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In the wake of the news on Kirkus shutting down there has been some mention of whether or not the blogosphere would be picking up the slack left from the continuing loss of book review publications. Of particular note with Kirkus is that they ran negative reviews, something Booklist (who I review for) rarely does. (We don't generally run a review at all if the book is not up to our standards although you will certainly see negative reviews for books by big name authors that are basically warnings that "patrons will be disappointed" etc.) (You can read more about Booklist reviews in this recent interview with senior editor Keir Graff.) So there's been talk (again) of turning to the internet in general and blogsphere in particular for the reviews that we lose by losing Kirkus (which is apparently around 5,000 reviews a year). And of course there's lots of mention that blogs likely can't pick up the slack because they are so opinionated or lack a certain level of professionalism, etc. And honestly I agree with that. Personal blogs are not going to replace a highly respected professional review journal that has been around since 1933. The one thing that I took away from the Amazon Vine discussion at Betsy's was how much of a lightening rod the term "professional" can be among bloggers and also how many people think "being a regular mom who writes about books" is in some ways superior to being a literary critic because they are apparently more in tune to what "ordinary" people want.

This would be the "just folks" backlash in case you're wondering.

But mostly I think professional reviewers are valuable because they are trusted. Positive or negative, you could trust a Kirkus review as being well informed. Was it perfect - no. None of them are. (I read a review of Timothy Decker's latest book on the Boston Massacre, For Liberty, in Booklist where the reviewer mentioned the picture of five dead soldiers. No soldiers died in the Boston Massacre as pretty much any American 5th grader can tell you. One would hope that librarians reading the review realized it was the reviewer's glaring mistake and not Decker's.) (The book is fantastic by the way!) But the professionals are not just you tapping away at your keyboard - you write for an editor who will ask questions and give you standards and guidelines. (I'm still wondering how that dead soldier bit got past the Booklist editors though.) More than once I've submitted a review for Booklist and my editor, Donna Seaman, has asked a question or two or made a suggestion that has tightened things up and made the whole review a lot clearer. It never hurts to write for someone else especially someone who knows what they're doing.

So, I'm wondering why the discussion about Kirkus seems to include only the demise of professional reviewing and the increase in personal reviewing - with the entire middle ground overlooked. I'm talking about the hundreds of literary magazines out there (print and online) that have been publishing reviews for decades often by well regarded critics and authors and always for editors. Dan Wickett has always been pretty much ground zero for links to lit magazines and journals and readers can find a wealth of resources there for a ton of great reviews (and essays and stories and interviews). Kirkus is going away but so many alternatives are still with us and should be more widely read. Is it as easy as subscribing to just one publication? No - but the lit mags also review a lot more small press titles than pretty much any other resource and they have more space. (As someone who writes 175 word reviews for Booklist I can tell you that short space leaves a bit to be desired sometimes.) You get a thoughtful review, some insight, an opinion or two and maybe some quotes. And your supporting the national literary conversation! It's a win-win!

And speaking of excellent reviews, well it wouldn't hurt to just read Dan's site all the time anyway, He writes about books and stories and magazines all the time and he does it exceedingly well. I have no idea if he ever wrote for Kirkus but who cares? Dan's great and he's not the only one out there. You just have look patiently and carefully and pretty soon Kirkus will be simply a distant memory and all those new trusted resources you have found will have taken its place.

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Thanks for introducing me to Dan Wickett and his site! :o)

Do those lit magazines review childrens and young adult? And do they do so with a knowledge of those books and age group? Just curious, as I obviously didn't click thru and I haven't added them to my usual reading because I assumed they don't.

For me, the main concern about the loss of Kirkus is the breadth of their reviews. They reviewed books that were overlooked by many other review journals, or reviewed them early enough so that they got much needed attention, particularly debut novels. One individual blog reviewer can't cover 5,000 books a year, and it's unlikely that all of those books will get their moment in the sun at one or another blog. Diffuse is the word that keeps coming to mind.

To be clear on this, my belief that blogs could not pick up Kirkus's slack is predicated on what Melissa W. points out above, not on the blog's oft opinionated nature. Publishers just aren't in the position to send 1,000 copies of a book to the blogosphere.

Kirkus provided a central place for reviews and also provided a way to pay reviewers. (One aspect of the Kirkus fold that has remained little discussed is what happens to that valuable Kirkus database. Will Nielsen continue to clutch its avaricious talons around it? It would appear so.)

