of movies floating out there, and a few years ago we had to create a separate Classic Movie Guide to make more room for them. At one time in the VHS era when some movies started going direct to video, we’d include anything with a star or director whose names were recognized. Now almost all of these iffy movies have creditable casts. So we have have to go by gut instinct about what people want to look up.
"Anytime one of us — some of my contributing editors have been with us for many, many years — sees anything we want to champion, we want it to be in there. That’s one of our chief functions and one of the reasons we still have some relevance. There’s nothing more satisfying than leading someone to a great movie they might not otherwise see.''
There is one good piece of news, though. A spokesperson for his longtime publisher, Penguin, confirmed to me that a third edition of "Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide'' -- created in 2005 to handle overflow titles and updated in 2010 -- is scheduled to be published in 2015. And his capsule reviews continue to appear on thousands of pages at Turner Classic Movies website under a licensing agreement.
As of a February post on his own blog, Maltin was hopeful that a companion app to the older "Movie Guide'' could be resurrected after a licensing agreement between his longtime publisher, and Mobile Age expired.
Maltin's book outlived the pioneering "Movies on TV'' -- first published in 1958 as a collection of capsule reviews originally syndicated for newspaper listings -- by more than twenty years (Scheuer passed away in May). The availability of information on the web also appears to have previously claimed such venerable (large-format) competitors as "Halliwell's Film Guide'' (which ceased publication in 2008) and the "Time Out Film Guide'' (2011). A 2015 edition of "VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever'' was published in June.
As film historian Thomas Doherty reacted when the news about "Leonard Maltin's Film Guide'' broke Monday night, "I still reach for it compulsively-- end of an era indeed.''