Publish & Prosper

Do Book Reviews Help You Sell More Books?

May 22, 2024 Matt Briel & Lauren Vassallo Season 1 Episode 26
Do Book Reviews Help You Sell More Books?
Publish & Prosper
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Publish & Prosper
Do Book Reviews Help You Sell More Books?
May 22, 2024 Season 1 Episode 26
Matt Briel & Lauren Vassallo

As authors, writers, and creative types, it’s easy to get caught up in the perceived importance of customer reviews. But do those reviews actually help you sell more books? In this episode, Lauren & Matt debate the value of book reviews for increasing your sales, boosting your book’s discoverability, and providing social proof for new readers. 


Dive Deeper

💡 Barnes & Noble Press Blog on The Power and Importance of Book Reviews 

💡 HubSpot on The Psychology of Social Proof

💡 Trustpilot on Social Proof: What is it, and why is it important for eCommerce?

💡 Jane Friedman on Are Paid Book Reviews Worth It?

💡 Statista data on Online Fake Reviews Removed in 2021 

💡 Customer Review Plugins Loox, TrustReviews, and Trustify


Sound Bites From This Episode

🎙️ [17:22] “You as a writer or a creator or anybody else for that matter, who's trying to placate or play up to the algorithms, it's a lost cause right now. The best thing you can do is just forget about that. Keep trying to create good, valuable content.

🎙️ [22:36] “I don't know about you, but I don't think one single review has ever been the thing that made me decide to buy a product. But I can tell you for sure that one single review has been enough to make me not buy something.

🎙️ [35:55] “And then the credibility and trust thing, again. Underneath it all, that's what a review is for… It's the whole reason why some people even publish a book, is to get some credibility and authority and trust. And so the reviews can help to further solidify what that book was even created for in the first place.


Send us a Text Message.

💀 Can’t wait for our next episode? Check out our Resources page for links to our blog,
our YouTube channel, and more.
💀 Find us on Facebook, X, Instagram, and LinkedIn at luludotcom!
💀 Email us at podcast@lulu.com
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Show Notes Transcript

As authors, writers, and creative types, it’s easy to get caught up in the perceived importance of customer reviews. But do those reviews actually help you sell more books? In this episode, Lauren & Matt debate the value of book reviews for increasing your sales, boosting your book’s discoverability, and providing social proof for new readers. 


Dive Deeper

💡 Barnes & Noble Press Blog on The Power and Importance of Book Reviews 

💡 HubSpot on The Psychology of Social Proof

💡 Trustpilot on Social Proof: What is it, and why is it important for eCommerce?

💡 Jane Friedman on Are Paid Book Reviews Worth It?

💡 Statista data on Online Fake Reviews Removed in 2021 

💡 Customer Review Plugins Loox, TrustReviews, and Trustify


Sound Bites From This Episode

🎙️ [17:22] “You as a writer or a creator or anybody else for that matter, who's trying to placate or play up to the algorithms, it's a lost cause right now. The best thing you can do is just forget about that. Keep trying to create good, valuable content.

🎙️ [22:36] “I don't know about you, but I don't think one single review has ever been the thing that made me decide to buy a product. But I can tell you for sure that one single review has been enough to make me not buy something.

🎙️ [35:55] “And then the credibility and trust thing, again. Underneath it all, that's what a review is for… It's the whole reason why some people even publish a book, is to get some credibility and authority and trust. And so the reviews can help to further solidify what that book was even created for in the first place.


Send us a Text Message.

💀 Can’t wait for our next episode? Check out our Resources page for links to our blog,
our YouTube channel, and more.
💀 Find us on Facebook, X, Instagram, and LinkedIn at luludotcom!
💀 Email us at podcast@lulu.com
💀 Sign up for our mailing list.


Lauren: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of Publish & Prosper. Today we are gonna talk about maybe my favorite part of book marketing. 

Matt: Gross. 

Lauren: It's gonna be just me giving book reviews for the next 45 minutes. 

Matt: I take that back, I wanna hear this for sure. 

Lauren: Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Depends on what kind of books I'm reviewing. My usual method of reviewing books is to go: it was trash, I'm ashamed to have read it, you should definitely read it. 

Matt: Okay. 

Lauren: So. 

Matt: I can get down with that. 

Lauren: Yeah, we can - we can work with that. But no, actually, we are going to talk about book reviews today. We are not going to talk about - we're not going to sit here and listen to me review any of the books that I've read recently, mostly because I'm ashamed to admit them out loud. 

