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The findings of some interesting studies about book-buyer behavior were released this past week. One study found that book-buyers “discover” books and authors most often through word of mouth. The study also found that most people go online to buy the books they discover through word of mouth. Let’s put these two findings together.
Sally will tell John, perhaps at dinner, “Hey, I just finished reading a GREAT new book by so-and-so!” And John will surf to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and order a copy. Simple enough. Or is it? Let’s think about it. John listens to a verbal book review from someone he knows and trusts, and he goes online–where millions of book descriptions and reviews already exist–to purchase the book Sally had recommended at dinner.
John represents the many book-buyers who, according to the recent study, discover books and authors through friends rather than the internet–but then go online to buy the books. The internet boasts millions of books, each with an inviting description and a list of reviews. There are also author and publisher web sites and blogs, and thousands of daily tweets about every type of book imaginable. Why are people so reluctant to use the internet and its many book descriptions and reviews to learn of new authors and books?
Enticing book descriptions and over-the-top sales pitches fall flat without validation. Book hype comes from authors, publishers, and booksellers–those who cash in when a book sells. That’s why many book buyers turn to word of mouth and reviews for the lowdown. Enter authors, publishers, and booksellers–yes, again.
The lack of credible, unbiased reviews online has created a disconnect between discovery and purchase. Customers are left not knowing what to believe when they ponder a book purchase; making an informed decision becomes a game of roulette.
At one end of the review continuum are authors and publishers who, using fake names, litter competing books with vague, unfounded one-star reviews in hopes of redirecting would-be customers to their own books. Such literary smear campaigns cheat readers out of potentially good reads, and rob authors and publishers of potential sales. At the opposite end of the continuum are authors and publishers who, again, using fake names, shower their own books with glamorous five-star reviews in hopes of boosting sales. Such embellishment usually leads to buyer remorse, which, in turn, leads to bad reviews. Can you spell “Backfire?”
For a book review to be credible, it must be written by someone who has actually read the book and who doesn’t stand to gain financially from the book’s success or failure. Very simple. However, with the many profit-driven fake reviewers on the internet, and with all the one- and five-star reviews (but nothing in between) given to many single titles, it’s difficult for book-buyers to go online and make informed buying decisions based on reviews. It’s no wonder why people prefer to discover books and authors through word of mouth rather than through the internet. People are more inclined to believe people they know and trust.
Some online booksellers have taken measures to ensure review integrity, but none have succeeded. In fact, one retailer, who routinely deletes five-star reviews believed fake, but who doesn’t delete fake one-star reviews, openly states that people are not required to purchase or read a book in order to review it on their web site. Say what? Yes, it’s true. Quality and integrity controls for online reviews are needed across the board. Customers should be able to read genuine book reviews and make informed purchasing decisions without getting sucked into the invisible whirlwind we call bookbiz cut-throat drama.