That Review Thing. Again.

October 29th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

If, as we suspect, bestseller lists are some sort of symbiotic relationship between publishers and book review editors, then reviews seem to be the same. Movie reviews seem to exist for the pulling of out-of-context quotes for one sheets. Does anyone ever really walk up to those posters and say, “Hey, XXX loved the film, and despite his liberal use of ellipses, I’m so there!” We doubt it, but we also doubt that cover quotes on books truly sway many readers. Someday we’ll get off our lazy couch and do some research on this.

In the meantime, we can have one suspicion about the efficacy of reviews confirmed, even if it is for the movie industry:

A survey of 2,000 people by three business school researchers found that television ads and recommendations from others were the biggest influences on movie-going habits, each factor cited by about 70 percent of respondents. Professional reviews ran a distant third at 33 percent, while online ratings on such sites as Yahoo and the Internet Movie Database influenced 28 percent.

It is rare to read a truly honest review when it comes to motion pictures, especially when it comes to major media. That symbiotic thing again — press screenings are lovely things. It is more likely the public is widely influenced by the number of screens a film plays on than the reviews (okay, given that very few blockbusters get the raves, we think this is highly likely).

So why bother? Setting aside the fact that reviewing is a good job, but purpose do they really serve? Roger Ebert has a thought:

“You don’t need a critic to tell you about ‘Titanic,’ ” Ebert said. “You really need a critic to tell you about good movies you might miss or might not have heard of otherwise. You don’t need a critic to tell you the box office is right.”

Well, on one level, yes, this makes sense. Provided people read the reviews. Personally, we’re more influenced by trailers. A bad trailer will turn us off immediately. A good trailer will have us nudging the husband in excitement. Please, Jill, mind out of gutter. This is a serious topic.

The, uh, good movies referenced by Ebert face many challenges. The same challenges faced by the good books missed by many readers. This gets back to an earlier thought: it’s not going to be the mainstream reviewers who shepherd missed gems to the public’s attention — it’s going to be bloggers and websites (separating the concept, but not really thinking they are all so different in this context). The concept of community come into play (hey, he likes it, I like his taste, I’ll try it). Trusted voices will guide.

This approach won’t lead to instant box office or bestseller list success, but it does something better: it creates legs…you don’t live fast and die young (and likely not earn back your costs); instead, the slow and steady approach leads to a wider readership.

File Under: Square Pegs

1 response so far ↓

  • Anonymous // Oct 30, 2004 at 12:49 pm

    Cover quotes’ll sway me if I’m wavering on the cusp. More from who said it than what they said, though — it’s your trusted voices thing again.