Amazon Customer Ratings vs. Professional Book Critics
A new Harvard study makes the bold statement that the average ratings of books on Amazon are just as trustworthy as book reviews from professional critics. That means that for every reviewer who calls Don Quixote "mundane, vapid and worthless" or says Ulysses is a "monstrosity of hideous prose," there must be dozens more who can appreciate words that are not overlaid onto a picture of a cat. Encouraging.
The study, entitled "What Makes A Critic Tick?" found a "strong correlation between the quality of consumer reviews and the quality of expert reviews." It's that whole wisdom of crowds phenomenon at work. But more interesting are the (gasp!) biases the study found among professional critics. Namely, they tend to give higher ratings to books that have won major awards, authors who have received media attention, and authors who have some connection with the reviewer's media outlet, and lower ratings to first-time authors when compared with the general public.
With more than 85,000 new books published every year in the U.S. alone, getting your book into the hands of book critics at all is the first challenge. Even though the paper says that the Amazon.com reviews are a pretty good indication of how well experts will like a book, it found no connection between how much the public likes a book and how likely it is to be professionally reviewed. What it did find is that authors affiliated with a media outlet are 25 percent more likely to be reviewed by that outlet and the resulting rating will be roughly 5 percent higher.
To sum up: 1. Win awards 2. Get talked about by the press 3. Make friends with the press 4. Enjoy good reviews. Anybody surprised?
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