I’ve been droning on about this for years, but I’ll say it again. 5 star reviews do not sell books. They do not sell movies. At this point, a 5 star review would have a job selling panty liners at a Justin Bieber concert.
Every time I meet a published author nowadays, I have the same conversation with them.
Author: I’ve been under pressure to get my review score up. I need more 5* reviews.
Me: You know, I’ve never ever bought a book because of a 5* review. I don’t believe them.
Author: But I need them.
Me: No, you don’t. I’ve bought far more books because of moany or irritating 2* and 3* reviews I didn’t feel I’d agree with. 5* reviews never sell me a book. I assume they’re all lies.
Author: That’s an interesting viewpoint. But I need them to bring up my score.
Me: Why, do you have a pile of 1* reviews dragging you down or something? What does that tell you?
Author: 5* reviews are pretty. I need them.
Me: Are you crying?
The brouhaha about Batman V Superman has brought this to the fore. Critics hate the movie. Moviegoers hate the movie. It is possible that the actual movie hates the movie.
The critics had a field day following the release of Batman V Superman. Not because they were writing about a bad film: but because they got to write about criticism, and what it actually means to be a critic in an era when both solicited and unsolicited reviews have made everything meaningless.
The critics also had fun dreaming up new and inventive ways to slag off the film. And to be fair, they did it very well. (My favourite so far is from Lindy West in the Guardian: “Batman v Superman is 153 minutes of a grown man whacking two dolls together”.)
It seems that Batman V Superman was such an obvious turkey to all the marketing folk behind it, they knew it was going to get decimated as soon as reviews were released. So they prevented all the usual suspects from publishing their reviews before the movie opened, got a couple of unknown soldiers to write gushing 5* reviews, slapped them into trailers and posters, and on went the marketing machine.
What this proves to me – a long-time advocate of setting fire to 5* reviews and then banning them altogether – is that 5* reviews are indeed, as I have argued before in this parish, utter rubbish.
What happens these days is that the moment I see a movie poster with “***** 5 STARS!!!” written anywhere on it, a little imp who lives inside my head (goes by the name of Rocky) whispers “Turkey. Avoid at all costs.”
If you look deeper into the source of the 5* review, you’ll see it comes from “J Magazine Monthly” – i.e. a website run by a 17-year old from his bedroom in Idaho. Or “Movie Reviews Inc”, a similar setup in the Bahamas. They have no credibility, and no readers. 5* reviews now have the same standing as a restaurant booking in the name of Lehman Bros.
It’s the same with books. Reviews are subject to the same economic rules as anything else. The more you have of something, the less valuable it becomes. And 5* reviews are being thrown around the internet like cherry blossom in spring. Except they are not pretty, like cherry blossom. They are ugly, like Carrie Mathison’s cry face.
We can’t stop people writing 5* reviews they don’t really mean, be it for the money, for their friends, or out of loneliness. We can only ignore them. So for the love of a superhero, stop looking for them. Stop soliciting them. Look at the 2, 3 and 4-star reviews instead. Read reviews which actually say something. And perhaps then we can all go back to snarling at critics, just like the good ol’ days.