Friday, December 11, 2009

The End of Kirkus

There’s no shortage of post-Kirkus commentary on Twitter and in blogs. I’ll limit myself to a couple of observations.

First, forgetting that it’s Kirkus, a 25 percent reduction in population of universally acknowledged professional review sources is bad. Period. I’ve seen comments from both the forgivably uninformed (aspiring author on Twitter) to the extremely experienced (agent with decades in the biz in excellent Observer article) that Kirkus was irrelevant anyway. I cannot understand this perspective. Certainly, there is some small fraction of books for which journal reviews are meaningless. But to generalize based on those books is like a first-class passenger saying a 25 percent reduction in legroom in coach is irrelevant. Libraries and bookstores will stock these first-class books regardless of journal reviews. For a significant percentage of the rest, though, journal reviews are life and death, simple as that. Libraries in particular are simply not going to buy in any meaningful quantity a book that isn’t reviewed by at least one of the formerly four, now three.

Second, remembering that it’s Kirkus, the demise of the “Simon Cowell” of review journals is bound to be met with mixed feelings. I’ve certainly had occasion to shake my fist at a bad Kirkus review I felt was unjust and to carp about an otherwise decent review undercut by a sneering final line. But there is no circumstance under which no review would have been preferable. (Snarky reviews are not the enemies of authors or of book sales, and anyone who says otherwise has never seen how books get sold first hand. Obscurity is the enemy of authors and book sales, and obscurity just got more likely.)  What’s more, Kirkus had a quality we appreciate in all writing: voice. Yes, it was often irritating (and I hated the anonymity), but at least it was recognizable and strong. I think we’ll come to miss its particular timbre in the now-diminished review choir.


Maggie Stiefvater said...

But there is no circumstance under which no review would have been preferable.

This is so true, isn't it -- I still remember my first stinging blog review for LAMENT, and how many e-mails I got from people who had bought the book because of it. I can only imagine the effect of exposure is tenfold from a print review.

Thanks for blogging about this -- I've linked it up on twitter and at Verla's forums where there was a discussion.

Wyman Stewart said...

Could it be that Kirkus made no real attempt to keep up with changing times? If it once had a deal with Amazon that fell through, what about Barnes & Noble and other bookstore chains? Couldn't Kirkus have made a concerted effort to go online to promote itself, where it could have sold advertising?

All this sounds like poor management. There is confusion in the Arts world, such as music and publishing, on where to find the money to stay in business and how to find it. With emerging, state of the art technologies, continually in flux, nimbleness is required in a many areas, where a status quo mentality and intransigence was once the norm for success. That's called suicide in the 21st Century.

Chris Eldin said...

This news made me sad... A (hopefully good!) Kirkus review was a rite of passage I was looking forward to if/when I ever became published.