Friday, November 13, 2009

Ratings and Reviews

The one-to-four-star rating system has been around for a long, long time. The stars may be replaced by other symbols, or there may be three or five, but the idea is the same: to provide an at-a-glance, comparative valuation.

All other things being equal, most of us are drawn to the top-rated items--as long as the ratings are not manipulated in some way.

Ratings assigned books are probably less reliable as an objective indication of quality than they might be with hotels, restaurants, films, and other products. This is because the appeal of books is so very subjective, even more than music.

I noticed that Amazon provides a tally of ratings for all books that meet a given search critereon. There's no indication whether the tally is individualized--that is, whether the total number of books for each ranking includes books ranked higher, and the total number of reviews of books that met my search criteron is 95,500. Or if these numbers are breakouts from a total of 354,706 reviews.

So, I wonder about the significance of the numbers. Here's the tally for a search I did today:

* 4 Stars & Up (76,319)
* 3 Stars & Up (89,630)
* 2 Stars & Up (93,337)
* 1 Star & Up (95,500)

The tally for all books:
* 4 Stars & Up (1,017,183)
* 3 Stars & Up (1,166,103)
* 2 Stars & Up (1,206,310)
* 1 Star & Up (1,237,167)

If the tally is individualized, does this mean that more dislikable books are being published than likable? Are there more reviewers with agendas to torpedo specific books than there are straightforward reviewers? Perhaps dislike for a book strongly motivates reviews, so those who didn't enjoy a book are more likely to write a review. (As in, "I spent my money for this?")

Or, perhaps readers in general are simply very discerning and hold books to high standards.


Dave Kennedy said...

Interesting. I wonder if it could be a reflection of the notion that people are more likely to be vocal when they dislike something. For example, I get the sense that more people are likely to get the waiters attention if their meal is terrible, than if it meets expectations.

Michael A. Banks said...

"More complaints than compliments." I think that's what anyone who works in service or hospitality would say, too.