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Book Review Bites The Dust: The End Of Kirkus

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Kirkus Reviews announced yesterday that, after 76 years of publication, it would be shutting down. The subscription-based periodical, offering short reviews of books three months in advance of publication, was read primarily by booksellers and librarians, who would use it as a buying guide for forthcoming titles.

The reactions to Kirkus's shut-down have been mixed. The New York Observer quotes literary agent Ira Silverberg, who said, "Hearing about their closing reminded me that they were still publishing."

Silverberg was not alone in his disregard for Kirkus. The Observer also quotes ICM co-head Esther Newberg: "The reviews were almost always negative and not helpful in any way ... Good riddance."

Others are mourning the loss of a source for reliable information on new books. Writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a Seattle Public librarian says:

I am going to deeply miss Kirkus' anchoring presence at that head of that table. Among its fellows - Publisher's Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal - Kirkus 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.

MediaBistro's GalleyCat blog documented some of the responses on Twitter as authors and editors worried about the futures of their books. In the words of Soft Skull editor Denise Oswald, "Yikes, is this going to make it even harder to sell in."

The end of Kirkus was not necessarily unexpected, however. Book review sections of newspapers everywhere have been closing down in quick succession over the past few years. Writing for Publishing Perspectives, Jerome Kramer says:

It's not like the demise is entirely unpredictable. In fact, one might say the surprise is that the boutique survived as long as it did as a holding in a series of hungry, growth-insistent conglomerates.

Kirkus owner Neilsen Co. simultaneously closed down Editor & Publisher, another trade magazine focused on the U.S. newspaper industry. Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher editor, told The Los Angeles Times:

"We're part of a besieged industry, magazine publishing, and we're covering another besieged industry, newspapers, so it's kind of a double whammy."

It's another blow to the book review, but new options are emerging. What do you think of a world without so many book review sections?

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