Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
There has been a lot of noise recently about fake book reviews, paid book reviews and just outright mean reviews.
Goodreads recently created a storm when they announced the deletion and controlling of reader reviews. They want to focus the reviews on the book and eliminate the trolls who attack authors. I applaud them on regulating the discussion.
The New York Times also ran a piece about state regulators fining companies $350,000 for posting fake reviews and paying for reviews. Granted this was regarding restaurants and other non-book establishments. But the message is clear; consumer reviews can be manipulated, paid for and/or sometimes illegal.
For the self-published author, consumer reviews can help get a book noticed and rise in the search. A rash of bad reviews can hurt the book sales and also push would-be authors to quit. The International Business Times recently ran an article on how a self-published author was savaged by 1-star reviews after she broke up with her boyfriend. Her memoir went from a total of four reviews to having over 100 1-star slams overnight.
John Locke is a self-published author. Amazon announced he was the first self-published author to sell a million copies on Kindle. In addition to selling eBooks for a cheap $0.99 each, it also came out that he paid thousands of dollars for fake reviews. It worked for him.
But for authors published by traditional houses and those that already have a brand, consumer reviews have less of an impact. These are the books that generally get the most reviews too.
Amazon has a long history of consumer reviews and not doing a lot to police nor restrict them. Anyone can put up a review and they do not have to even buy or read the book. There are services that will create “5-star” reviews for a fee. Over the past few years, many outlets have written about these services. This piece from Forbes has a good recap.
I have never given much weight to consumer book reviews. Most of the books average out to a 4.5-stars rating. Of the recent top 100 selling books on Amazon, the average rating comes to 4.44-stars. Over 50% of the reviews are 4.5-stars. The ones that average 5-stars seem to be built up by fans of the author (generally a political pundit, business guru or look bogus). Similar language is used and the reviews just feel created. After all the discussion of the “pay-for-review” scams, it makes me question all 5-star reviews.
Check out Amazon ratings on lightning rods such as Sarah Palin. Her first book received 1,442 reviews. With 64% 5-star and 21% 1-star. So 85% of the reviews were at the extremes. These reviews had no effect on the sales of the book. It is personal.
When J.K. Rowling wrote her latest book using the pseudonym Robert Galbrieth. most consumer reviewers prior to the unmasking ignored the book. But once Harry Potter fans found out, hundreds of 5-star reviews appeared overnight on Amazon and Goodreads. These were not paid for, but fans just wanting to boost one of their favorite authors.
It isn’t just the Amazon reviews that have little credibility but they have the bulk of them. B&N also has user reviews but their traffic is much lower. For example, the latest Lee Child “Jack Reacher” novel has 1,036 reviews on Amazon and only 206 on B&N.com and 40 on Apple iTunes (although there are over 700 ratings – people who rate the book but didn’t read?).
Each of the major on-line book retailers allow sorting of reviews by “most helpful”; “recent”; “highest” and “lowest.” So there is an attempt to parse the reviews. But overall, it really is unregulated and can be filled with agendas.
Nassim Taleb (author of THE BLACK SWAN and ANTI-FRAGILE) once told me that he gave weight to the 4-star reviews and ignored the rest. This has always resonated with me. The 5-star reviews are not critical enough and those with a negative agenda generally write the 1-star reviews.
As publishing shifts and self-published titles are more mainstream, the issue of fake reviews is very important. So, these eBook sites will need to continue to update the rules to meet the new realities of the marketplace.