How many reviews does one book need?
Right now as I type these words the internet is alive with debate, speculation, some outright rumor, and a lot of snark over the recent acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon.
Most of the reasoning is off, some by a mile or two, and I don’t wish to get into the debate here. If you look at it from a business point of view you’ll realize it’s all about the data. The rest explains itself.
Regardless, one of the big fears the indie writers are talking about is what will happen with their reviews. Will they be morphed together and seen on both sites? Will they lose their links to sites other than Amazon? Will the trolls of one be allowed run free on the other?
To this fear I will offer one insight; If Amazon changes the Goodreads website by any significant degree in order for it to lean in their favor it will alter the data. By altering the data Amazon will simply be screwing themselves. So I don’t see that happening. Until we see what Mr. Bezos does with his shiny new toy the only thing we can do is adopt a wait-and-see attitude. So why worry about something we have no control over?
What I am thinking about is this; If the reviews from both sites are combined, some of these books are about to double/triple/quadruple the number of reviews they have. This will skew the star rating system and make policing of the reviews an impossible task. Who has time to read a couple hundred reviews? Who would want to? The only time I’ve ever read that many was when a certain bestselling authors book is being exposed for what it truly is, then it’s just entertainment.
When does quality overcome quantity? Hugh Howey has a few thousand reviews for Wool on Amazon. People have to know before they contribute to a pile that big that their review will most likely never be read. Yet they do so because they really liked the book and want the author to succeed. I can understand that.
But a reader looking to discover a new book may balk at a pile of reviews that large. So it bears asking;
What’s the right amount of reviews to have?
When you’re shopping for a book would you rather have forty well written reviews or two hundred? Would you like to be able to narrow your selection in ways other than the star system? Perhaps verified purchases only? Or post release only? By date. Or maybe by word count?
The author will say NO! There are never enough reviews! I want thousands! But the author needs to look at it from the readers perspective. Nobody is going to read a thousand reviews. Quality is most likely better than quantity.
But quantity will prevail. Why? Every review is another data point to add to the system. The more data the better the algorithm. It’s all about the numbers, or more specifically, the number of numbers.
Personally, I’d rather have forty quality reviews about the book I’m considering than over a thousand, but that’s just me, speaking as a reader. I’d at least like the option of narrowing the selection down. That way the Machine still gets numbers to crunch and I can better find the data I need to make my buying decision.
Maybe this is something the new owners of Goodreads should think about?