Friday, May 11, 2012

The Real Message in the Stars

I wish Amazon used a star system like Netflix, the rental business that ranks movies based on my preferences, not on what others say about them.

Netflix assigns attributes to each film, such as feel-good, steamy, understated, chilling.  Then it regularly asks us to rank movies we've seen and matches attributes of our favorites to create personalized recommendations--for example, 3.5 stars, its best guess for Carol.  3.5 stars usually means I'll like the movie.

Because of the huge book numbers, delivering a personal recommendation may be too difficult or impractical for Amazon, and it's certainly not possible for reviewers.  But without personalization, star rankings for books don't mean a lot.    

Then there's the other thing: some reviews and likes of reviews may not be legitimate.  I heard recently of an author with review blogs under several different names who trashes his rivals and praises the books he writes under a number of pseudonyms. This is a bad thing for his rivals as well as for readers!  Maybe it's an urban legend--I have no facts. But there's a scam for everything, so why not? Would a real reader finish a book he could give only one star?

Recipe and product reviews can be helpful--I've bought products (luggage, for example) based on reviews.  Occasionally I review a book and give stars, if the website requires it. Five stars to me means one of my all-time favorite books.  People give five stars too often--a five star review seems as suspect as a one-star.

For me, the best book recommendation still comes word-of-mouth from someone I know or a reviewer I follow who has preferences similar to my own. 

What's your take?


  1. Me to Me: Goodreads rates books like Netflix does! Check out Recommendations on your account!

  2. I have changed the way I award ratings in recent years. I now hand out 5 star ratings quite liberally. The reason has been because of the many customer service surveys I am asked to fill out. An honest appraisal no longer seems appropriate when I think about someones job being affected in a negative way if I mark down on the service:-( This shift in my awarding excellent ratings has carried over to my other evaluations as well. I know I certainly don't get excellent service everywhere I go, and every movie I give a five star rating to is not my all time favorite! So, while a five star rating might be suspect in your view, I feel it is often the norm for many others who would highly recommend it. I agree with you about the one star reviews. Those are sometimes tied to books that students have been required to read!