January 9, 2012


The “New York Times” recently printed a story about a woman author who purchased a critique from “Kirkus Review” for her self-published novel (Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab,” by Motoko Rich, Book Section, 1/27/09). I was stunnedby the information as the agency prides itself on independence, its motto being, “The World’s Toughest Book Critics.”  To get a “thumbs up” on their pages is to be assured numerous book sales. Librarians, for example, frequently refer to Kirkus when making acquisitions.

The company restricts its fees to self-publishers and small presses rather than to main stream companies.They argue that the new, cheaper printing technology has flooded the market with books, and so they must direct their attention only to those authors who believe in their work enough to pay up to $500 for a review.

(courtesy: priceofoil.com)

At first blush, the argument seems reasonable. In 2009, the number of US books printed from any source was 288,355 (“Wikipedia”). Of that number 19,000 came from Random House, alone. Multiply that figure by the 4 remaining large publishing houses and one can see that the outpouring from these centers is already overwhelming…which raises the question, why then discriminate on the basis of volume?

My guess is that volume has little to do with it. Kirkus charges the little guy a fee because it can; because an unknown author is the most likely to fork over an outrageous sum for a chance to run with the big boys. 

Naturally, the company insists its reviewers remain independent regardless of the money; but one wonders how soon that income stream would dry up if too many reviews were unfavorable.

Perhaps I’ve spent too many years in the political sphere but when money changes hands, I smell a conflict of interest.