Do Amazon Reviews Matter?

This came up on one of my online writer groups last week - whether customer reviews on Amazon are important.  And how important?  Is it bad if a book only has a few?  Do they play a part in whether a book shows up as "recommended for you" or "viewed by other customers" or whatever? I don't know any of those answers - I'm not sure if anyone does - but it got me thinking.  Especially on the heels of having driven past my depressingly empty Borders.

I study reviews for products I'm thinking of buying.  I want to know if the toaster I'm considering is a piece of junk or the best one ever.  If there are good and bad reviews, I'll read every one (within reason) and I absolutely base buying decisions on what other people have said.

For books?  Not so much.  In fact, I rarely read Amazon reviews.  I'm always worried there will be spoilers and I really hate knowing too much ahead of time.  Sometimes I notice how many people have reviewed a book.  And I do notice the overall rating.  I'm not sure either one has factored into my buying decision - it's possible - but overall as a consumer, I'd say Amazon book reviews probably don't matter.

But that's just me.  Doesn't mean other people shop like that.  Or that I won't change how I shop - consciously or not - as the world changes.

Like I said, I drove past my Borders the other day.  It was one of those big two-story ones with huge sections for YA, kids, adult, travel, cooking, lots of face-out books, tables of New & Noteworthy, the Staff Picks area.  I found one of my very favorite books, The Dark Fields, wandering aimlessly through there one day.

I won't be able to do that anymore.

It's not new news that the way people find books is changing.  Word of mouth is increasingly important.  But I'm not sure anyone really knows what that means yet.  What kind of word of mouth?  Real person-to-person?  Or what's listed on those emails that come from B&N?  Or something else? Book blogs and goodreads are great sources of information and - for me - will probably be where I hear about my next favorite book.  But what about the rest of the world?  Because, truth be told, I'd never read a book blog or heard of goodreads until I signed a publishing contract.  And I really doubt any of my RL friends have either.  So is Amazon's Recommended For You their new bookstore table?  And if so, how does it work?

Which brings me back to whether reviews matter.  Because even though I don't pay attention to them, maybe in some crazy Amazon (or B&N) algorithm that decides which books get recommended, they are important.

Rather than chasing my own tail to uncover the secrets of Amazon, I just decided to write more reviews.  Not on my blog or goodreads, but the places where people shop.  Just in case.

Am I going to review every book I read?  Heck no.  I loved The Help, but so did most of the other 4,633 people who've reviewed it on Amazon.  There's probably not much I can add to that conversation.  But when I've read something like Harmonic Feedback or The Everafter that I thought was really great and only has a smattering of reviews...that's a different story.

Am I going to post negative reviews?  Nope.  If I bought a toaster that was a piece of crap, I'd probably write a one-star review to save someone else from wasting their money.  Its pretty clear-cut: either it toasts or it doesn't.  But a book?  They speak so differently to different people.  There have been books I didn't finish that other people have loved or that have won awards.  I don't think that's true of toasters.  As a writer, I'm not comfortable throwing someone else's book under the bus because it wasn't for me.  Maybe if I made toasters I'd feel differently.

Am I going to give all my online friends' books glowing reviews?  No.  I have a tag on my blog for that.  It's called Totally Biased Book Reviews.  The point of that was to give other debut authors extra exposure and talk about what I loved in each of their books.  The point of my posting on Amazon or B&N is different: to call out books that really spoke to me, probably just a handful over the course of a  year.

I wrote four on Amazon over the past few days (having never written one before I have some catch up to do).  They're not big, long, detailed things.  Just a few words about why I really, really liked that book.  It took me about ten minutes.  Not much effort and in this age of digital handselling, who knows what kind of difference it might make?