Saturday, June 20, 2015

Do Online Reviews Matter Anymore?

Writers sure are entertaining, aren't they? What, with the meltdowns regarding negative reviews over the last few years, and revelations that authors are faking reviews, and some are hiring people to leave fake reviews for them.

Then there are the writers who are coming out against libraries for giving their work away for free. Libraries! The library was once revered and respected, even during the most anti-communist of times, and now it's under criticism? Even if it's only an isolated incident, it reveals something deeper going on.

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Regarding negative reviews, these days reviews are not perceived as mere feedback. Reviews are regarded as a tool authors use to sell books. Therefore, negative reviews hurt sales.

It shows how much competition there is now, and how difficult it is to make any money off writing. Not that is was easy before--convincing people to pay money to read your work has always been a challenge--but technology (especially the internet) means there are a hundred times more people trying to do it. Somehow you gotta stand out. It's so difficult for writers to get noticed they have resorted to creating the illusion of a crowd of admirers in order to attract a real crowd of readers.

As a result, nobody trusts reviews. We know most reviews are fake, or the writer's friends, or the person got a free copy in exchange for a glowing review. What was once a place to leave real feedback has instead become personal, and it is this lack of trust that's hurting sales.

It's the same reason some are starting to sneer at libraries. They're not perceived as a place of learning, or freeing information from the stranglehold of an oppressive elite, but a place where people can get an author's books for free, which also hurts sales. What a shift in attitude.

Some argue that the internet has freed all the information, so libraries are no longer needed. I disagree with this assessment. We need places where books are preserved in physical form. Digital information is too easy to edit, change and censor. Printed books are permanent.

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This dramatic shift has more to do with a sign of the times than a whiny attitude on the part of authors. There is so much competition now, so much noise, so many people screaming for attention it's harder than ever to get noticed. So difficult that even libraries are under criticism for adding to this difficulty. The internet has made it so hard for any creative person to stand out that every negative review is perceived as hurting an author's chance to succeed.

But nobody trusts reviews anymore. In fact, people are more likely to trust the one dissenting opinion that is thoughtful and balanced than the 30 glowing reviews that are two sentences each. Take criticism as a good sign that your work is reaching a wider audience.

So I say let's stop obsessing over reviews. Nobody really cares about them anymore. I think the only reason writers care so much about them is because it's like a high score. The more positive reviews you rack up on a book, the more confident you feel that people like you, and you're not wasting your time being a writer after all! You can also masturbate over the knowledge that you collected more reviews than some other author whose work you view as inferior to your own.

It's time to find another way to feel better about ourselves.

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