With the huge controversy brewing in the Book Publishing Industry over book reviews and how they’re obtained and used, I thought I would jump in on this.
We have exposed a problem in the trust of one of the decision points buyers have. Is the ebook as good as the review says it is? How much do readers/buyers rely on reviews? Could this start the end of a time-old tradition? Are there professional reviewers still out there that have strong ethics and do the job honestly?
Reviews are Part of the Game
Indie authors are easy to point the finger at. They already have an uphill battle against the traditional publishing and their large marketing machines. So if they buy a good review, is it gaming the system? What happens if they get a bad review? Do they bury it?
On the other side, traditional publishers call it a marketing plan. It’s the same thing, they just do it differently. It is just an investment in marketing. They sent out review copies to all the high powered media groups and get their feedback and then cherry pick the best reviews. The buying public has never called it a conflict of interest. Think back. Have you ever seen a bad review on a dust cover? I don’t think so. You’ll see the bad ones only online, where they are from customers or the reviews aren’t paid for.
So how important are book reviews to the buying decision? Will an author’s success depend on good reviews?
My first move was to review a study conducted by Mark Coker from Smashwords through Mobileread and posted on his blog. The study question was: “Select the single most common criterion you, the reader, follow to discover your next read.” The result was different than I expected but it should help guide indie authors in focusing their marketing effort.
The first item that caught my eye was: Reviews are considered first in the decision process only 7% of the time. I guess you can get used to reading words like: spell-binding, a real thriller, engaging, etc. after a while.
My pick for top method was second in his survey: 18% picked the ebook because it was one of their favorite authors.
That gets me to the survey’s top pick: 29% indicated that online recommendations from fellow readers, forums, blogs and message boards were first. That tells me that online communities are what readers are using the most to guide their decisions. The 7% may put this problem in perspective.
Do bookstores still fit into the process?
Remember the good old days when there were one or two bookstores in every mall. You could browse a store, make eye contact with the book cover, read the dust cover and the prominent reviews and that would close the deal right there.
Bookstores are slowly moving out of the equation. That touch and feel is not part of the process anymore. They are becoming more of a showroom.
Not the Internet. It has a massive number of books online and it’s really only starting. The reader has started to change their selection process and indie author must take notes. Ebooks will stay on the virtual Internet shelves of online retailers for a very long time without a space issue and so will all their reviews.
As most indie authors know by now, time management is the key to their productivity. If you’re writing a novel, doing your marketing thing and trying to handle 1,000 followers on your twitter account, you have to manage your minutes.
Buyers and readers have the same problems. That is why the successful indie author must target their readers online. Your audience/reader’s attention span is getting shorter. As Coker’s study suggests, you must rely on online communications to get to your customers.
Remember you are dealing with a community of unorganized people talking about what books they like and don’t like. The question is: How much will they rely on reviews to make their buying decision and should you invest in them?
Are Buying Reviews your Cup of Tea?
An indie author has a big decision to make about buying reviews to sell their ebook. Some marketing experts say that word of mouth is the best way to promote your book. Whether it is word of mouth or tweet to tweet or by cultivating Facebook friends, the process will be online.
I am always doing a little study here and there trying to figure out what is going on in this crazy industry. Here is a quick one I will share. This is a very limited one involving reviews and success.
I choose a prominent indie author for the study who has had major success in the ebook market place. I took one of the author’s latest books and looked at the reviews versus success.
Source: Amazon buy page: contained the usual book description, a book trailer, editorial reviews, online reviews from major outlets, individual reviews and a brief question and answer session with the author.
Priced: $9.99 (not a cheap one).
Reviews: This book had over 350 reviews from verified customers and top ranking reviewers with lots of comments. (Would anyone ever read 350 reviews to make a buying decision? People have a hard time going to the second page of a Google search.)
Results: A 3 star overall rating (not one of the author’s better books)
Kicker: the ebook is 35th in sales in the Kindle Store.
