16 June, 2011

How Much Do Online Reviews Mean To You?

Nowadays, practically everything is reviewed. Books. Movies. Food. Services. You name it. Along with that, of course, are the sites that put those reviews up on the Internet. Reviews come in all different kinds--basic, word-free star ratings, long paragraphs, essay-long rambles, rants, and so forth.

Some are by popular, well-known companies or people who have either done something in relation to what they're reviewing; and some of them are by random people who decided to share their opinions.

On the whole, how much do you think those opinions are worth?

For example, I was looking up a movie I saw last week* on (the? Do you put a "the" before the acronym?) IMDb (Internet Movie Database). I wanted to know what other people thought of it, since my mom and I ended up discussing it for a while afterwards.

Most of the reviews were glowing, such as "A milestone of revelation" and "PERFECTION! ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT." and "A masterpiece filmed, edited and directed by geniuses". A few other reviews, on the other hand, said such things as "manipulative, racist, simple-minded, self-congratulating" and "a glorified roll of stock footage" and "Pretentious drivel." (Links to reviews.)

And there was one that actually made me laugh a bit:

"When, atop snow-dusted mountain, you countenance the day's burning embers unfurling like crimson ribbons beneath a churning sky-scape of blushing clouds, doesn't it just make you want to... buy a car with optional four-wheel steering and an eight-speed automatic transmission?" (Credit.)


As you can see, the style and attitude of these reviews varies greatly. That's the whole point of reviewing things, no? So people can find out if what other people said strikes any chords with them. But how much time, energy, and effort are you supposed to spend reading through dozens, hundreds, even thousands of reviews for a single thing?

Another factor is: I don't know the reviewers. They're random people, and while some of the reviews are very well-written and helpful, I don't know anything about the reviewer. At least when I read something by a blogger, I know (in a broad sense, anyway) what they like, and in relation to the thing being reviewed.

I don't mean to sound hypocritical in my skepticism on how much reviews are worth--yes, I write book and movie reviews (and I'd be willing to write reviews for other stuff, but hey, it's not like people are flocking to my doorstep). However, I rarely review things off of my blog, and as I mentioned above, I consider blogs to be a different matter. There's more than a profile behind a blogger, especially if you've been reading their posts for a while.

I can also understand wanting other people to review what you've done. I know I'd want people reviewing my book on a site, because that means it's getting attention.

It's just the volume of the reviews in the world, especially for relatively popular products. There are a gazillion of them. Most of the time, I just glance at the star-rating, the blurb or advertising attached to the object in question, and skim a few of the reviews at the top of the page.

How much stock to you put in online reviews, on any subject? Do you read online reviews, and if so, which ones and by who?

How many reviews of something do you have read, before you decide whether to check it out or not? What kind of reviews do you most often look at--written reviews, video reviews, star reviews? Do you write reviews?

(*The movie, in case you're wondering, is Baraka.)

-----The Golden Eagle


Summer Ross said...

I have not done many reviews- I do them all the time in my college classes and do not particularly find them fun to do on my blog- unless they are an authors book that I happen to know- then I make exceptions usually- or if I am feeling very strongly about a book- then I review it on my blog.

As for reading reviews- I like the blog reviews of films- I find them more helpful than many others.

Otherwise I don't buy many products online so I don't look at reviews for them.

Heather said...

I try to review most of the books I read because I know the reviews are important to authors. Reviews will help me decided if I'm on the fence about buying a book so I know they help sales.

Mary Mary said...

I am most definitely a reviewer (hey, it's in my blog title!). From time to time I will look at other reviews of the movies or books I'm reviewing, but mainly because I've come away with mixed feelings about what I've just read. When a book is heralded as a great piece of literature and I finish it scratching my head, then yeah, I want to know why so many others thought it was so great. Many online reviews are a marketing ploy. Ignore the ones that come directly from some site spitting them out. They only give the overview in glowing terms without much substance. As a consumer of entertainment goods, I like to know why someone completely hated a certain book or why they fell in love with it. If it doesn't hold water (and I've become a pretty good judge at figuring out which reviewers are absolute flakes) then I ignore the review.

Reviews are helpful, but like many things, the reviewer must review responsibly!

Rogue Mutt said...

