So, I was chatting with Joanne Harris on Twitter the other day. You know, Joanne Harris? The best selling author of Chocolat and many other great novels. (See what I did there? A little name drop to start a blog post...well I was impressed!)
Anyway, the conversation was regarding book bloggers. For those of you who don't know, book bloggers review books and then post their opinions on either their own blog or on sites such as Goodreads/Amazon. Bloggers are generally unpaid enthusiasts who receive some of the books they review free through publishers, authors, marketing companies etc.
There are thousands of book bloggers out there and on the surface it appears to be a welcoming and friendly community of genuine enthusiasts. The relationship between author and blogger is reciprocal. An author provides a free book, the blogger posts an 'honest review'. Basically a form of free marketing with blog posts acting as the new 'word of mouth' endorsement of the digital era.
I became aware of a Twitter spat a few months ago where a book blogger freely admitted to posting only 5 star reviews so she would remain on the publishers 'good list'. In other words, she admitted to lying on her review posts simply to continue receiving free books and other goodies.
As you can imagine this caused consternation in the book blogger community with plenty jumping in to denounce such behaviour.
But it got me wondering to what extent readers can rely on blogger reviews for a genuine opinion. So I asked the question.
Joanne Harris' view was that, 'Some people don't like giving negative reviews: that's their choice.'
I agree with this and it's important to keep the purpose of reviews in perspective. A review is simply a subjective opinion of one person and it's generally accepted by authors/publishers that the reviewer may decline to post a review if they don't like the book.
But if all reviews by book bloggers are positive, (based on the assumption that negative reviews will go unwritten/unpublished) doesn't this dilute their value? Or is the value of the review determined on what the blogger likes about the book as opposed to whether they like it?
In chatting to a few book bloggers on Twitter the consensus seems to be that they would only post a review if they enjoyed the book, but also that they would only agree to accept a book for review if they thought they would like it in the first place.
As a reader it's important to understand the value but also the potential failings of a review, whether this appears on a bloggers own site or on a commercial site such as Amazon.
Anyone can post a review. The author's mum. The next door neighbour with a grievance. The point is that the motive behind the review might not be to provide an honest opinion, but more to boost or damage the author's reputation.
I'd like to think that the vast majority of book bloggers out there do it for a genuine love of reading and a desire to engage with the author community. I'd also like to think that the reviews posted are genuine rather than an attempt to obtain more 'free stuff'. However, this may not always be the case.
Whether you're choosing a book based on the author, the blurb, the pretty picture on the cover or its appearance on an awards short-list, the only opinion that really matters is your own.
How do you choose which books to read? Are reviews important to you?