December 10th, 2009


R.I.P. Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly, The New York Times and bunch of other news outlets are reporting that the venerable old trade magazine Kirkus Reviews is dead.

Founded in 1933, Kirkus Reviews became one of the big four trade magazines that publishers absolutely had to send advance review copies of their books if they wanted those books to get any kind of market attention, along with Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal (or School Library Journal for kids' books).

Kirkus Reviews was notorious for two things. One, it was purportedly read by every Hollywood exec--or more likely their underlings--looking for literary properties to option for film (at its height, I'm told Kirkus was used for this purpose even more than PW was). And two, their reviewers were impossible to please. I mean, impossible. If your book got a good review from Kirkus, that really meant something because they pretty much hated everything.

I railed against Kirkus years ago when they launched their Kirkus Discoveries program, which charged "independently published" authors money in exchange for "unbiased" reviews in a completely separate book review service from their esteemed magazine (i.e., online). That program remained active until now, and if there's anything good to come out of this sad news, it's that Kirkus Discoveries will die along with the magazine.

I can't help feeling a pang of nostalgic regret at this news, though. The publishing world keeps changing, and not always for the better, but that's the way of the world. It may only be a matter of time before the other big trades follow suit, and then...well, let's just say it'll be a brave new world.