Yes, yes they do. Very much, in fact. This enlightening article on Amazon paints an exciting (disturbing, for some) picture. “The Stolen Child,” a novel that fell short of the critical reviews it would need to soar to the top of bestseller lists, made it there anyway.
Amazon customer reviews put it there.
Readers praised the book, loved it, told their families and friends about it. It received such mass acclaim among consumers that the editorial praise soon followed suit. This tells us three things (food for thought):
1. With Internet and social media, the power is back in consumers’ hands:
Gone are the days of big publishing companies paying thousands of dollars for an ad in the New York Times in exchange for a review of one of their authors’ new books. Gone is the wining, dining, and seducing of big brand critics by these same giant publishers, in order to get a good review for their authors. Well, maybe not all-the-way gone…but getting there.
2. With Internet and social media, ANYONE can game the system.
Now anyone can wine and dine the critics, because the critics aren’t just the stuffy gatekeepers at the big stuffy newspapers. The gatekeepers are everywhere. They are all around us. That means an author can approach a family member, a friend, or the general Facebook public to promote themselves and get reviews (good or bad). This will usually take a lot of pleading, or possibly a bribe, to get someone to take the time to read your book and provide an honest, insightful review. Welcome to marketing. (Sigh.)
3. The system may (or may not) be broken. How do we fix it?
I’ve been hearing about the monetary purchase of false positive customer reviews, which the publishers are battling by posting false negative customer reviews. A secret war that most laymen know nothing about, going on behind the Amazon and Goodreads curtain.
With many readers basing their book-buying decisions on the reviews, this becomes a sticky area. How do readers know which reviews to trust? And does this mean that the system is broken? Perhaps it’s simply a reincarnation of how the system has always operated, only now it’s every man for himself. Or perhaps the freedom of social media has made the system even more corrupt than before…
What if there were NO reviews? No recommendations. None from customers, none from the New York Times. None from Oprah. Consumers would actually have to read the synopsis and sample to find out if they like a book and if it’s worth reading on. But the Internet has cursed us with instant gratification and utter laziness, so are we beyond a review-less system?
How do we fix this? Or, does it even need fixing?