Matt: Boo. 

Lauren: It's fine. We can talk about the baseball romance that I read. 

Matt: Nope. 

Lauren: Okay. In that case, then let's talk about whether or not getting reviews for your books actually moves the needle in any way when it comes to selling copies of your books.

Matt: I think that's a great topic but first we need to rewind and talk about why you at the drop of a dime decided to pick up on a whim, go right to Disney World, and spend two days at Disney World, and somehow or another my text invite didn't come through. Because maybe your Wi-Fi wasn't working? I don't… I don't understand how that transpired. 

Lauren: I mean, if you want us to go back and bring you this time, we definitely can. 

Matt: I mean, is there any other answer besides yes? 

Lauren: No, obviously. 

Matt: Okay. 

Lauren: Let's go. 

Matt: All right. 

Lauren: I've been trying to get a team marketing trip to Disney forever. 

Matt: Listen, nobody said anything about a team marketing trip. 

Lauren: Okay fine. This is an off the clock - 

Matt: I'm trying to get to the bottom of how this three day on the sneak Walt Disney World trip happened and I didn't get my invite. 

Lauren: I mean, after six weeks straight of traveling - I've traveled at least once every, like, ten days since February. And we came back from CEX and we're like, want to escape reality for a little while? And somehow the obvious solution to that was let's do traveling again. But it was traveling to Disney, so it doesn't count as traveling. 

Matt: So for those who aren't very good at reading between the lines, what's happening here is I'm putting out an open casting call for a new co-host on Publish & Prosper, so. Hit us up, podcast@lulu.com, if you think you can take Lauren's place. 

Lauren: It's fine. Because the only reason that I actually came back was because I had to record this podcast episode today. Otherwise I probably would have run away and not come back. So come replace me, let’s go. 

Matt: I hate that you - I hate that you wasted a trip.

Lauren: Well, I had to come back to get my cat anyway. 

Matt: Well, and you're the only one that's going to talk about reviews with any sort of objective attitude and opinion. So we'll go ahead and crank through this one and then I'll take interviews for a new co-host. How about that? 

Lauren: Would you prefer that they were Disney fans or not Disney fans? 

Matt: Well, not if they're going to leave me in the cold like you did. 

Lauren: So if they are Disney fans, they have to be willing to take you on a impulse Disney trip with them? 

Matt: Absolutely. 

Lauren: Okay. All right. So you heard it here, folks. If you are a Disney fan who is willing to travel with Matt at the drop of a hat, submit your applications now. 

Matt: There you go. 

Lauren: Sooner I get out of here, the sooner I get to move back to Orlando. 

Matt: Accurate. 


[3:51]

Lauren: Anyway, while we're waiting for my replacement, we might as well start talking about book reviews. Let's get into it. We've talked about this before on the podcast. Matt has probably referenced it many times. I think if I ask the question directly, do you think book reviews actually sell more books, what would you say? 

Matt: If you're asking me directly -

Lauren: I am. 

Matt: My answer is no. Now, I'll preface that by saying I don't have a book for sale that is attached to any reviews. And all of my sort of opinions and my stance on this is driven by talking to authors and creators and just understanding the data that surrounds the review industry these days, so. And we'll save some of that for later in the episode when I know we'll be talking about some of that data. But yeah, my answer would be no, I don't think you need them to sell books. 

Lauren: All right. Let's see if you're right about that. First of all, I do want to kind of draw some lines between different types of reviews because there's at least two very distinct types of reviews that we're talking about when we're talking about book reviews. And I want to make sure that we're being clear about what we're talking about here. What we're not really talking about -  although we probably will throughout the episode in places - are trade reviews. 

Trade reviews are industry professional review outlets, whether that's something like the New York Times or Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, et cetera, or some genre-specific outlets that are smaller. Especially if you're writing nonfiction, there might be some like smaller outlets that focus specifically on your niche or on your industry that will include book reviews that are not as general as something like Kirkus Reviews. Those are common in the traditional publishing industry. They are a big deal in the traditional publishing industry. When we're talking about indie publishing and self-publishing, they don't really mean anything. A lot of them actually won't even review indie and self-published books, or they have very specific guidelines for how they will. It's very difficult to get reviews from some of the big trade outlets, if you are self-published, indie-published, or even traditionally published, but an ebook first - a print on demand, traditionally published book - is still not going to be as likely to get any kind of trade reviews. So we will talk a little bit about them as we're going through this, but for the most part, that's not really what we're focusing on right now. 

