Saturday, 25 December 2010

Has a bad review ever made you buy a book?

Publishers often say that all publicity is good publicity; in a world where the economics of attention (how do you get noticed in a deluge of print, e-book, pro-, small- or self-published, promoted and even free fiction?) outweigh the economics of scarcity (make my product rare so I can charge more for it), I can see how this would be true. Anything that brings your product (in the case of publishers, the author) to the attention of the consumer (the reader) is a good thing, right? If you're in an airport wanting to grab a book for that flight, then a name you recognize, even if you don't quite remember from where, will get your attention before all the faceless authors on the shelf. I'm sure everyone who slated Dan Brown's writing style contributed to his blockbuster status, and no doubt Docx is delighted that so many intelligent and reasonable people disagree violently with his poorly thought out rant about genre fiction. In theory, all this works fine.

But I'm curious: does this work in particular cases? Has a bad review ever made you go out and buy a book?

I can think of two reasons (and a commentator on Twitter suggested a third) this might happen:

  1. the reviewer is obviously incompetent, tasteless and/or morally repugnant, to the degree that when s/he says, "This is the most boring/slow/pinko book I've ever read!" you realize this means it might have some depth/intelligence to it;
  2. the reviewer has some valid criticisms of the book, but despite (or because) of those you think you might like it anyway (this happened to me recently with some customer reviews on Amazon of Catherynne Valente's Palimpsest, where the most popular reviews are negative, but one complained about fluid sexuality, and another said the language was too poetic--both fine by me!);
  3. (@ferretthimself suggests) that books that provoke emotional reactions and strong opinions are likely to be more interesting, and therefore worth reading.
I'm looking for concrete examples, what books have you been out and bought (downloaded, borrowed from library, etc.) on the basis of a bad review or recommendation? Was it a good idea?

3 comments:

  1. There's also the "so bad it's good" angle. I bought and read Guy N. Smith's Night of the Crabs this week after reading a review saying how awful it was, and it sounded like something I would find entertaining. And I did: it was hilarious.

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  2. I didn't know you had this blog.
    Back in the days of The Third Alternative I gave a particularly damning review of a writer's first novel, ending with a description of it as 'a load of old horror wank'.
    Two people told me they bought it as they wanted to see for themselves if it was as bad as I'd made it out to be.
    They also told me that they regretted buying it.
    I tend not to write vitriolic reviews nowadays, as I suspect they are counter-productive. I want people to feel sorry for me, not the writer.

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  3. Hi, thanks for dropping by, Pete! I didn't recognise your from your handle, but the words, "a load of old horror wank" made me think of you somehow, so it was less of a surprise when I clicked through to your blog. :-)

    I try to avoid both gushing and vitriol in reviews, myself; but if a book is very bad, then, well, I say that it's bad. (And why, so that people whose tastes differ from mine can decide if they might like it.)

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