In a way, judging a book by a cover is now judging a book by its customer reviews. Not entirely but close. I’m speaking from personal experience here – customer reviews, particularly Amazon reviews, strongly influence my decision when buying a book. That may be sad, but it’s a fact, and for all you haters, I don’t think I’m alone in this.
This is why corporations have been known to hire fake reviewers to sway potential buyers. In fact, a recent New York Times article, “The Best Reviews Money Can Buy,” revealed a man who coordinated this activity, by the name of Todd Rutherford. His website, GettingBookReviews.com, ended up commissioning over 4,000 reviews, all of them “fake.” That’s right. In other words, just like judging a book by its cover has always been a dangerous way to approach life, so too is judging a book by its customer reviews, leading to the risk of being deceived by superficialities. Todd Rutherford proves this idea.
The main question sites such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble need to ask: How much do customer reviews sway the potential buyer’s choice to read a book or not?
Take a book like Fifty Shades of Grey (wow, this is the second time I’ve mentioned Fifty Shades of Grey on this blog). Receiving 3 stars on Amazon is actually a bad thing. It’s like receiving a C in school nowadays – in other words, the new F is now a C and the new C is a B – that whole thing. And yet – sheer hype and word of mouth has carried the book far beyond its expectations, which begs the question further about how effective or ineffective are Amazon reviews.
The list of questions only grows exponentially from there. For example:
Is there a new way of how buyers rate products?
Are there ways to screen out fake reviewers?
What fair solutions can there be for books with under 100 reviews versus those with, say, 1000 reviews?
I can list about a thousand more questions about this issue.
Meanwhile, it is my opinion that if you are going to let yourself judge a book by the reviews (and I mean, honestly think about how much reviews affect your opinion…don’t be like, “Oh, I am not one of those people.” Introspect some and really think about it…really think). What is the best way for the consumer to voice their opinion right now?
Write thoughtful reviews. Don’t leave reviews up to the naysayers or the fakers or any other label you want to insert into the blank. This is why I have constructed 3 brief examples of Amazon reviews that you should NOT write, taken from various Amazon customer reviews (for books) on the site. Some of the criteria may be VERY obvious to some people. For others, this list can serve as a gentle reminder. Without further ado, here they are:
This is the number one issue with customer reviews – people are emotional or angry about their purchase and then they say things that are just ridiculous or unfair. Take the review here: “Most horrible thing ever written.” Clearly, the author hasn’t really thought the review through. “Death is better” tops it off. Amazon reviews are neither the time nor place to use hyperbole.
Don’t let religious or personal viewpoints affect the experiences of others. Furthermore, try to approach the work with a fresh set of eyes. Comparing the work to the previous work of the same author is only human, but assure yourself that you aren’t over exaggerating because your expectations were too high. It’s not the author’s fault that you may have had unrealistic expectations.
A Simple Solution to this issue: Amazon needs to provide specific categories to rate (like Purchasing Process, Writing Style, etc.) much like Audible who –ironically– is owned by Amazon. For the time being, make sure you realize that Amazon or the purchase price is not being rated, the book is! Be fair to the author – they don’t have much say in this whole process.
Plain and simple: customer reviews can hold a lot of punch, so write a careful and thoughtful review. Moreover, think of the whole review process like when are you making any other judgment — You can’t just write a review when you are extremely happy or extremely mad or if you had a bad day. Make an effort to contribute when you feel indifferent or content or any other emotion that is more neutral. Well-balanced reviews seem to be missing in the book-buying world.
All in all, the whole process is broken. Hopefully, sites like Amazon will see this through and have a smart, innovative worker or team of workers who use imagination to spark a whole new way of looking at the e-book purchasing process. If anything, Goodreads.com might be a slightly healthier alternative.