The alternative is customer reviews or product reviews or reader reviews or whatever you want to think of it as. Reviews left by readers, usually either on the product page or on a review site like Goodreads or The Storygraph or Trustpilot, maybe, if you're a brand and you have a book and you're listed on Trustpilot, something like that. Those are usually going to be reviews that are focusing on the reader's experience with the book. And we're talking fiction or nonfiction with this, whether they loved it, they hated it, they found it incomprehensible, they found it super easy to read, very educational, whatever it is. These are - we're talking like when you go look on an Amazon product page and you go down to the bottom and you're looking at all those reviews from people cause you’re trying to decide whether you need to order this t-shirt in a medium and a large and extra large or a size that doesn't exist because nothing is uniform on Amazon ever. That's what we're talking about primarily when we're talking about customer reviews. 

Matt and I debated this a little bit before the episode started. I am going to add a third kind of review in here that I think maybe we could call like a subset of customer reviews. Those are testimonials. We've talked a lot about testimonials in other episodes. We've talked about the value of them. So I do kind of want to separate them out a little bit from customer reviews, because I don't want us to get to the end of this episode and come to the conclusion that customer reviews aren't super valuable after we've spent several episodes talking about how great testimonials are. 

Matt: Yeah. And to be clear, the topic is do reviews sell more books? It's not a topic or discussion or a question of are reviews valuable? I mean, they do have value for lots of different reasons. I just don't believe they sell more books or they sell books in general. We're not saying that reviews don't have some value when used for other marketing purposes, which indirectly could lead to more book sales. Using testimonials in the way that historically you might think of a testimonial versus a review, obviously is another way to drive somebody to take an action, right? So you might use testimonials on your website to drive people to sign up for your newsletter. Or you might use testimonials on your website to drive somebody to buy your book. You could also take a quote unquote review and turn that into a testimonial. 
So really our conversation at the start of the show, before we hit the record button was less about me feeling like testimonials were a valid form of review and more like testimonials and reviews could potentially be used interchangeably, depending on what you're using them for. And thereby it was more conversation about semantics and how you would actually use a review or a testimonial to gain value in what you're doing versus just amassing a bunch of reviews on an Amazon page or something somewhere, where we know for a fact data tells us at least half of those are bot-driven or fake, and then the others are often a mix or conglomeration of less than true statements and stars, but there you go.

Lauren: I think that's a really good point and a really good clarification. I guess this is maybe where I was going with this, is that for reviews a lot of the time it's not necessarily speaking to anything specific about the book, especially when it comes to books. Like other product reviews - 

Matt: Sure.

Lauren: Might talk about, like, the quality of a product or whether or not it worked for their purposes. 

Matt: Or I ordered an extra large t-shirt and I washed it and dried it and now it fits like a shmedium. 

Lauren: Yep. 

Matt: And it's definitely not all the burritos that I eat, it is the quality of the shirt. 

Lauren: It's absolutely for sure the quality of the shirt. Totally. But that is, I think that's like I, I'm somebody who reads a lot of books. We know this. I keep track of everything that I read on Goodreads. I write a review for maybe one out of every 10 books that I read. 

Matt: Why is that? 

Lauren: Cause I don't - 

Matt: You're too busy going to Disney without me. That's why. 

Lauren: I did read a book on the plane to and from Disney. 

Matt: You're not making this any better. 

Lauren: It's okay. I don't know, like I don't use a lot of the books that I read. I don't actually feel the need to unpack my thoughts about them after the fact. They're mostly just there for entertainment value. And usually by the time I've read the next book, I've already kind of forgotten about the last one. But I will always star rate reviews - or books. And when I do review books, it's usually a one liner like ‘once again, Emily Henry has made me cry for no good reason.’ I wouldn't call that a testimonial. That's not a useful testimonial in any way. It's just a review. It's just me saying, I read this book and I cried about it. That's not super helpful. But if I was to read this book and say, ‘wow, you know, I was in a really bad reading slump and this book really got me out of it. It got me excited about reading again. I recommended it to five different friends. And I think it would be really perfect for anybody that was kind of struggling with this, that, and the other thing that's happened to them.’ That might be more usable as a testimonial than just ‘Emily made me cry again.’ 

Matt: Okay. I can see that. Yeah. 

Lauren: Okay. 

Matt: Absolutely. 

