Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kirkus Reviews Closes Doors

After 76 years in the book review business, "Kirkus Reviews" has been closed by its parent company, The Nielsen Company. Nielsen also shuttered "Publishers & Editors," another independent voice in the publishing world, started in 1901!

Kirkus, for those of you who may not know, was a leading provider of book reviews for the book trade, entertainment industry, schools and universities, and libraries throughout the country. They reviewed about 5,000 books per year, and while vilified by some for being hackneyed and superficial, more than not Kirkus has been honored for providing a truly independent voice in book reviews. Many authors have valued being covered by Kirkus, prior to publication, and their pre-pub reviews often made a significant difference to authors hoping to get a shot in the arm prior to official publication.

But now, one more voice has been silenced. Why? The same reason newspapers have died (yes, they are dead—the print form anyway) and the same reason venerable magazines are dropping like flies: vertically integrated companies like Nielsen can not financially justify keeping these acquisitions alive in the face of the new media juggernaut.

Nielsen Business Media President Greg Farrar's memo about the magazine shutdowns follows:

Dear Colleagues,

Today, we announced that Nielsen Business Media has reached an agreement with e5 Global Media Holdings, LLC, a new company formed jointly by Pluribus Capital Management and Guggenheim Partners, for the sale of eight brands in the Media and Entertainment Group, including Adweek, Brandweek, Mediaweek, The Clio Awards, Backstage, Billboard, Film Journal International and The Hollywood Reporter. e5 Global Media Holdings has also agreed to acquire our Film Expo business, which includes the ShoWest, ShowEast, Cinema Expo International and CineAsia trade shows.

In addition, we've made the decision to cease operations for Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews.

This move will allow us to strengthen investment in our core businesses - those parts of our portfolio that have the greatest potential for growth - and ensure our long-term success. We remain committed to building our trade show group and affiliated brands. These assets continue to be a key part of The Nielsen Company's overall portfolio and we strongly believe they are positioned to grow as the economy recovers. In addition, we'll continue to assess the strategic fit of our remaining portfolio of publications.

As a result of these decisions, many of our friends and colleagues within these businesses will be leaving the company or will begin to transition to the new ownership immediately. These venerable brands have long been an important part of our Business Media family, and we are pleased that e5 will continue to capitalize on the brands' potential. The transition is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Pluribus Capital was founded in 2009 by James Finkelstein, George Green and Matthew Doull to focus on acquiring and managing industry leading media properties with high growth potential, particularly those with strong brand recognition across multiple platforms including digital, print and events. Guggenheim Partners is a privately held, diversified financial services firm. Both Pluribus and Guggenheim have strong track records of successfully managing investments in a variety of companies.

I want to take this opportunity to offer heartfelt thanks to our colleagues who will be leaving the company for their dedication and commitment to Nielsen over the years. Please join me in wishing them well in their future endeavors.


Greg Farrar
Nielsen Business Media

In the case of Kirkus, who will take up this slack? Who will review the books? Supposedly, sites like
GoodReads will start expanding its offerings to fill in the void. GoodReads is a social networking
community of 2,600,000 readers, who have panned and celebrated 64,000,000 books, since its inception. But, can blogging sites really do the job? I doubt it. Just as blogging sites aren't noted for their journalistic prowess (i.e., citizen journalism), can they likewise be relied on for book review prowess? Or will we have a glut of author publicists, friends and family, and PR hacks clogging the blogosphere with self-serving book reviews that have no authenticity or critical value?

If you are an author who got trashed by Kirkus over the years, then you are probably dancing a jig, or as one author rejoiced, "Die Kirkus, die!" Personally, I find this horrible and sad. Not because I oppose the evolution to new media (quite the contrary), but because independent voices in media are vanishing like endangered species in the Amazonian jungle: quickly, with hardly a blink of the eye. We need to preserve independent, critical voices in media, not vertically integrate them, or worse, hand them over to the blog-mob (of whom I am one!), assuming citizen reviewers, like citizen journalists, will somehow have the chops to deliver critical reviews, objectively and with some panache. What we're likely to see are, "Shit man! That was a kickass book! You should buy it," or "Don't waste your money dude ... wait for the movie ... movies rock!"

Just shoot me now.

Please don't get me wrong; I am not a snob or an elitist. This post isn't about trashing everyone who blogs or who has an opinion about "stuff." I'm all for the grand conversation that is taking place all around us on the Internet. I'm not worried about journalism's future (it will survive and thrive), and I believe all critical forms like reviews of movies or books will also survive. I just can't help mourning when a species is killed off because its too expensive to keep it alive. And even as more windows open to voices everywhere, we need to be sure when others are closed they are not lost forever. Even one less voice in the world means we are all made a little more silent.

(Full Disclosure: I USED TO work for Kirkus as a book reviewer.)

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