Afro-themed image on a magazine cover shocks industry, ignites firestorm

When Nielsen Business Media announced last week it was shutting down book-publishing trade magazine Kirkus Reviews, industry observers could declare a winner to an age-old rivalry: Publishers Weekly.

Not that PW hasn't had its problems. The 136-year-old magazine, published by Reed Elsevier's (ENL) Reed Business Information, has been on the block off-and-on for the last couple of years -- and most definitely on since last July. PW has weathered all manner of cuts and layoffs, including that of editor-in-chief Sara Nelson at the start of 2009.

But it seems the magazine's newest strategy for survival is to court controversy. Last month its Best Books of 2009 roster raised hackles for excluding any books by women. This week, it's the magazine's cover (pictured), promoting a feature about African-American literature, that's sparking a debate in the industry.