You might have already seen today’s big publishing news: Kirkus Reviews is closing, according to Publishers Weekly and the ever-informative A Fuse #8. Kirkus, which has been publishing book reviews since 1933, is a print review journal mainly used by librarians and booksellers when they make their purchasing decisions. While other review journals like School Library Journal only come out monthly, Kirkus is (well, was) published every other week, so it reviewed a great many published books, and gained something of a reputation for Telling It Like It Is.
This is sad news, and not just for people who work in the book industry. The fact is, when a major review journal like this closes, everybody’s reading is affected. For the average reader–i.e., someone who walks into a bookstore or a library looking for a book–sometimes it’s hard to remember that the books in front of us have already gone through rounds and rounds of culling/gatekeeping/decisions, and every book that ends up on the shelf is taking the place of several others that never make it.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are lots of books published every year, and there’s a finite amount of space, readers, and attention. But every time a review journal closes, the pool of people making those gatekeeping decisions gets smaller, and which books are bought and which are passed over rests on the power of fewer opinions.
Maybe I’m being a little doom-and-gloom here. What about blogs, you say? Aren’t they making the review process more democratic, because anybody can review a book? That’s true, but even so there’s still another downside to Kirkus closing. Kirkus reviews a lot of books, not all of them by big publishers with big marketing budgets. A review in Kirkus might be nearly the only publicity that some books get, and the only way for a large number of librarians and booksellers to find them. Without Kirkus and other review journals you’d still have bloggers, but you’d have to send a lot more books out to reach the same number of readers. At least right now. Getting rid of print review journals won’t make much of a difference for, say, Twilight. But it will make the small books by debut authors and independent publishers harder to find–and, consequently, harder to make.
That’s why when a review journal like Kirkus goes down, it affects not only librarians and booksellers but anybody who cares about books. Kirkus may have made some enemies in their 76 years of brutally honest reviewing, but we’ll miss them!
EDIT: Kirkus was bought and didn’t close after all!