Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Review Quandary – or is it a Quagmire?

There was a time when a book review was a scholarly piece. It might analyze structure or parse theme. Contemplative endeavors, the reviewer filtered the words through their own experience, but wrestled with what the author attempted to convey. While I occasionally encounter a thoughtful analysis of a novel, more often authors – or their publicist – parse reviews for the perfect sound bite in order to create a marketing piece.

Purchased reviews—marketing bits—have been around since storytelling moved from oral to written form, but recent articles have reacted to the discovery as if it were major news. Amazon’s bots have jumped on the issue and with programming known only to them are combing online reviews for (paraphrasing here) reviewers with a financial interest in the product. No one was sure if there was an implied payment arrangement or simply a lot of back-scratching going on.

Do reviews matter? Do they influence your buying patterns?
When I shop in a bookstore or wander the mystery section in the library, a title, a cover, a favorite author makes me pause and read the jacket blurb. If the blurb strikes my interest, perhaps that’s sufficient but sometimes I’ll read the first page, especially if the author is a new “find.” But I never read the cover quotes or page(s) of review extracts.

Online, I find browsing difficult. Not to pick on Amazon, but clicking on the mystery section tends to bring up the usual suspects. Once I drill down into new-to-me author territory, reviews actually start to matter. It’s fairly easy to dismiss the best-friend hyperbole (it’s the best book ever!) and the trolls (1-star, no text). But I notice whether a book has been reviewed.
What about you? What’s your impression of reviews in general? Amazon’s new policy? Their impact on your buying patterns?


EA said...

I do read book reviews (typically in newspaper) but, oddly, I find negative reviews much more informative. The reviewer seems to feel a need to justify their comments, as opposed to positive reviews, where they tend to spout cliches or blurbs that may make it on the book cover or back page.

Anonymous said...

Book reviews are a type of double-edged sword. Good reviews are great for authors such as myself (sometimes they can really keep you going!) And bad reviews can really deter someone from buying a book. As an author, both are great. The good ones tell you what to keep doing, and the bad ones tell you what to stop. Although there are those out there who just don't like the story.