KIRKUS; Mixed Reviews

I once heard a mystery writer, in a speech to a library crowd, say that he wanted his tombstone to read, “F**K Virginia Kirkus.”

His revenge may be sweeter now that Kirkus is the one with the tombstone.

It’s not surprising that the …

“codgerish” — Washington City Paper

“reliably cantankerous” — New York Times

“famously grouchy” — New York Observer

…Kirkus is not getting sympathy from all quarters, especially from agents and editors. Agent Esther Newberg tells the New York Observer,

…it’s never been a publication worth anything. The reviews were almost always negative and not helpful in any way. And so that’s it. Good riddance.

Tim Duggan, executive editor at Harper, observes in the NYT,

…it’s been a long time since a review there actually moved the needle in any meaningful way.

But David Wright, Seattle Public librarian and RA guru, gives Kirkus its fairest assessment in the Seattle Post Intelligencer (he’s also quoted in the NYT article):

Among its fellows – Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and Library JournalKirkus often held itself apart, slow to join in a chorus of adulation, and often the only eye to catch some promising talent or sleeper sensation in the offing. Its criticism was at times merciless, but its knack for highlighting truly interesting and satisfying books will be deeply missed.

Let’s not be sanguine about the remaining prepub review publications. Three of them — Library Journal, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly — have suffered several rounds of layoffs and their owner, Reed Business Information, put them back up for sale in July, after a failed attempt the year before. No buyers have emerged yet.

Most of the news stories focus on how booksellers used (or didn’t use) Kirkus, but The New York Observer quotes a previous Kirkus publisher who blames falling revenues on a decrease in library subscribers who “just could not afford it” anymore. More likely, libraries have found it not only more affordable, but more efficient to get reviews electronically from their wholesalers, an issue that affects subscription rates for all the prepub review media.

With libraries an increasingly important segment of the book market and given their heavy dependence on prepub reviews for buying, it’s shocking that anyone in the business does not consider this a loss.

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