Comparing Book and Movie Reviews

I buy books (both paperback and e-book) at Amazon and rent movies from Redbox. As an author, reader, and movie watcher, I find the comparison interesting.

When I pull up Amazon’s home page, I see a customized list of thumbnail images of books. Every book has the average star rating beneath it. However, when I pull up Redbox’s home page, I see just the thumbnail images of the movies – no average star rating. Also, when I shop for movies at a physical Redbox, I don’t see the reviews at all.

The strategy is a little different. Amazon wants you to see the perceived popularity with other customers before you click on a book that looks interesting, while Redbox wants you to decide which movie looks interesting before seeing what other customers think.

At a physical Redbox, they evidently don’t want you to be influenced by reviews at all. Perhaps including highly visible reviews on the machine would slow down the process. Have you ever stood in line just to return your movie, but had to wait twenty minutes for someone who was shopping? If so, just imagine how long the wait would be if customers could read through hundreds of reviews there.

I like how – online – Redbox wants you to first select a movie of interest, and then check out the reviews. I prefer this to Amazon’s method of showing you the average star rating first. I kind of feel that I’m being told what to read: Buy what’s most popular… what everyone else has… we know what’s best for you…

Things become more interesting when you check out the reviews themselves. Movies tend to have very many reviews, and the critics can be harsh. It’s tough to find any movies – even with popular actors and actresses – that have very high average star ratings at Redbox. Sometimes a pretty good movie has an average star rating of around three.

The average review rating can actually be less than one star. Fortunately, the minimum customer review at Amazon is one star. I once clicked on movie that had a really cool cover and looked professional, but had a point-something star rating with over a hundred reviews. What? How could it be that nobody liked the movie?

Authors can gain a different perspective on customer book reviews by checking out some of the Redbox movie reviews. I’m glad I haven’t produced any movies.

Yet even if the movie has many of bad reviews and hardly any good ones, it still has numerous reviews. That is, many people watched it regardless of all those lousy reviews. If a book has many more bad reviews than good ones, customers probably won’t buy it. Its sales rank will plummet.

Ah, there’s another point. Amazon tells you the sales rank. So if a book that was selling regularly suddenly has a dry spell, the sales rank climbs up to a million and shoppers think, “That book must not be good.” If the book is lucky enough to get a sale, the sales rank improves to the hundred thousands, and sometimes that one sale triggers a couple of more sales. If the sales rank climbs to the low thousands, customers perceive it as popular. If it gets on the bestseller list, it must really be good, right? That’s the perception.

Redbox doesn’t tell customers the ‘rental rank.’ Redbox doesn’t tell you which movies are more or less popular. I like that it’s not a popularity contest. It’s just about what interests you.

At Redbox, you sort movies by release date or alphabetically. The order of search results is a little more… interesting.

Of course, Amazon has tens of millions of books to choose from, whereas Redbox can only fit so many recent movies in the machine (Netflix doesn’t have that limitation). A movie is also over in a couple of hours, while you may spend weeks reading a book.

I realize I’m comparing apples to oranges. Actually, the supermarket sells apples pretty much the same way they sell oranges. The difference between book sales and movie rentals is fairly significant.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

11 comments on “Comparing Book and Movie Reviews

  1. Movies often have trailers to get you interested and many authors are beginning to see the value of these in books. Especially books that offer excitement and suspense or mystery.

    • Trailers are a great idea. 🙂 I’ve seen a number of book trailers recently that seemed quite well done and good at creating interest. AuthorCentral lets you put one on your author page, but not on the book page, right? It would be nice to have the book trailer visible on the product page…

  2. These days Chris, so many of the reviews on Amazon are far from being genuine. Combine writers using underhand self advertising like writing their own reviews using several ‘sock puppet’ aliases with the average troll review and you can discount almost fifty percent of them as bogus. As for Amazon’s recent acquisition Goodreads, discount any and all reviews there. Why, because many of the troll attacks disguised as one star reviews come from a mixture of failed writers with a major chip on their shoulder and quite a number of Goodreads own staff.

    • You may be right that movie reviews at Redbox, for example, are more genuine (there is probably some of this there, too, but probably to a much lesser extent). Amazon has reduced the socket puppetry significantly compared to a few years ago (apparently the Zon bot filters these fairly well); but the trolls seem to still have fairly free reign. Thank you for sharing your comments. 🙂

  3. I think there’s also the time investment issue. Movies are 2-3 hours as long as Peter Jackson isn’t involved. Books take a lot more time and energy to work through, so people are more picky about what they read. I agree with the ranking too, which is something I’m staring at now. My second book was doing great and is still selling, but it’s dropping in the rankings because the algorithm doesn’t take in solely sales for books. It’s bittersweet. On one hand, a low ranking can push people away from a book. On the other hand, a high ranking can draw a lot of people in. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

    • That’s an excellent point about people being pickier about what they read than what they watch. 🙂 The audience of readers is also somewhat different from the audience of moviegoers, overall. I think your series has much potential, especially for some nice hills to follow each of the valleys. Many things seem to be on your side for the long run (I hope it pans out).

    • I wish you every good fortune with the publishing Charles. As a ‘new writer’ to the industry don’t expect to be well received, especially on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. You soon learn to develop an extremely thick skin when it comes to many of the so-called reviewers on both sites. You have to just to survive. Should you feel tempted to read any reviews, I would strongly advise against it. Many years ago two long established prominent authors of my acquaintance warned me against the practice. Did I listen? No. I wish I had. I soon learned that they were right. Leave the reading of reviews to prospective readers of your books. 😉

      • I’m on my second published book. I made the mistake of reading my reviews the first time. Slowly training myself to not do it. Plus side is I have more positive than negative, so it’s easier to ween myself

    • A long gap between books may lead to a significant increase in anticipation. The buzz may lead to a big boost in sales rank and visibility when it’s finally released. At least, there is much potential. This may offset the challenge in keeping sales steady during the gap. I would advise to take your time and not sweat it; trust that your hard work and dedication will lead to many good things. Hard to do, but I predict things will turn out nicely in the end. 🙂

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