Just How Important Are Reviews?

Kathryn (Bob) Etier

There are voices crying out in the wilderness, “Nobody reads reviews,” “Don’t worry about getting reviews,” and “The review is dead.” While these observations may be true about a segment of the book-buying public, it is by no means representative of all readers. Some people never read reviews; they find books of interest and buy them (browsing through bookstores offers its own rewards). Others read reviews for entertainment, enjoying the literary dissection nearly as much as the reading experience.

On many sites, reviewers are paid per number of page views. If no one is reading what they write, they don’t get paid. Since the checks keep coming, we can only assume that somebody is reading the reviews (and, in my case, it’s not my family). An argument can be made – and it’s a valid one – that reviews do not influence buyers. Reviews are read by people who want to know what’s “out there,” and those people don’t care about the reviewer’s opinion. Maybe.  That doesn’t explain why people flock to the stores to buy Oprah’s recommendations.

Reviews are word-of-mouth advertising. You love a book and tell a few friends, they tell a few friends, and it may result in a few sales – if all those friends aren’t sharing the same copy. An internet reviewer loves a book and they may be telling thousands of people how wonderful it is; magazine and newspaper reviewers may be telling millions. Even when reviewers don’t like a book, they drum up interest and spur sales.

If nothing else convinces me that reviews are important, I look to the publicists. Some nearly swoon when I agree to review a book they are promoting. Publishers and independent authors pay publicists to get their books noticed. Does anyone believe that companies like Random House would continue to invest in something that showed no returns?

People say “Nobody reads reviews” to writers who have gotten awful reviews. They say “Don’t worry about getting reviews” to writers who can’t seem to get reviews, and they say “The review is dead,” to both. People do read reviews, whether it’s Amazon user reviews, e-zine reviews, blogs, or the prestigious New York Times Sunday Book Review. There are far too many books being published for the average reader to keep current, and book reviews help them know what‘s new and what’s worthwhile. I don’t say this because I’m a reviewer, I say this because I read book reviews.


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