Lauren: So, take that with a grain of salt if you want. That's not an industry distinction. That's just a Lauren distinction, it's fine. 


[11:17]

Lauren: Let's talk a little bit about how book reviews can be valuable and how they can add value that might lead to sales. I think the number one way that book reviews will help sell more copies of your books is discoverability - with heavy air quotes around it - on retailer websites. So first of all, for this, we are not talking about people that are selling direct. That's a whole separate part of this conversation. But if you have your book listed on a retailer website like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, whatever it is, customer reviews on your book are going to boost your book's visibility within the algorithm on that website. This is, I actually got this quote straight from the Barnes & Noble Press blog. So this is coming from one of these retailers. “Books with a substantial number of positive reviews are more likely to be recommended by algorithms on online retailers like bn.com, making them more discoverable to a wider audience.” 

The ‘positive reviews’ part of that was a nice little thing in there. From what I could tell from other outlets that were talking about this, it actually doesn't seem to matter whether or not the reviews are positive, but just the having any kind of activity on your book’s product page is going to lead to a boost in discoverability. Is that a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. If you're getting a bunch of one star reviews, people are going to see your book. Maybe. Are they going to buy it? Maybe not. I don't know. 

When they talk about discoverability, when they talk about books, with more reviews having boosted discoverability, what they really mean by that is that it's more likely to get delivered as a search result, it's more likely to get featured, it's more likely to come up higher on a list when you're looking at or you're browsing an online retailer because of the activity that's going on on that page. 

It's not really talking about the exposure factor. Like I think a lot of people would kind of mix this up with trade reviews and say, oh, if you get a good review, maybe your book gets featured in a newspaper article or in a magazine feature, on a listicle of 10 books that we loved this year or something like that, which does happen all the time. But first of all, those are not always as organic as you might think they are. They're very often actually paid opportunities. And second of all, they're… they’re not as common as you think they are. Just getting a regular review is not actually going to be as helpful to providing visibility for your book as you might think it is. 

Matt: Yeah. We'll just pause for a minute - 

Lauren: Okay. 

Matt: On discoverability, especially when you talk about third party retail sites and specifically the quote you read from Barnes & Noble Press, their blog. We have to keep in mind that - and even for people listening to this podcast, all five or six of them, we've probably gained one new listener at some point. You're being presented information from the perspective of the person presenting it to you. And so when you're reading a blog from a brand that has a retail channel, like Barnes & Noble, of course they're gonna tell you, you should submit reviews and you should rely on reviews because… and based on this quote here, I'm looking at it, positive reviews are more likely - more likely - to be recommended by algorithms on our site. 

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matt: More likely, it doesn't mean they are for sure. And in fact, because the algorithms change so frequently. And what constitutes the criteria for where you fall into those algorithms changes so frequently. It's really geared to drive sales. There actually is no way for them to guarantee that. And so really what that statement is doing is encouraging people to leave reviews because for them, they see reviews as a way to get more people onto their site. Whereas an author is looking at reviews as a hopeful way to sell more copies or to get people to see their book. So Barnes & Noble has a vested interest in having reviews left for books on their site because they feel like it attracts more viewers. 

So what I'm saying is I get the quote that you put in there. I see why you would put that in there. And I do obviously to a degree, maybe. You know, if your book had 10,000 reviews on Barnes & Noble, that's gonna help, obviously. But for the most part, these days, especially on the larger third party retailers like Amazon and some of the others, positive reviews have virtually no effect on the algorithm. Because the algorithm also falls prey to who comes first, which is the paid ads on Amazon. I don't care what your book is doing in terms of an algorithm organically. If there is a book in your category where somebody has paid good money for ads to be a sponsored ad or whatever that might be, nine times out of ten or nine and a half times out of ten, they're going to appear in front of you anyways. Or if somebody goes right to your page, that book is also going to appear on your page. 

So, you know, I do get that. They want you to have this impression that positive reviews will influence the algorithm. But they're very clever with the language and the words they choose. And they have a vested interest in getting people to leave reviews. Whether or not those reviews actually drive more sales, it does attract more people to their website. And that's what they're after. I just want to be careful when we think about those things. And again, just like our listeners, we're giving you information from our point of view. And we are a brand at the end of the day. We are Lulu. So of course, there are some things that we have our own opinions and spin on that. And you have to kind of take that for what it is. And same thing would be for if we pulled a quote down from Amazon or if we pulled a quote from Kobo or somebody like that, they're not going to put a quote up there or a piece of data that's going to reflect on them negatively. 

