Monday, February 18, 2013

What Makes You Buy a Book?

by Niki Turner

A lot of writers, and readers, are talking about book reviews right now thanks to In recent months, Amazon has attempted to combat a growing problem with their book review process, but no one is pleased with their heavy-handed methods, which have involved the systematic removal of reviews Amazon deems "suspicious."

In our age of social media and oversharing, authors have, wisely, taken advantage of online platforms to solicit reviews of their books from fans and followers. The better (and more) reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, the higher the author's sales ranking, better visibility for their product, and higher sales numbers. For authors who are now required by publishers to master the art of self-promotion, asking friends, family, and fans for reviews is just common sense.

sock puppet 2
But, thanks to our fallen world, there are some cretins out there. As The New York Times explained in a Jan. 20, 2013, business article: 
"The retailer (Amazon), like other sites that depend on customer reviews, has been faced with the problem of so-called sock puppets, those people secretly commissioned by an author to produce favorable notices. In recent months, Amazon has made efforts to remove reviews by those it deemed too close to the author, especially relatives."
As if pumping up your own numbers using an alias wasn't unethical enough, the flip side of the problem involves, um, evil sock puppets using false aliases to slam their competition...
"The first of several recent crises occurred in September, when detective work by another author exposed the award-winning British crime writer RJ Ellory, who (recalling the online misdemeanours of the historian Orlando Figes) had used the "sock puppet" alias Nicodemus Jones on Amazon to attack rivals.
Nicodemus Jones also gave Ellory's own work five stars (one book was deemed "a modern masterpiece"), however, and it was log-rolling, not nasty notices, that evidently preoccupied Amazon's monitors over the following months.
In a crackdown, reviews were deleted without notification – often several by the same reviewer – on grounds only later explained: writers were no longer allowed to comment on others in the same genre, and the guidelines also barred reviews written by "a person or company with a financial interest in the product". Some rave reviews by family members and friends disappeared too, with Amazon's ability to identify them as such seen as sinister." (excerpt from The Guardian, Jan. 25, 2013)
In my opinion, the review system is inherently flawed. It doesn't matter whether it's Amazon, Goodreads, or the arts and entertainment pages of the nation's largest newspapers and magazines, a review is one person's opinion. It might be an educated opinion, it might be a biased opinion, but it's still just an opinion. And when we start basing our lives on other people's opinions, we end up in trouble. The ability for every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the Internet to post public reviews means we, as consumers, are going to have to become ever more discerning. If we look to reviews to guide our purchasing power, we need to make sure we are listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit on the inside.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
John 16:13-14 NIV
All this talk about book reviews, which I *blush* rarely read, and find horribly difficult to write, has gotten me thinking... what is it that prompts me, attracts me, or influences me to buy a book most of the time? What about you? Let's find out with the following survey how many of us are review-led, or drawn to a bright and shiny cover, or attracted by a snazzy title.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

 Niki Turner is a writer, former pastor's wife, mother of four, and grandmother of two. She is a self-confessed failure at coming up with catchy taglines for her writing, her purpose in life, or what she hopes to achieve in the future. Suggestions are welcome.


  1. Niki, I don't think I've ever bought a book based on a review. I do enjoy reading other people's opinion, and a review might prompt me to look up the book and see if I want to read it.

    I rarely read reviews. In fact, the only reviews I tend to read are here at the Inkwell and at Overcoming with God.

    I never read reviews at Amazon or B&N to determine if I want ti buy a book.

    Oh - unless I'm trying to determine if the book is ten years old and they've not revealed that fact (whoever put the book up for sale). And that's a whole other can of worms.

    People who write bad reviews to discredit an author are despicable.

  2. i'm a cover art, back blurb person first and foremost - then price (only because i've a budget).

    i also buy favorite authors and lately, recommendations based on commentors here and at Seekerville.

    of course, i'm not sure if i'm a "typical" reader...

  3. There are so many facets to this whole issue. I do think authors feel so much pressure that they often feel they have no choice. Not to excuse bad behavior. At the same time I feel bad for those authors who don't have the comfort of knowing that their career is ultimately in God's hands.

  4. I really don't pay much attention to reviews, and I've certainly never bought a book because of them. If I'm in a brick & mortar store, the first thing that grabs my attention is the cover (so you may not be able to judge a book by it's cover, but a good one can only help). Then I go to the back cover blurb. If both of those have me hooked, I flip to the first page and read a few lines. That's when I make my decision to buy or not to buy.

  5. I think I'm seeing a theme. So far, no one who has commented has said they are strongly influenced by reviews, which makes me wonder if all the pressure to write them and/or get them is for the sAke of the publishers and book sellers, not the readers.

  6. I do just like Jen in a store. Online, I check out the cover art, the product description and the 1-star reviews first. If they're rants about warning labels for Christian content, then I ignore those and look for actual story critique. If those don't seem offputting to me, I'll look at a few 2-star and 3-star ones and then a couple of 5-stars.

  7. I learned from watching Siskell & Ebert that no matter how good a movie is, someone won't like it.

    I learned from watching Oprah's Book Club in action that her highly rated books bore me.

    I learned that no matter how good my best friend loves a book, there's a chance I might think it's hogwash.

    God gave us each different minds, and different ways of interpreting what we see and hear. He gave us the basic facts to decide for ourselves what we like and what we don't.

    I do read the reviews, but more for an understanding of the storyline than anything else. Because in the end, it's the story that matters above all.

  8. Oh Anita, perfectly said!
    It's the same with movies and music and art... definitely art. And yes, my best friend and I have dramatically different taste in the books we read.

  9. I like to read the negative reviews, because unless they took offense to something, they tend to be the most objective. Often I see what they didn't like (for example, too character driven, too edgy) and think, oh good, I'll like this one.

  10. LOL, Dina. That's a clever way to look at reviews.

    Anita mentioned Siskel and Ebert and that reminded me, that often times when a movie gets a great rating and is talked about everywhere you turn - I usually don't like it.

    Sometimes it's the same with books. There are certain authors that everyone loves that I don't love. We're all different. But I really like the idea of looking at a review for those specific comments that Dina mentioned.

    And when I said people who give bad reviews just to trash an author are despicable - I meant just that. I do not mean people who write a negative review because they honestly didn't like the book.

    Honesty and reviews should go together like tea and ice. :-)

  11. I read one article about books that end up with a slew of one-star reviews but it's only based on the book not having a Kindle version available. That's just silly.

    And yes, I agree about movies. We have a standing agreement that if a film has lots of Sundance Film Fest awards, or any other foreign awards, we probably don't want to watch it.

  12. Great post. This is such a hot topic right now and I wonder how it will ultimately affect sites like Blogsneeze.

    I took the survey and look forward to seeing the results!

  13. I had so much fun with the survey I forgot to post a comment this morning.

    I read the 1 and 2 star reviews as well and maybe some threes.

    I do let the covers sway my opinions, and sadly the books have not always held up.

    Looking forward to news on the survey.

  14. Yes, we'll have to do an update here soon... the results are interesting!


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