Conclusion: The quantity of reviews gave the buyers a good indication of the quality of the ebook and they didn’t care. They purchased it anyway. In this case, the reviews really didn’t matter. The downside to the author is that the mediocre reviews will stay online forever.
So how important are book reviews and should you pay for them?
The goal is to get readers to go to your buy page, charm and convince them this book is for them and then buy the book. Right. If paying for book reviews is not your cup of tea, you must come up with another plan of attack.
You need to understand how the buying process works and study your audience. Where are they? How can I get to them?
The author sighted above has developed a following through social media and has written to a popular genre. The author is not relying on reviews to sell books.
The Internet has lots of noise in the social media area but that is still becoming a popular method of marketing and communications.
Independent Book Reviews
I hate to see the individual review services take the heat on this. Many are honest, reputable, long standing people. Some of them do the reviews because they love to read. Just a few cross the line.
The Internet has changed the way we look at book reviews because of the quantity of them available to readers. No more does the reader rely on quick-snapshots on the dust cover or a glowing review in a major magazine or newspaper. Now we have real live readers giving their opinions. I think one of the reasons only 7% use the reviews to make the buying decision is that there so many book reviews, which in some cases are not reliable, they look for information.
The tea party is not over.
Some of the big hitters are trying to add credibility to the process. For example, Amazon has had their own accredited review system called Vine for several years now.
It is an invitation-only review program that allows manufacturers and publishers to receive reviews for books that have been offered on Amazon.com. Companies that use this service pay for access. Some receive a free book in exchange for the review.
The criteria for picking the reviewers is based on trust, whatever that means. The reviewers are not paid and the review will be published regardless whether the review is good or bad.
Another player in the review game is LibraryThing. They call their program Early Reviewers. They are more focused on publishers who furnish free advanced copies to readers in exchange for reviews.
They do have a program for self-published authors called Member Giveaways. The authors list their book in the program to give free to prospective reviewers. The reviewers are picked randomly. The catch here is they are not required to review the book.
Our host here, SPR provides a book review service. For a very small fee, the author gets his or her book reviewed by an expert and the review gets posted by SPR and with on-line retailers.
From reviewing SPR’s reviews they have posted, they do a good and fair job in reviewing the books.
There are other good review services that also show professionalism in their approach to the review process. Those are the reviews we need to get in front of the readers.
Maybe we can have some sort of industry accreditation system for reviewers put into place; a review that will give the readers a better idea of the quality of the book. You know, one that raises the flag when the book doesn’t match the reader’s expectations.
A big question I have is: If only 7% of readers use reviews to make the buy decision, do you need to buy 5 star reviews to sell your ebook?
That’s your decision. Before proceeding, check out some of the most popular online communities. There is a lot more to marketing than the book reviews.
A great blog discussion on the book review topic is: Should Authors Pay for Book Reviews? by Joel Friedlander on August 29, 2012
Another great blog that can help indie authors in the right direction is: How To Get Amazon’s Top Customer Reviewers To Review Your Book by Joanna Penn on September 16, 2012.
So do you have any ideas on how to improve the practice of paid book reviews?
How does buying your way in, benefit you in the long run?
Let’s build a list of forums through your comments that will help indie authors get exposure to their readers.
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About the Author: James Moushon
I am a published writer in the electronic document field. Starting over 15 years ago, I helped lead the startup of the electronic forms industry in the creation, conversion and usage of electronic forms by supplying that industry with a continuing source of published literature, software products and training seminars. I worked with over 200 companies and organizations like the IRS, Commerce Clearing House, Nutrilite, UPS, MGM, Sony International and Royal Paper Box with their conversion from paper forms to electronic forms. In 2003 I changed my focus to ebooks and their development. I commented in a recent interview: “The start of the ebook industry as a major publishing method in many ways parallels the start of the acceptance of electronic forms by businesses in the mid 1990’s. Back then major companies controlled the process but with the advent of inexpensive technology (laser printers), the ease of entry and the development of software to drive these devices, the electronic forms industry was formed. Today the ebook reader and new software are driving the startup of the ebook industry.”