Lauren: Of course not.

Matt: So, that's my rant on that one. Discoverability. I just feel like, you know, it's tough already these days for authors and creators, when it comes to discoverability, because brands and platforms and social media channels and everybody, the algorithms have just completely ruined everything. You know what I mean? And I think even for a lot of the brands and the platforms, they've gone so far down the path of tweaking their algorithms, like on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis, to where it used to benefit them. And now it's like this runaway train for a lot of them. Instagram can't seem to get their algorithms under control. Like some of these other channels, they've just gone too far. And you as a writer or a creator or anybody else for that matter, who's trying to placate or play up to the algorithms, it's a lost cause right now. The best thing you can do is just forget about that. Keep trying to create good, valuable content. Keep plugging away and eventually whatever new system takes over, you'll get caught up in it for doing the right thing.

Lauren: Before we started recording, I was typing up my session notes from CEX. And I was going through my notes from Jay Clouse’s session on long form content. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: And a lot of that stuff that he talked about in that was… like one of the quotes that I had written down from him was ‘the treadmill goes faster and faster just to maintain the status quo.’

Matt: Yeah, yeah.

Lauren: And he was talking about that idea of like, we came up at a time with social media being this chronological subscription feed, where it was people that you were following specifically, that you were seeing their content in chronological order. And then it became a little bit more like, ranked subscription feed, where it was more engagement something got on it, the more - and now the new normal, and what everyone is trying to scramble to deal with now, is the for you feed. Which may or may not be people that you're following. 

Matt: That's right. 

Lauren: And is completely subjective to whatever the algorithm thinks is relevant to deliver to you at any given time. And I think that Matt's very correct about the discoverability stuff when it comes to book reviews or featured books or however things are being presented on different retail sites. We can talk about different ways to try to like, gamify the system or try to play it correctly so that your book is more discoverable than other content. And the answer is that we don't actually know the answers to how to do this because it's changing constantly and no one can really keep up with it. So yeah, to say that these retailers want to tell you that having positive reviews on your book is actually going to help boost your discoverability within the algorithm. Maybe true, maybe not. I tried very hard to keep bias out of this outline - 

Matt: No, I - 

Lauren: As I was researching it, but I definitely, I knew it was going to come in within the episode too. 

Matt: Well, you definitely did a better job than I do. I just - things like discoverability and stuff like that, like I just, you know, that's a really tough area for people right now. And I want to make sure that people aren't thinking that, oh, maybe if I just go out there and try to force a ton of reviews, that's going to solve my discoverability problem because I, right now that's just not the case. And so seeing somebody make a statement like that to me just seems irresponsible, you know? It just seems like they're encouraging something that's only going to benefit them and not the actual end users. 

Lauren: Yeah, can't argue with that. 


[19:52]

Lauren: You know, that might also be the opportunity to kind of deviate into some of the risks and problems with book reviews as much as we want to… as much as some of these platforms want to make the argument that like, oh, you know, having a lot of reviews on your book is going to help you with discoverability. We also see a lot of examples of that backfiring in a bad way. We've talked before and Matt's definitely referenced before, this idea of like fake or bot or spam reviews that go on specifically product reviews on websites like third party retailers. I found some data… it's a little bit outdated. It's a 2022 report that's looking at 2021 data. Anything that we reference in this episode also I'm linking in the show notes. So there will definitely be… if you want to look any of this up or you want to look further into any of this, go check out the show notes, I'll link to everything. This 2022 report found that in a study of 33.5 million Amazon reviews, 43% of them were fake. That's not an insignificant number of reviews. 

Matt: Not at all. 

Lauren: Of reviews. And it was actually what I thought was interesting within that too, was that it was a mix of both five star reviews and one star reviews. So of those reviews that were caught and removed, 46% of them were five star reviews and 33% of them were one star reviews. So. If you're wondering like, why, why would I can understand people like spamming or doing like fake five star reviews to try to boost their ratings on a book. But there's also been a lot of… review bombing is really kind of the phrase that gets used. It's kind of a weaponized form of leaving negative reviews or negative star ratings on review platforms and product pages. It generally tends to be done more as a targeted attack or retaliation against the author or the brand and not necessarily related to the book. In fact, it's happened plenty of times to books that have not even yet come out. So clearly, like, these people did not read this book. They are just review bombing it with one star reviews, which is a great and terrible example of how getting that engagement on that content and maybe boosting that discoverability on that, and then you go look at it and there's a thousand one star reviews on there that all say, like, hey, this author is a TERF and a terrible person and, and we don't support this book. Um, so everybody that goes to look on those reviews of that author are going to see their reviews on there that say this person is a bad person. Don't buy a book from them. You know, maybe in that case, you don't want your book to get that boost and discoverability that may or may not exist. 