I review most books I buy (or get for free) on Amazon. I've done a few DVDs and video games as well. For most products I like to read a few sample reviews to kind of get a feel for what people are saying. Sometimes there's really helpful information in there that the product description leaves out. (For example, when looking at the DVDs of the latest "South Park" I wondered if controversial episodes "200" and "201" had been censored or not. The packaging didn't say but the reviews did, which was good to know. And with DVD sets of shows and such it helps sometimes to know what episodes there are included.) Of course the best ones are the people who leave in-depth reviews, not one or two sentences saying "This is the best!" or "This really sucks!"

Budd said...

I give this post 4 out of 5 stars. Jolly good show, chap.

Blogs are great because once you know the person you know what the review really means.

mooderino said...

The vast majority of views are pointless, just an expression of personal taste. Being able to articulate what was good or bad about something, and to be aware of preferences and acknowledge that's what they are, is tricky.

As Rogue mentioned, specific information is useful (if you know what it is you're looking for), but general recommendations count for very little.


Michael Offutt said...

I pay attention to movie reviews...especially anything done by Roger Ebert. Most bloggers in my opinion don't have any ground to stand on with reviewing books especially if they are aspiring authors. They don't delve into the book and are terrified to give a negative review because some agent might find out and lambast them. The kind of book review I would read and pay attention to is one that goes in depth and really shows me that the person that wrote the review actually read the novel. A lot of the time, reviews are so bland that it makes me question this basic premise.

Emily Rose said...

I usually check the reviews for a movie before I go see it. The funny is, no matter how poor the review is(unless it's one star or less) I doesn't make me not want to see the movie. I just like seeing other peoples opinions, and keep them in mind. Then after I watch the movie, I can form my own opinions and compare them to the online reviews. Kinda quirky, I know.:)

Sarah Pearson said...

I really only read reviews to find out if a plotline is one I think I'll be interested in. I love to read what people think of stories and films but that's their views, I'll have my own.

Alleged Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alleged Author said...

I agree with Mood on this one. Most of the time I think reviews are like belly buttons. I follow a couple people's blogs who I know give honest critiques of a work. Most of the writer's who are reviewers do an excellent job.

As far as Amazon and IMDB, the every day person sometimes reviews so they can "flame" a movie or artist in some way. Doesn't fly with me.

This is an excellent topic! Are you going to write more on it this week?

anthony stemke said...

I think that when it comes to reviews, if you don't know the reviewer, it's ok but read it carefully and perhaps contrast it with another review.
For instance, if it is a film,I take what they write and decide how that would impact me.
I read reviews of music CDs and made good choices without ever hearing the cd first.

Angela Ackerman said...

I don't know--I don't like to look at reviews for books before I read, but I will if it's something I've heard a lot of buzz about but it isn't 'my thing'. Then I can sort of get the 'highlights reel' without having to read it.

As for writing them, this isn't my thing. I find it hard to be honest and objective when I actually 'know' the person, you know? It would be hard to criticize a book in any way I think--I'd be afraid of hurting feelings.

I do enjoy reading reviews after I've read a book, especially if I had mixed feelings about it.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Old Kitty said...

I have to admit that the star reviews sneakily influence me, then the grammar of the reviewer (sorry -that sounds awfully snobbish of me!!), then whether the praise or complaint sound valid to me. If I saw a one star review on say a pair of shoes - I'd want to know why but if the review fails on the grammar side, and/or the reasons why I do my best to ignore the review.

Also reviews that say "don't buy this - I hated it" annoy the heck out of me! That's not a review - that's just someone mouthing off without thought.

Saying that - there are some amazing reviewers here in blogworld - they write really thought provoking, balanced and very intelligent reviews - they do justice to the product they review and to the readers who read the reviews.

Take care

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think reviews from real people mean far more than from 'the critics.' Of course with my own book, I'll take anything positive I can get.

Jules said...

I don't like reviews and don't read reviews (Blogs are an exception, because I like you). Product reviews are different because I want to know if 2 hours after getting said product home I have to return to buy a replacement. :)

I want a synopsis and that is it. Taste is subject to the individual. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Brittany said...

I usually read a few reviews on Amazon before I check out a book, but they don't influence me too much. If a book has 15 reviews and 8 are one-star reviews, then I'll probably think twice before I read it. Other than that, I don't usually pay attention to reviews. I've read books that I thought were amazing that other people hated.

I write book reviews on my blog, but that's it.

Robyn Campbell said...

