Friday, November 30, 2012

Stars in our eyes

It is a curious thing, this world of independent ebook publishing. We hear a great deal about how important reviews are in helping to sell a book. I have also mentioned before (Reviewing – the situation) how I feel that the number of five star reviews given to self-published books is misleading and, I think, ultimately unhelpful.

Here are some numbers to consider (these were correct at the time of writing):
·         Fifty Shades of Grey, currently #683 in the Kindle Store, has an average ranking of 3 stars (from 14,107 reviews).
·         The Da Vinci Code, currently “languishing” at #47,508, has around 3.5 stars (4,144 reviews).
·         The current #1, Notorious Nineteen: A Stephanie Plum Novel, has around 3.5 stars (70 reviews), and has been in the top 100 for 80 days.
·         The 2012 Mann Booker Prize winner, Bringing up the Bodies, has a somewhat better ranking at 4.5 stars, but only manages the #2,746 position (not that I wouldn’t kill for that!).
·         The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction (no prize was awarded in 2012), A Visit From the Goon Squad, has 3.5 stars and the #3,882 position.
·         A Farewell to Arms, Moby Dick, and Joyce’s Ulysses, all average 4 stars; Women in Love manages only 3.5.

It is far from clear to me:
1.      What meaning and value the reviews on Amazon have.
2.      What relationship there is between reviews and sales.
3.      What relationship there is between reviews and the actual quality of the book.
4.      What relationship there is between the number of stars a book receives and its popularity.

There is a great deal of anecdotal information bandied about; and perhaps I am just adding to that here. My point is that the situation is far from clear. There are doubtless many, many factors that influence the sales of a book, and also many, many factors that influence the mind of the reviewer. The actual quality of the book is only one of these, and perhaps not, by a long way, the most important.

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