Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reader Reviews

This week, Type M founder Vicki Delany tweeted regarding an Aug. 25 article in the New York Times titled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.” The headline surely caught my eye, and I read the article, which offers the story of Todd Rutherford, who launched a book-review-on-demand business that once had authors paying $99 to $499 for reader reviews, which in some cases, propelled the books to best-seller lists.

I won’t go into all the details of the article here, but it is well worth reading. What it does make me consider, though, is how much weight a reader review carries. More than a professional review such as one by Kirkus or Publishers Weekly? Publishers Weekly (July 6 edition) claims the New York Times review still has major juice among book buyers, swaying sales figures down or up by more than 50 percent in some cases. On the flip side, I have a Prime account (free shipping, a free book a month) at Just this week, before I bought a bounce-back lacrosse net for my daughters, I sought customer reviews of the product. (One father said it took only 15 minutes to assemble and worked well. Sold.)

Do book buyers operate the same way, seeking product feedback by similar non-professional reviewers?

I had a college roommate who insisted he’d only pay to see movies that had gotten bad reviews because, he claimed, “The reviewers don’t know what makes a good movie anyway.” That’s a little drastic and way oversimplified, but there might be something to his line of thinking. My wife, for instance, is an excellent first reader because she reads only for enjoyment. She reads a draft and offers me a thumbs-up or down. The book or scene either held her interest or it failed to do so. No analysis offered—and none needed.

So how much do reader reviews matter to authors? How do they impact book sales? I’d love to hear other thoughts or opinions on this topic.


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