They don't really mean that much, Eagle. If I want to read a book I'll read it. I don't base anything on the review. Don't watch too many movies these days so I don't pay attention to those reviews either. But, I think most bloggers that review are very nonchalant in their reviews. Because they're afraid. That's why I don't do too many reviews. But I'm going to review my friend's book next week. He self-published. THE WILD GRASS and Other Stories. Great post, Eagle!

Marsha Sigman said...

Everybody has an opinion. I trust the reviews of peeps I know.

I tagged you on my blog today!

Milli said...

Ummmm...I review books because, well, it's (as Heather said) important to authors. And, I just like having them there, on one blog, that I can go back to to see all the books that I've read and my thoughts about them (run on sentence, much?)
And, I would just like to say thanks. For sticking by my blog and commenting all this time.

Nicki T. said...

Online reviews... that really depends. I usually look around at multiple reviews. And I don't look at reviews that talk about plot, writing etc. If it's lousy, then I can just put it down or regret watching later. I check reviews mostly so I can find out about the content.

Elliot Grace said...

...in the end, reviews are for the most part, personal opinion. Regarding the world of storytelling, it's all about timing. Catch a reviewer when they're in the mood for your particular genre, it's a good day indeed. Catch 'em on a bad day...uh oh! My favorites are the reviews that provide a lengthy synopsis before including their take on whether or not it sucked. If I find the synopsis interesting, I'll read the book regardless of the final verdict.


Krispy said...

I like that we have so many options for reviewing now because for some things, it's nice to know what I'm getting into. Like if I'm traveling somewhere, it's cool that I can look up online where people like to eat instead of just wandering into a so-so place and hoping for the best.

But like you said, I don't KNOW any of these people and there are TONS of reviews (not to mention people who post up misleading reviews - like 1 star reviews for a product when it was the service that was bad or the website that was malfunctioning). So I like places that will give me an average of all the reviews. Then I'll go and skim a few of the good ones and a few of the bad ones to make a decision.

For movies, I like using rottentomatoes.com because it averages critic reviews and viewer reviews together and separately. At a glance, you get a lot of information.

I take everything with a grain of salt though. :)

Rob-bear said...

A book review is worth exactly what you pay for it. Which is usually nothing, or almost nothing. It's one person's point of view. If I think something is great, and other people think it's crummy, well, that's their problem.

As a writer, either you believe in what you're doing, or you don't. That's you choice; it's your source of direction. Everything else is words and stars.

Emily Rittel-King said...

I don't like to read reviews on anything, book or otherwise. Most of the books I read were passed on by word of mouth, the most reliable source there is! I admit this probably limits the books I read (sometimes I go to Barnes and Noble, walk down an aisle, point, and buy the book my finger's on), but it's not often I purchase a book I don't love enough to put on my shelf (the highest praise there is).

Jennifer Hillier said...

I don't read many reviews for books or movies (though I'm always interested in what people have to say - it's just that I don't go looking), but I will read tons of reviews if I'm buying a another kind of product, like a new shampoo or a new cell phone. Weird, huh?

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I probably put too much weight to reviews. Movies and books. Which is silly since there are so many different opinions! I have definitely been known to read a book review on a blog and then purchase it on my Kobo ereader right away. Darn thing makes it so easy to purchase books!

Michael Di Gesu said...

I normally review, but I take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes they are just TOO much if you know what I mean.

I do take book reviews much more seriously. Since I am a writer see how other writers feel about a particular book.

Misha said...

I only read book reviews and that too by bloggers I already know or whose blogs I like.

Theresa Milstein said...

I get a good idea of a book from Amazon. And even more from Goodreads because I am familiar with many of the reviewers. That said, people give too many 5s to friends or because they know how HARD it is to write a book (and don't want to hurt feelings). I've learned to skip those early reviews and wait until strangers to the author are reviewing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mostly I listen to reveiws of books and movies by people I know and whose taste I trust. Otherwise I don't trust 'em as far as I can throw 'em

laughingwolf said...

i tend to ignore reviews... over the years, i've enjoyed what others called 'dogs', and hated ones they praised... it's a totally subjective thing... not even back cover blurbs or inside reviews mean much....

if i know the reviewer, that's usually a different story... but i still make up my own mind, once i've read something....

The Golden Eagle said...

Summer: I actually find reviewing books to be fun, most of the time. And I will share my opinion in a general-thoughts post about it, instead of a more structure review, if I feel strongly about a book.

I agree!

Heather: True; a good review can help sales.

Mary: LOL. It is, isn't it? :)

Definitely. Some reviews are put up just to promote, without any real reason.

