I was looking at the patterns of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 star reviews of books on Amazon and I noticed something interesting that I want to share with you.
When you look at a book’s Amazon page there is a graph that displays the number of total reviews a book has, distributed by the number of stars. Taking my own book, the Sun Zebra, as an example, the graph looks like this:
This is an example of the type of graph you get when readers like a book. There are many 5 star reviews and a much lower number of reviews with fewer stars. However, even 42 is not a lot of reviews for statistical purposes, so I will concentrate here on books that have 200 or more reviews.
The first such book I want to show you is “Wool” by Hugh Howey. Having a book with this many reviews and almost a 4.9 average is a significant accomplishment for an author and a sure sign the vast majority of readers loved the book. A large bar of 5 star reviews is characteristic of very popular books.
The converse is also true. For example, Robert Jordan’s “Crossroads of Twilight” is an example of a book a lot of readers bought but the majority didn’t like. Here you find a situation where you have a large bar with 1 star reviews.
I also wanted to see how these graphs looked in books with intermediate ratings. For example, could I find books with large bars of 4 and 2 star reviews? After skimming over 4,000 books on Amazon that I searched by “popularity” and “reviews of 1 star or more,” to my surprise I found none. The most common way in which a book gets an average rating of 4 is because the number of 4, 3, 2, and 1 star reviews counteract the effect of the 5 star reviews such as in the case of “Loving Frank” by Nancy Hogan.
Likewise, I could not find any book with a rating of near 2 with a prominent bar of 2 star reviews. The way a book ends up with an average rating of 2 is that the number of 5, 4, 3, and 2 star reviews bring up the average counteracting the effect of the 1 star reviews such as the book “Trace” by Patricia Cornwell.
I was especially interested in 3 star reviews because these indicate that, in theory, the book is neither very good nor very bad. Surely I would find a book with 200 or more reviews and a prominent 3 star column, like this example that I made up:
That was not the case.
The way a book ends up with a rating of around 3 on Amazon is if a lot of people like it but an equally large number of people hate it. Such is the situation of “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James. Here there are 2 large bars at opposite ends of the scale: 5 stars and 1 stars.
However, the situation doesn’t have to be this extreme. Take the book “Mile 81” by Stephen King. Here the 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 star reviews are nearly all the same, and the graph is a near flat line.
I want to state that the reason I didn’t find it is that I may have missed it (I only checked 4,000 books and there are more than one million books on Amazon). So please if you know of any book with 200 or more reviews and a prominent 3 star bar that stretches past all the others, please leave a comment and let me know. But let’s get to the point of this post. If my observations are true, what does this say about the psychology of the reviewer? Why does an average book achieve a neutral rating of “3,” not by the majority of the reviewers giving it a 3, but rather by half of the reviewers rating it above 3 and the other half rating it below 3? Is this a reflection of our polarized society where we can’t find a middle ground on anything? What do you think? Note: the links on the books are provided just so you can check them out. I do not advocate you buying them except, of course, my own. : ^ ) ***If you like this blog you can have links to each week's posts delivered to your e-mail address. Please click here.