Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review Nation

We live in the information age. As a result, we as a people want to be informed about the decisions we make. We educate ourselves to be informed voters. We read magazines like Consumer Reports to get performance reviews and safety information on comparable products. Apps like Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes and Goodreads exist almost entirely for the purpose of allowing us to make better informed choices. This isn't a bad thing by the way. There is such a staggering variety of products to choose from, and with a poor economy many of us don't have the dollars to risk on a product that might just be so-so. It makes very logical sense for us to turn to online reviews to get the opinions of those who have come before us before we make a commitment. "Reviewers said this restaurant has okay food but terrible service, maybe I'll pass. Turns out the movie I wanted to see only earned 45% among moviegoers and comments agree all the funny parts were in the trailer. This book was interesting, but could have been 200 pages shorter."

Earlier generations would have relied on the word of mouth of their immediate social circle if they were looking for a review, and the dedicated hobbyists and enthusiasts among them would have sought the thoughts of professional critics. But we live in a digital world. We have access to a global array of entertainment, products and information that eclipses the limited experience of our immediate friends and neighbors. While something can be said for the expertise of critics, it's likely you and I don't share that level of training and refined taste. So where do we turn? The Internet has provided for the democratization of the review industry. We have access to the perspectives of hundreds of thousands of movie junkies, foodies, bibliophiles, etc. Some of their analyses give the professional critics a run for their money. With a couple of easy clicks on our phone, we can see the average rating of ten thousand happy or disenchanted consumers.

But I think this level of convenience also comes with a certain amount of responsibility. From the perspective of producers, Review Nation is the way customers today will decide to pass on a product or make a purchase. Restaurants, filmmakers, small businesses and of course writers desperately need reviews to further their reputation for quality. While all of them certainly want positive ratings, most are far more interested in honest, genuine feedback. The more legitimate feedback a business or artist receives, the better its credibility with future customers and the more opportunity that business or artist has to improve. We may not like to hear it, but people do tend to have a herd mentality with their buying habits. Think about it. Have you ever passed over an item with only one or two glowing reviews in favor of something a few hundred people thought was pretty good? I have. Finally, this new online era in consumer-buyer relations gives the people a forum to be heard. Embrace that. If you got lousy service at dinner, say so. If you loved some sleeper film, give it five stars. So hop on Amazon, RT and Goodreads and give your opinion. Future patrons will benefit from your input.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Poll Breakdown: How do you read your books?

In January's poll I asked: How do you read your books? According to respondents, the Kindle, Nook, iPad and "other e-reader" all tied for second place with 20% of the vote. The clear winner was old fashioned ink and paper. What can this very scientific poll tell us about reading trends? It tell us that among the literary crowd who visit writing blogs, the print book is alive and well. However, in light of recent news that Barnes and Noble will be closing 1/3 of its stores, it appears that ereaders have a stronger hold on the market than my poll would suggest. Ebooks are not solely responsible as you have to factor in online shopping as perhaps the biggest diversion of sales from brick and mortar stores. In less sobering news, no respondents selected "I wait for the movie version" so at least we can sleep soundly knowing there is a brief glimmer of hope for the future. Leap-frogging off this post, please take part in February's poll (located on the right hand side) where I ask what the bookstore in 2023 looks like.