Although traditional media remain a source for book reviews, social media and online sites play an ever-increasing role in how readers choose and discuss books. What can be said about the evolving world of book reviews and recommendations?
A 2013 survey showed that online sources dominate when readers look for recommendations. And, while more than half of survey participants get recommendations from friends, we can speculate that the definition of ‘friends’ now includes people known only through social media – another online source. (You can read more about these surveys here.)
Responding to another question, 20% of readers use only digital sources, while 13% of participants said they did not use online sites. Age also plays a role; younger readers are more likely than older readers to consult online sources. Probing further, the survey revealed that Goodreads, genre fiction blogs, and small book review blogs are the top three digital sources by a wide margin. Combining surveys done in 2012, 2013 and 2015, readers mentioned hundreds of book blogs run by individuals or small groups. Clearly readers love to share their book reading experiences with others!
What are others saying?
Quoted in a Daily Beast article The Future of Book Reviews, Herve Le Tellier, a French writer, said, “When you go to Amazon, you will get advice to read a book like the one you already read. If you follow that advice you will always read the same book, maybe not written by the same person, but the same book.”
In a 2015 session of American Historical Association on the future of book reviews, “Princeton University Press executive editor Brigitta van Rheinberg summarized the evolving landscape this way: book reviewing is increasingly democratic and diverse, the marketing of books is more influenced by their authors, publishing is more global, and books and reviews are able to garner extensive attention from an ever-widening audience.”
Publishers Weekly talks about prepub book reviews offered by sites such as Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, all of which preview books in advance for librarians, broadcast producers, editors, and other publishing professionals. But not for the general reader.
In Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, Karen Long writes on The Future of Book Reviewing: “The old model of a ‘great mind/great brain’ delivering verdicts from on high in old media is shifting into a new format for thinking about books. It is animated by the proliferating enthusiasms of book bloggers, many of whom are novices.” In the same article, Kate Travers, a marketing strategist, said “that authors and publishers still seek the general audience, and reader, that old media used to aggregate.” [apologies that I have lost the link to this article]
For the general reader, Goodreads and Amazon are most prominent, however, there are also sites like Bookish (whose goal is to give readers more information about the books, authors, and genres that they love while also introducing them to new titles, debut writers, and genres they never thought they’d read.); Riffle (Riffle inspires people to read more books by connecting them with librarians, avid readers, authors and deals on books they’ll love.); Jellybooks; WhatShouldIReadNext; NoveList; BookBrowse; Shelfari; LibraryThing; to name just a few.
Authors write and readers read. Connecting an author’s work with potential readers is an important objective of book reviewers and book recommenders. Reading is time and money and entertainment and learning and so much more. Indeed, I suspect each person defines their reading objectives differently, but they all seek some assurance that their investment will be justified.
Clearly there’s a difference between recommendation and review. Purists laud the erudite review and dismiss the casual recommendation but there is a middle ground to be found on Goodreads and many book blogs where thoughtful readers offer well-written input on the merits of a book. You just need to find those that suit your reading preferences.
And what do authors and publishers want from book reviews? Exposure to as wide an audience as possible? Positive reviews that will influence readers to purchase? Genuine feedback? A chance to connect with readers? An opportunity to collect data? The possibility of being noticed by someone of influence?
Having looked at many sites and blogs, it seems to me that the winners in the online world of connecting readers with books share three attributes: thoughtful, trustworthy information about books, opportunities for dialogue, and a community of like-minded readers.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.