Many of my readers are active in book clubs. One of those readers made the following request. “Tell me about book reviews and where they come from.”
To that question I’m adding: “Does a book review make a difference in the sales of a book?” and “Who is Kirkus?”
Let’s start with “Where do reviews come from?”
In today’s multimedia environment book reviews can be found in newspapers and magazines (New York Times, Kirkus), book-oriented web sites (Goodreads, Bookbub), book purchase sites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble), blogs, chat rooms, social media, and from friends and family.
Reviews found online come from readers, friends and family of the author (who may or may not have read the book) and some come from sites that will post positive reviews for a fee. In 2015 Amazon sued writers that had paid an outside company to write glowing reviews of self-published books among other products.
In a survey published by Smashwords in 2011, the various sources of reviews were compared for readers of ebooks. 29% of respondents surveyed indicated that they choose an ebook through recommendations from fellow readers in online message forums, blogs and message boards. Only 3% of respondents cited reviews or recommendations from traditional media as being their preferred ebook discovery method, and 7% state that they browse randomly first before looking at reviews.
Does a book review make a difference in the sales of a book? The short answer is yes. In a paper published in 2004 Alan T. Sorensen and Scott J. Rasmusse found that “… book reviews have a positive and statistically significant effect on sales, and that this effect is significantly larger for positive reviews than for negative reviews.” They estimated that “a positive review leads to a 62.9 percent increase in sales in the week following the review (relative to what sales would have been in the absence of any review), versus a 34.4 percent increase for a negative review.” Even bad publicity can benefit book sales. Any form of advertising can have both an educational or informative function as well as a persuasive role. This data indicates that negative reviews can still serve to let consumers know that the book is out there and available. This effect can increase sales, just not as much as a positive review.
Who is Kirkus?
Kirkus is an American book review magazine founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus (1893–1980). They preview over 7000 titles annually.” In 2005 Kirkus launched a fee-for-review program which allows authors or publishers to purchase a review from Kirkus. Their website features a “buy it,” “borrow it,” or “skip it,” rating system for the week’s bestsellers. They also offer editing services to authors and marketing campaign management using their magazine and website as vehicles, in addition to their (for fee) reviews of independently published books. You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking it is all a bit too cozy.
Aliance of Independent Authors Watchdog Giacomo Giammatteo wrote an article on whether a Kirkus review is worth it from the author’s perspective. Most of the authors he interviewed for the article said no. The ~250-word reviews were a rehash of the plot and only a few spare words were dedicated to commenting on the things readers want to see before selecting a book to read.
Whether you read book reviews before selecting your next book or not, just as with everything you read and hear these days, it is wise to know who the reviewer is and make your own decision as to whether to trust them. Just because a book isn’t reviewed doesn’t mean it isn’t a book you would love. You might be the first person to review the next blockbuster!
Do you have a question about books? Leave a note in the comments section and it will be the topic of a future post. If you’d like to have a guest post on this blog let me know.