Rogue: I've found handy information in reviews, too. Product description are there to sell the product--some reviews are not.

Short reviews are the ones that get on my nerves the most. Saying your thoughts rolled into a few words is not going to help other people.

Budd: Thanks!

I agree.

Mood: And a lot of reviewers are way too offhand to bother specifically saying what they did/didn't like.


Michael: I can see why an aspiring author would not want to criticize something--but I agree, if all of an author's reviews are positive, glowing posts then there isn't as much value to them. It certainly isn't unbiased.

Emily: I do the same thing, sometimes. It can be interesting to find out what other people think--both before and after watching the movie. :)

Sarah: You know what you're looking for, then! Good for you; less searching that way.

Alleged Author: Doesn't fly with me, either. A lot of reviews just attack things for the sake of attacking something. They have little value--I will pay attention to reviews whose writers give details and specifics about negative things, though.

I wasn't planning to, actually. But there are a lot of things I could talk about relating to this subject! Hmm . . . maybe I will on Thursday. :)

Anthony: Good advice. Contrasting it to another review makes sense--to see if there's any correlation between the two.

Angela: I do that, too. I don't always read the book, but it's interesting to find out what's going on in a different genre or on another subject.

I would be afraid of that, too. I most often review books whose authors I don't know personally--although I do follow some popular author blogs--except for a few books whose authors have specifically asked me to review their book.

I enjoy that, too. It's a great opening for discussion, isn't it?

The Golden Eagle said...

Old Kitty: Star reviews influence me, too. It's a fast way of getting other peoples' opinions.

Bad grammar drives me nuts. :P I often ignore reviews with problems, too.


I have come across many bloggers like that, too, who handle reviewing books very well--I try to do the same, although I know I have said some things that would probably be seen controversial in the past. And I probably will write more controversial things in the future. Sometimes I feel saying my thoughts is important.

Alex: I know I would on my book, if it was ever published.

Jules: Aw, thanks. :)

Product reviews can be helpful--especially if they specifically bring up issues/positive things.


Brittany: I rarely read Amazon reviews, actually. Most of the time I just glance at the star rating if I remember, or skim a few quotes at the bottom of the page.

Same here!

Robyn: I agree. A lot of bloggers are probably afraid of offending or insulting an author or other creator of the thing they're reviewing--I can understand that. Still, even if I did have something published, I think I would prefer a negative, honest review rather than something positive just because the reviewer felt too cautious.

Thank you!

Marsha: Me, too.

Thanks for tagging me! :) I'll be sure to mention it in an upcoming post.

Milli: I like being able to do that, too.

You're very welcome, Milli. :) I love visiting your blog!

Nicki: Interesting--because I usually focus on the reviews that mention things like plot and writing! I like to find out how those were done in book reviews. :P

Elliot: If a synopsis is intriguing, I'll read a book even with a negative review as well. It will still pique my interest--maybe even more so, if I like the synopsis and am confused as to why the reviewer didn't like the book.

Krispy: I agree! Those sorts of reviews are handy ones. Just Google, click, and see what has the best overall opinion.

I had forgotten about rottentomatoes.com. Will have to check that out again . . . thanks!

The Golden Eagle said...

Rob-bear: I agree--just because people give your work negative reviews, that doesn't mean you have to stop believing in it. Either decide to forge ahead, or improve your work, if it's something you enjoy doing.

Emily: I have to admit, I take out a lot of books from the library because I've read reviews that intrigued me. But when it comes to buying books . . . pick and choose very, very carefully.

It sounds like high praise indeed. :)

Jennifer: I don't think it's weird. I do it--and several other commentors have mentioned that they do!

Terry: I usually put the book on a TBR/TBW (to be watched) list somewhere, and store it away for later. I get almost all my books from the library, anyway.

Michael: I agree. Since I started blogging, and getting a bit more devoted to writing, I've focused on what people like and don't like in reviews; so I don't make the mistakes other authors have.

Misha: Same here! And if I find a new review blog, I'll often scroll through past reviews, just to find out what the reviewer's taste is like and what they've said in the past.

Theresa: Good strategy! There's bound to be a greater variation of opinion that way.

Charles: I don't trust them much, either. :P

Laughingwolf: Back cover blurbs are the ones that I find can be the most misleading--I picked up a book that had great reviews by authors I liked, but found I really didn't like the book. Then I found out those authors were all part of the same writing group.

Same here!