I always wonder how influential reviews are when it comes to a person's buying decision. I'm not even sure how much they affect my purchase decisions. When I first went to Amazon, I would look at the reviews for books or CDs I already had, just to compare their opinion to my own. If it was something I didn't already have, I would peruse them and at least see if certain recurring complaints came up. I've only written one online review myself and that was last week. When it comes to music, I always write a review in my head, probably a left over habit from my brief stint as the Entertainment Editor for my High School newspaper my Senior year. I wasn't very good at it really. Too distracted... too many other things going on... simply lazy... I dunno.
Anyway, I finally took a shot and wrote a review for the newest Wolfmother release on iTunes just to test the waters. I had read all sorts of reviews in the mainstream media, and I'm not sure if there were any positive reviews, because they all cited the production quality as unlistenable. But after reading one positive review on allmusic.com (I guess I do let reviews influence my decision depending on the source) I figured I'd check it out. I did like their first 2 releases after all... (I so wanna say album, or even disc... but in an era of Downloads, I think release is more appropriate.) What I found was that all the observations both good and bad were correct. The sound quality is terrible, but it is a very raw and fun album. (Maybe I should just say "It totally rocks!") I guess it depends on what you value in music.
Now the user reviews on iTunes were even more interesting. You usually get 2 types of reviews online... 5 star reviews or 1 star reviews. (I gave it 4... In spite of the criticism I like it... maybe 3 would have been more accurate but I enjoy it, lousy production and all.) Some reviews read like they're written by someone who actually thinks they will be discovered and hired by a major publication to write reviews for money. Others are fans who love saying things like "This is real rock-n-roll man! None of that pop crap that passes for music today!" I think that assessment of the the current state of pop music has been made since recorded music began. Which dovetails nicely with the last group, the ones who love to go online and complain about everything and anything. Nothing meets their high standards. The best ones are those who expend thousands of words complaining about a free or inexpensive app or something. "This app is so not worth .99! It wouldn't even rotate my tires. I expected so much more from a word processing app. Don't waste your money." Admit it, you've seen reviews like that.
Years ago, in a statistics class I took for work, the teacher explained that people will only comment about something voluntarily if they are really happy or really disappointed. (I'm paraphrasing... liberally of course because it was 14 years ago.) And that pretty much sums up why most average scores of any online product are insanely high or insanely low. The ones in the middle are where people of both persuasions cancel each other out. But that's to be expected when you limit yourself to a star rating system that is purely subjective. 5 means its good, 4 means you really wanted to give it 5 but you want to at least appear objective, 1 means it is the worst thing ever contributed to society by mankind, and any thing else is an errant mouse click or someone's touch screen needs to be recalibrated.
So why all this rambling about reviews. We've been giving away free codes for our audiobooks through Facebook to generate interest and solicit feedback. The idea is that if you get a free code, you must then go online and write an unbiased review within 2 weeks. So far, most of ours have been positive. But does that influence people's purchasing decisions? If you see a positive review, what do you look for that makes you hit that "add to cart" button? Is it just the average that matters, the content within the reviews, or even the number of reviews compared against that average?
The thing is that we've only just begun (Did I really just type a Carpenters lyric just now?) and most of our books have been independently published or published by small publishing houses. Getting a major publication to even listen to our productions is damn near impossible and most won't touch them unless submitted by the rights holder/publisher. So as a narrator/producer, online user reviews are all we have to go by at this point and I'm just not sure what they mean. I almost hope one of our audiobooks and the authors print copy will catch lightning in a bottle, spread via word of mouth and catch the major publishing houses and mainstream media off guard. (We'll soon be doing a trilogy of books by author Pam Stucky called the Wishing Rock series that is unique enough to do just that once it finds it's audience!) And to be fair, even if online consumer reviews usually skew from one extreme to the other, the opinions of those who truly enjoy our work is still gratifying and appreciated. And those who don't... well, I hope they someday find something that they can enjoy and likewise share their positive experience with everyone as well.
In the meantime, I think we'll just keep striving to produce quality and entertaining audiobooks, and hope that those who hire us are happy with the way we present their vision to the world.