I was glancing at the reviews of various books that I’d posted on Amazon, looking to see whether they are particularly helpful or not based on on the feedback that people can give. The results seem mixed and I decided to take a look at reviews by others for a book I’d recently reviewed to see why some are rated very helpful and others not very helpful. In doing so, I looked at reviews that rated the book itself very highly and very lowly. And I made a discovery which surprised me:
People rate books low (e.g. 1-star) because of the price of the book.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. This is probably old news at this point, but there were dozens of people who, for instance, gave 1-star to Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for the sole reason that they felt the Kindle version of the book was overpriced. People are free to express their opinions as they see fit and I have no problem with that, but it did bother me that a rating system was being used as a kind of protest mechanism against the publisher and not to rate the book on its actual literary merits.
I gave this a bit of thought. People should be able to express whatever opinion they have about a book (or any product) for whatever reason they choose. But a rating system should also be designed to be helpful to those interested in the quality of a product above and beyond just the price. Giving a book a 1-star rating because of price alone games the system in a way that makes it difficult for people looking for opinions on quality to easily find them. I wondered if there was a possible solution and thought of at least one:
Why not two scales for ratings: 1-5 stars for quality and 1-5 stars for value. The quality rating would be used (in theory) to rate the book on its merits, completely separate from how it is priced. The value rating provides a mechanism for someone to rate the overall value (including price) of the book. In this way, a person could say that they thought a book was phenomenal (5-stars for quality), but thought it was outrageously overpriced (1-star for value). This seems like a perfect compromise but I suspect it has two fatal flaws:
- People would still protest overpriced books by hijacking the quality rating. That’s just human nature.
- Publishers might balk at such a rating system (although its hard to imagine what they could do about it) because it would expose too much about their pricing practices.
In the end, it is easy enough to simply filter out the noise of 1-star reviews based solely on price. And I’ve been marking these reviews as “Not helpful” as I find them, because for me, they aren’t helpful at all. They tell me nothing about quality. I just wish there was a better mechanism for separating out quality from value in these reviews.