A blog, on the other hand, could fold tomorrow. And because a blog reflects the interests of its maker, certain books that fall outside those interests are likely to remain ignored. Furthermore, if a blogger is more driven by interest, then is it not possible that books running against those interests will be ignored?

To get a true sense of the Kirkus atmosphere, check out Jonathan Taylor's 1999 piece from the Stranger:

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=545

"Even on those topics about which I had a formal education, it seemed that I'd probably forgotten too much of what I learned to bring any formal expertise to bear. I felt weird about my qualifications every week, but never for very long. At that pace, I didn't have much time to think before I had to e-mail the review into oblivion and start the next book."

It would be wonderful if bloggers were actuated by something similar, but that would require a utopian style of organization.

Interesting conversation - I hadn't heard that Kirkus had folded until reading your post.

As for bloggers "picking up the slack left from the continuing loss of book review publications"... I don't think that is so far-fetched or complicated as people seem to think. It would involve Publishers (or someone) making an investment into the blogosphere and setting up some kind of central platform to which bloggers could submit/post links to their reviews - and which would index/organize it all by subject, author, title etc. That would solve what I see as the biggest difference between the old school book review publications and the blogs - which is centralization and indexing.

I know some would argue that the biggest difference between professional reviewers and book bloggers is the quality of the review itself, but I disagree. There are bloggers out there writing intelligent, in-depth, useful reviews equal to any that I've read in the NY Times or LRB. And (of course) there are also plenty of bloggers who are not. But if a platform was created then perhaps some weeding could occur.

You know, (slight on topic segue) one thing I never see mentioned is how much benefit Publishing Houses receive from bloggers for a minimum investment. Sure they send out a few ARC's... but they did that before with the traditional review journals. (And bloggers don't have the expectation that the Publishers will buy advertising on their sites. And anyone who has doesn't know what I'm referring to - go look through the Holiday Issue of the NYRB). I think it would be worthwhile for the industry to look at how to make the blogosphere more useful to their needs - rather than the other way around.

It's bad form to cut & paste from listservs, but one of the ones I am on just made an interesting argument that because of the word limit, what is found in KIRKUS (and other such journals) is *NOT* a review but just a blurb, and it has done a great disservice to librarianship etc to have people think of those short paragraphs as true "reviews." It's a post from today's Publib and quite interesting, if you care to join to search the archives to read it.

Liz: From what I've seen you often find specific kid titles reviewed at various lit journals - meaning maybe they are geographically relevant to that journal or relevant by subject (say it's a primarily environmental journal or a SFF one, etc.) I have covered kid and YA at Eclectica for five years and I wasn't the first to do that. One of our reviewers there is from India and she often writes about titles based in India and Pakistan, regardless of the book's age group (I have three YA reviews from her going in the next issue.)So yeah, they are out there but you do have to find them which is time consuming.

I've often wondered about that word limit also. There is a wealth of difference between something less than 200 words and a full page review elsewhere. I wonder what the reaction initially was to these short reviews back in the 1930s and if they were as respected then as now?

You are always so hugely informed.

That's all I'm saying.

The editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders at Booklist make every effort to catch mistakes in reviews before they are published. We appreciate your pointing out the error in For Liberty and have corrected the review on Booklist Online.

Oh thank you Laura! I have the HIGHEST respect for Booklist and I'm so glad that the error has been corrected as this is truly a wonderful book.

GJR

I thought one of the important things about Kirkus was that they were pre-publication (like PW, LJ, Booklist, etc) and were a tool for librarians & bookstore buyers to use when selecting books. In that sense, it doesn't seem like the "blogosphere" could replace it.

Actually it depends on what the pubs want as far as prepublication. Bloggers get books very early in a lot of cases but we often hold off on reviews as pubs generally prefer that. If they were fine with early reviews - in some cases as much as 6 months early - then yep, bloggers could do it.

Thanks for the nod, Colleen. Much appreciated.

Coleen,
Thanks for this. I wrote about the same thing over at the L&L blog last week. I appreciate your perspective and optimism- there are definitely a lot of fine "middle-ground" review publications and in an ideal world, the demise of Kirkus and other big journals would lead to an increased popularity and appreciation of these other resources. However, I do think it might be a little while before librarians, booksellers, and publishers sort of readjust to the new landscape so to speak, and I'm worried that the smaller books might get lost in the interim...

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