Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why review?

Two weeks ago, I read the interesting if somewhat lacking Economist article about online book reviews. It's got some important points but unlike most Economist articles, it probably could have had a little more in the way of depth. Like, say, having actually spoken with Amazon or online reviewers. Still, in the comments, reader Matt Rhodes provides a link to another article that goes into much more depth:
There are a number of reasons people might write a review:
  1. They are paid to do so (as per the recent case of Belkin hiring people to rate their products five star)
  2. They are forced to do so in order to gain some other incentive (TopTable requires you to rate restaurants you have been to in order to gain points for their loyalty scheme)
  3. They write reviews to increase their standing in a community (where, perhaps more reviews give them more credibility or access to more features in the online community)
  4. They write reviews because they want to look good / impressive / intelligent amongst their peers
  5. They write reviews because they had benefit from some and they want others to benefit in the same way from their advice
  6. They write reviews because they have something to say

This concise list looks a little frightening to book reviewers, at least at first. For instance, the concept of writing positive online reviews because somebody paid you: Many online reviewers, bloggers or otherwise, get books for free from publishers. Some see this as a form of "buying off the reviewer" (mild rant here). I occasionally get ARCs but have never written a review that didn't completely and accurately represent my opinions. Still, a few reviewers and bloggers have confessed to occasionally bluffing their reviews because they felt bad about expressing their true opinions.

Yet most of us write reviews because of that last single bullet point, which the article agrees with. Reviews are also deemed important from an economic perspective. The article goes into depth about the effectiveness and importance of leaving reviews better than I can; it's quite interesting. Ultimately, while my 3501th review of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (I haven't reviewed it specifically) may not make a profound difference, if it gives me the feeling that it might somehow help one single reader, I've done my job.


  1. If I had any intelligent people among my peers, I might write to impress

    Ok, actually I only review, or blog in general, because I have too much to say and can't stand to see the glazed over look that come into my real life people. Online, I can't see it.

  2. As a reviewer (for print and online outlets), I try to adhere to a straight-forward policy: I do not write negative reviews. In other words, if the book lacks merit and I can find nothing positive to say about it, I take a pass on reviewing it. There are too many good books to spend precious time on the others. I have had editors insist upon a review, even when it was going to be unfavorable, and at that point the editors and I have had meetings of the minds in which my policy prevails. My reasoning for the policy is simple: Readers look to reviews because they are seeking out good books to read, so why tell readers about bad books? To do so is a waste of time for everyone involved.

  3. I agree that I write reviews just to share what I have to say. The free books are just a nice perk.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog to let me know about the order in which to read the Laurie Halse Anderson books. I had no idea that it would make a difference.

  4. I'd bet most book bloggers are like you, and have their hearts in the right place. I'd hate to think that reviews are affected by outside factors. I've had good and bad experiences using consumer reviews for hotels, but I can usually get a good sense of a book if I am familiar with the blogger.
    I disagree with R.T., though. He can save readers a whole lot of heartbreak and wasted time by warning them off a bad book. I'm sure loyal readers who trust his opinion would want that.

  5. That's a great post! I honestly started reviewing books on my blog because I just wanted to blab about the books I was reading and I was driving my husband nuts. I didn't ever think people would actually read them! :)

  6. I write reviews because I want to verbalize my thoughts and hopefully will help other readers decide if a book is right of them. I believe in honest and objective reviews from readers, because many medias have become so biased in their reviews.

  7. My reviews are generally positive, although whether I personally enjoyed a book or not I try to point out the strengths and weaknesses so that others can decide for themselves whether they want to read it.

    Like others have commented, I write reviews partly because I simply love to share my thoughts on what I am reading. I am also pleased to be able to do something (no matter how small and insignificant) to promote books and authors that I like.


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