Product Reviews (and what I think about them)


Someone asked me recently about book reviews and the impact they had and if authors thought they were worth it. I thought this was an interesting question, since I’ve kind of been on both sides of it and been able to see how exactly reviews work and affect things on a different level than a lot of readers have. Secretly, I also have an obsession with buying things off of Amazon, and I read a lot of reviews. My most recent purchase is this really neat can opener, for anyone interested.

Anyways! I’m not going to talk just about book reviews right now, though I’ll get to that. I just want to mention reviews in general for a moment, so bear with me.

Why did I buy this particular can opener? Oddly, I didn’t look at the number of stars it had until just now, so that wasn’t it. Mostly, it looks really fancy, especially from the thumb nail. Also, it’s eligible for Amazon Prime 2-day shipping, which is important to me because I have Amazon Prime(it’s really neat and I recommend it if you like to buy things online). I’m a huge sucker for free shipping and prefer to buy things with it, and this can opener had it.

After that, well, it’s a can opener, right? It is, but it isn’t. I needed to read some reviews for this, so I did. I don’t actually read product descriptions a lot when I buy things like this, because they don’t tend to tell you too much(weird, huh?). This can opener in particular is guilty of this. It’s got a bunch of fancy words, but they don’t say much, and that bothers me. This is important, and I’ll come back to it in a moment.

I always check the 1-star reviews first, because I need to see if there’s any legitimate complaints. Check them out if you want.

Mostly, these reviews aren’t saying anything either. Someone gave 1 star because the cord isn’t long enough? Someone else didn’t read the instructions and couldn’t figure out how to get it to cut. Another person admits that they think they got a faulty can opener but didn’t bother to contact the seller and return it. To me, these aren’t very legitimate. If the cord is too short, I can get an extension, or if I can’t figure out how to make it cut then I’ll read the instructions, you know? If it’s broken, I’ll contact the company to get a replacement.

Now, if the company screamed at me after I called or emailed them and told me I was stupid, I’d probably give them a 1-star, but it doesn’t look like anyone’s rated it 1-star for that reason. The only thing I can really gather from this is that these are the type of people who will complain about everything.

For some interesting insight, Tim Ferriss actually mentions this exact thing in one of his recent blog posts. That’s kind of a long article, but interesting. For ease of reference, here’s exactly what he mentions: “The 1- and 2-star are usually written by people who hate everything (look at their other reviews if you
doubt me).”

So, you might wonder, why did I choose this can opener? I definitely needed to make sure there were no legitimate complaints at first, but after that, I checked out some of the more positive reviews. This one sold me immediately. It’s simple and to the point. He made a video of him opening a can with a regular can opener, then shows how the can opener in question works differently. That’s all I wanted to know and see, and once I saw the video, I decided this was a can opener I’d like. Easy, right?

It really is, but that’s the problem with reviews, too. People get confused about what makes a good review, or why they should pay attention to reviews, and for books it can be even worse. If you see a book with a 1-star, you might suddenly assume it’s bad, right? Except what if that poor rating doesn’t say anything? Is it fake? Is it just someone being angry because they’re always angry? Let me find a random book(that isn’t mine) and I’ll cue you in on some good strategies to take in regards to reviews. I’m going to pick a book in the “erotica” category on Amazon because in my experience, those tend to get some of the weirdest reviews.

The first book that came up is Seduced in the Dark, by CJ Roberts. I’ve actually heard this is a pretty good book, so I think it’s an interesting subject for this. Let’s look at the 1-stars, shall we?

The first one, the first line, says she didn’t finish the book, so it’s hard to really understand why she gave it a 1-star rating(because maybe it got better, you know?), but she does go on to say a lot more, so it’s not too bad. The rest of the review is actually really useful, so I’d say this is actually a “good” 1-star. You know what you’re getting into, and she goes into good detail about why she didn’t like it. Now, maybe someone else would LOVE the book for these reasons, right? I don’t know. It’s possible. Overall, despite the “negative” rating, I like this review.

Further on, you have another review that’s sort of the same. She also didn’t finish the book. The problem is, we don’t know why. There is literally no useful information in this review. I completely believe that this reader didn’t like the book, but I don’t know why. And she’s telling us not to read it? I think people should be nice in their reviews, even if they don’t like it, because at the very least, the author deserves some respect for the time they put into the book, right? To be fair, she wasn’t really mean in her review, but the “Don’t read” and with no further information, is just weird to me. If she told me why I shouldn’t read it, then I might agree.

And, on that same note, for books, I really only take into consideration people talking about the plot. If you browse Amazon a lot, or any other book selling site, you’ll notice people tend to randomly mention “grammar” and “poor writing,” but in my experience these tend to be go-to responses for “I didn’t like the book but I don’t know why, so I’m going to say they wrote it badly.” No one needs to know these things, because every e-book has a sample available that you can read. You will be able to immediately tell if a book has bad grammar or poor writing by reading the sample, right? If someone says a book has poor writing, and that’s their only complaint, it’s a good idea to read some of the sample yourself to check if it’s true or not. Sometimes it really is true, but sometimes it’s just people complaining because they’re angry at something and like to complain(see above).

Be forewarned, though! This doesn’t just happen with bad reviews. It happens in good ones, too.

I am positive this person loved this book, but I have no idea why. It’s great to know that they liked it a lot, and as an author it’s still really nice to get feedback like this. It’s important and it makes us happy to know our readers love our stuff. As a reader, it doesn’t tell me much about the book, though.

This MIGHT be alright, because it’s the second book in the series, you know? If I read the first book in the series and I loved it, and I see someone else who also loved it, then that’s useful to me in a different sort of way. We both loved the first book, and they loved the second, so we share similarities in what we like to read, and that’s enough. As an outside reader who hasn’t read this book, I’d need to find a more descriptive review, though.

Or, alternatively, I don’t actually read the reviews for books very often. I like to read the descriptions and check out the samples to decide if I want to read things most times, so maybe I’m a little weird. I’ve loved books that everyone else hates, and hated books that everyone else loves.

And this is fine! It’s basically exactly what I’m talking about here.

I guess the takeaway is that reviews are important in as much as if they provide information. It doesn’t matter what star rating anything gets, or what anyone gives, it’s more about what they will tell me about what I’m looking at. If they don’t tell me anything, then I don’t know anything. If they tell me weird things that don’t really make sense, it’s kind of the same. If they tell me things that I can check, and already know from glancing at the product, that’s not really useful or exciting.

If I do look at a review, I don’t look at the star ratings, I look at what the person is actually telling me. I might love something for the same reason someone hated something, and that makes their review wonderful and very useful to me.

I kind of wish reviews didn’t have ratings at all, and it was just people talking about the product, because then there’d be a lot more useful ideas being tossed around. That’s what I think, anyways. Reviews can really hurt or help people because some people don’t bother to read them, too. There’s also fake reviews, or reviews that got confused, or any number of things. Some people don’t think before they review things, either, and they don’t realize that there’s a person behind the product, and that person relies on this product to make money to live. For me, this is actually why I don’t rate things badly very often(unless they are legitimately bad and I have many reasons for this). I don’t feel comfortable with it, because I don’t want anyone to starve or not be able to pay their rent or buy their children new clothes, you know? I’m not saying people shouldn’t give items, books, or whatever a low review, but if you do then at least be considerate with it. Tell people why you didn’t like it, and respect the fact that maybe someone else would love it. That’s just how life is =)

So, that’s what I think about reviews. It’s kind of a lot of words, but I hope it helps someone.

Posted on May 14, 2013, in Other and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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