Let's Go TechnoDo Online Reviews Take The Chance Out Of Book Buying?Grace Cox

Recently I went into a bookshop and bought a book that I liked the look of – a bit radical, I know.  I didn’t do my usual trawl through the internet, searching for books that might appeal to me, I didn’t stand in a corner of the shop and sneakily check online to see that other people had enjoyed this book before I parted with my money.  I just did that old fashioned thing of judging a book by its cover (although shouldn’t the saying really be “Don’t judge a book by its spine”, as that’s what we’re normally looking at in the shop?), reading the back cover to check that it was something I was vaguely interested in and then buying it.

The book was Penelope by Rebecca Harrington and I loved it.  I had that lovely feeling of knowing that I’d found an author whose future books I would buy as soon as they came out.  After I finished the book I hopped onto Twitter to follow Harrington and then sashayed over to Amazon to see the reviews, I was convinced that other people would love the book as much as I had, that I’d be greeted by enthusiastic praise.  Turns out I know diddly-squat as it had more one star reviews than five star reviews and, honestly, if I’d have seen that before I bought the book then I would’ve put Penelope right back on the shelf.

Online book shopping can be great.  The online world can introduce us to books that we would’ve otherwise overlooked, we can discover great new authors and be recommended books that we might like based on what we do like, but it does take the chance out of book shopping a little bit.  How many of us skip over the books that get an average customer review of three stars or under because we think that there are better books out there?  Because yes, we could be that one person that thinks that it’s worthy of five star status, but chances are we’ll probably be one of those people in the one star category so we really should pick something safer instead?

You also have to add into the equation the fact that you can’t trust all the reviews on ratings based websites.  The majority of reviews are most likely from legitimate people who just want to voice their opinion but ever so occasionally a scandal breaks revealing an author who has trashed other peoples’ books under a pseudonym and left glowing reviews of their own books and you’re reminded that anyone can write almost anything they want on the internet.  People (well, trolls) can even write damning reviews of books they’ve never set their eyes upon just for the “fun” of it and if a book has such a poor average rating then people, like me, will often overlook the book entirely rather than reading the good reviews and giving it a chance.

And surely this has to harm a book’s chances of success.  20 years ago publishers and authors feared bad reviews from newspaper and magazine critics but odds were the average person in the bookstore looking for something to read hadn’t seen those and so wouldn’t be put off by them.  Now we can look up anything we want, whenever we want.  Money’s tight for a lot of people and so if you’re buying a book you want to give yourself a good shot of purchasing something that you’ll actually read to the end and hopefully will like so much you’ll re read it in the future.  And so we look things up online to get an idea and the popular books become even bigger bestsellers and the less popular books get dragged down to the bottom and sometimes forgotten about even though there’s surely an audience out there for them.

I guess there’s a happy balance between scouting books out on the internet and letting ourselves be drawn to a book in a bookshop for no other reason than liking the look of it.  Yes, we might end up with a dud or two, but we could also stumble across things that are really quite spectacular and shouldn’t book shopping sometimes be about chance?  About reading something and letting the words of the story do all the talking?

How do you guys choose books?  Do you rely heavily on online reviews?  Have you found any hidden gems without the help of the internet?

Image via the author

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  1. I use goodreads, but I try so hard to not read the reviews before I reed a book. Mostly, I just like keeping track of which books I read and how many. Sometimes I’ll read reviews when I’m done and have already formed an opinion so that I won’t be affected by anyone’s negativity while reading the book.

  2. I usually check goodreads but i find that it turns me
    off to more books than anything. Im quitting that website

  3. I rarely read reviews and almost always buy my books from the book store. I like to pick up the book, read the back and maybe the first chapter before I buy a new book. That or I will borrow from someone first and if I like it enough, buy it. Reviews on books seem weird to me. I rarely agreed with them, because everyone has their own style of writing they enjoy, and their own topics they are interested in :). The joy of books! There is something for everyone!

  4. I use both the browsing and researching methods. Both have their good points. I think I’ve a better average success rate (for lack of a better term) with books I research online. I’ve learned enough of the language of reviews to weed out the kind of stories I wouldn’t be interested in, or to confirm that readers are finding the books’ descriptions accurate.

    Browsing is more hit-or-miss but I think my browsing hits (The Seduction of Water; The Spellman Files; Gods of Gotham; A Fool’s Gold: A Story of Ancient Spanish Treasure, Two Pounds of Pot, and the Young Lawyer Almost Left Holding the Bag; Dorothy Gilman, John Bellairs, who I so wish I’d found as a kid) have been bigger than my research hits.

    I think not having any foreknowledge of a book really benefits its story, but the state of my finances doesn’t allow for wasting too many purchases on dud reads. As high as the browsing highs can be, the lows have been infinitely worse than the research lows. Some of those jacket blurbs bear absolutely no resemblance to the actual contents of their books.

  5. I’m usually a big researcher when it comes to buying Kindle books, but every once in a while I like to browse used bookstores or thrift shops for a good read. It’s a lot easier to take a chance on a book when it’s only $1!