Post Number: 2
|Posted on Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - 11:28 pm: |
An Honest Book Review From Kirkus? Only $350
October 5, 2004
By EDWARD WYATT
Kirkus Reviews has long prided itself on being a sort of Consumer Reports for the book publishing industry, proclaiming its independence by steadfastly refusing to accept advertising and producing early, plain-spoken reviews that can amplify or smother a new book's early buzz.
Now, however, Kirkus is embracing a new spirit of commercialism. This fall, it is starting two new online publications with the Kirkus name: for $350 Kirkus Discoveries will review a new book from any publisher; for $95, Kirkus Reports will recommend a selected lifestyle title in a listing. And for the first time in its 71 years, the company is considering selling advertising in its flagship publication.
Kirkus executives say the changes are intended to increase revenues and visibility for Kirkus, which has the smallest circulation of several specialty magazines that provide early pre-publication reviews of new books. The program has the added benefit, they say, of potentially bringing more books to the public's attention - books that would otherwise go unreviewed and ignored.
"At a moment when more and more books are being published, there clearly is a gap in getting enough information out there," said Jerome Kramer, managing director and editor in chief of the VNU U.S. Literary Group, the publisher of Kirkus Reviews. "We want to see Kirkus become more visible across the board, and we want to serve a wider spectrum of the publishing community."
Kirkus, known for its often-tart reviews, can heavily
influence what books are bought for public libraries and
how many copies show up in bookstores. But some readers of Kirkus Reviews question whether Kirkus can objectively review books with one arm while, with the other, taking money from the same publishers for other reviews. Essentially, Kirkus Discoveries gives those paying customers veto power, since they could have a review killed if they didn't like it.
"I'm really troubled by that," said Rivkah Sass, executive director of the Omaha Public Library, which uses Kirkus Reviews to help it decide which books to add to its collection. "Publishers Lunch," a daily industry newsletter, first reported about the new publications last week.
"I understand from a business perspective where it's coming from," Ms. Sass said. But when a review is paid for, she asked, "is it a review or is it an ad?"
But Fran Rabinowitz, who oversees the ordering of new books
for branches of the New York Public Library, said the new publications "might be helpful,'' especially in bringing to her attention books from small publishers with few resources.
Mr. Kramer said he believed that the paid-for reviews and listings in the new publications would not taint the reputation for objectivity of the company's flagship. "Kirkus Reviews remains as it has always been," he said, providing early reviews, sometimes the earliest, up to four months before publication of literary fiction and nonfiction books.
Those reviews are often used by publishers as advance
publicity for a book, shown to bookstore executives to
persuade them to carry a new title and excerpted on a
book's back cover. The twice-monthly publication reviews
about 5,000 titles per year, less than 3 percent of the
175,000 books that were published last year.
With a circulation of just 3,000, Kirkus Reviews is seen by
far fewer people than some of its main rivals that provide advance reviews and is considered by many people in book publishing to be less influential. Library Journal, for example, has a circulation of 19,000 , and Publishers Weekly goes to about 25,000 people. (Publishers Weekly and Library Journal take advertisements.)
But in part because of its reputation for sometimes being
too tough, Kirkus can have an outsized influence when it
likes a book. Sally Kramer, collection development
coordinator at the Public Library of Cincinnati and
Hamilton County in Ohio, who is not related to Mr. Kramer
of Kirkus, said if a book got a very favorable review in Kirkus, "we're very likely to purchase it just because of that."
Bookstores, too, pay attention. Bob Wietrack, vice
president for merchandising at Barnes & Noble, said Kirkus Reviews "is very helpful in giving us a prepublication read on a book."
Mr. Kramer said editors at Kirkus Reports would select new specialty books - dealing in subjects like cooking, fitness, parenting or personal finance - for inclusion in one of five monthly newsletters, which would be e-mailed to book reviewers at magazines and newspapers, librarians and others. If their book is selected by the editors, publishers must pay $95 to have their title included.
General-interest books, poetry, academic studies and
reference books, including self-published volumes, can be reviewed in Kirkus Discoveries, the second new product, for $350 each, so long as they are in English and not covered in the main publication or in Kirkus Reports. The reviews will be posted on the Kirkus Discoveries Web site, with the best of those reviews also included in a monthly e-mailed newsletter.
This product is intended mainly for small publishing
houses, which often do not have the marketing heft to
attract the attention of reviewers at mainstream
publications. Both publications will be circulated to
people who sign up on the company's Web site
(www.kirkusreviews.com) to receive them.
Just because a review is paid for does not mean that it is certain to be positive, Mr. Kramer said. "I can see why someone would want a guaranteed positive review from Kirkus, but I'm not making that available to them," he said. "We're going to do an honest review."
But he acknowledged that publishers were likely to see the reviews as they were posted for the Web site or online newsletter and could request that a bad review be withheld.
"If someone is desperately unhappy with the review and
wanted it to be removed from KirkusDiscoveries.com, I
imagine we would do that," Mr. Kramer said.
The new publications have to be honest, he said, because to
do otherwise would harm the reputation of the flagship publication. "I'm launching quite a number of new initiatives built on the back of a really respected review journal," he said. "If I don't maintain the kind of honesty I'm talking about, I think the whole thing will come crashing down rather quickly."
A handful of other options are available to publishers that want to commission a book review, including Bookwire, an online publication from R. R. Bowker, which also collects and sells industry statistics, and ForeWordreviews.com, which charges $295 for an online book review.
Many publishing executives said they wanted to wait and see
the publications before they drew a conclusion. Ellie
McGrath, president of McWitty Press, a small New York publishing company, said she didn't know whether Kirkus Discoveries would appeal to her. "I'd be very interested in seeing it, but it depends on who the readership is," she said.
Another of the new initiatives involves advertising in
Kirkus Reviews, something the magazine has never done but
which Mr. Kramer said he is considering, perhaps in the
form of special inserts or promotional introductions to
books. The Bookseller, a sister publication circulated in Britain, carries advertising, as do most of the other magazines sold by VNU, a Dutch publisher whose titles include specialty publications like Progressive Grocer and National Jeweler and better-known titles like Adweek and The Hollywood Reporter.
"I've never had a problem maintaining editorial integrity
at a magazine that includes advertising," he said. Before joining Kirkus in May, Mr. Kramer was the founding editor of Book magazine, which has closed, and he also worked at other trade publications.
When Mr. Kramer was recruited to the company, "the feeling
was that Kirkus had been too quiet," he said. "I think part
of my charge was to bring up the volume."