That was another statistic that I read. 94% of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. I don't know about you, but I don't think one single review has ever been the thing that made me decide to buy a product. But I can tell you for sure that one single review has been enough to make me not buy something. 

Matt: Yeah, that's actually a really good point. When you open yourself up to reviews, you open yourself up to good and bad. And generally, we would like to think, well, that's the point. You should be able to offer a full spectrum objective viewpoint for people who are looking at your product or your book. And you would like to think that there are tools and platforms that would provide that for people. But in many cases, when you do open yourself up for reviews, you do open yourself up for review bombing and other things. And in many cases, like you just alluded to, while positive reviews won't always necessarily drive purchases - and in many cases these days, they don't - negative reviews will almost certainly always do the opposite and drive people away from hitting that buy now button or that purchase button.

Understanding what you're actually opening yourself up to and knowing that even if you got a bunch of fake reviews that were negative, like, let's say, somebody else had an issue with you or your book or whatever that might be, and that does happen, you're right, quite often, actually. And you report those to whatever the entity is, whether that's Amazon or Trustpilot or BarnesandNoble.com or whatever that might be. Getting those removed are next to impossible.

Lauren: Yes.

Matt: They're next to impossible. If you even get to speak with somebody, to talk to them about this problem, you're lucky. But getting past that and then taking an action, because again, a lot of these retail sites, they think these reviews are one of the traffic driving feature sets they really have to keep a stronghold on. They think differently than we as consumers and or creators think about reviews. They're not heavily incentivized to remove reviews that you say are fake, because it's also hard for them to prove that. It's something to keep in mind when you open yourself up for reviews, it's good and bad. And while positive reviews don't necessarily correlate to sales anymore these days, because most people don't trust them, negative reviews almost certainly - again, that statistic is 94% of the people surveyed, said an online review convinced them to avoid a business. I can also say the same for myself.

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matt: I don't trust positive reviews to a degree, if at all. Most of the time I won't necessarily even read through them. But if I do see a pretty negative overall, you know, maybe it's one out of five stars, two out of five stars, or maybe the last five reviews are all the same thing, it was terrible service, or it will most definitely probably influence me not to buy or visit that establishment. 

Lauren: Yeah, and even if you think of like as simply as… whenever I'm on Amazon looking for, I need a new pair of sneakers, I'm too lazy to go out and shopping, I'm gonna go on Amazon and browse their sneakers and see what's going on. One of the filters that you can apply on Amazon, is average star rating. The first thing that I do when I am browsing anything on Amazon is I go in and I check prime only results because I'm cheap and I don't wanna pay for shipping. And four stars and up. I will not look at a product on Amazon. Like I immediately the first thing I do is filter out any products that are under a four star average rating. 

When you're opening yourself up to something like that and you're specifically opening yourself up to these reviews and feedback that you can't actually edit or delete or change in any way. You're also opening yourself up to the possibility of people filtering out your product as a result before you even start looking at it. It's just something to think about maybe. 


[26:05]

Lauren: We dove too heavily into the negatives of book reviews and the potential pitfalls of book reviews. I do wanna talk a little bit about probably the main pro other than the potential myths of discoverability. And that is social proof. And that is something that I think even Matt and I cannot deny that book reviews are essential when it comes to social proof for consumers. I’m giving him an opening to disagree with me. I don't know if he's going to take it or not.

Matt:  It's called, uh, you're baiting me. 

Lauren: I know. This whole episode is baiting you. 

Matt: So. 

Lauren: Have you not picked up on that yet? 

Matt: Yeah, exactly. Thanks. Man, you came back from Disney spicy. Uh, it should have been the opposite. 

Lauren: I'm feeling very relaxed right now. 

Matt: So, social proof, I do agree, is important. Obviously. Yes we work for a publishing company but we’re marketers. And social proof is a big part of, obviously, what we do. So I do believe that social proof is, is important, yes. And then reviews can be important content to fuel social proof with. I don't disagree with that. And to clarify, yes, we just touched on some of the cons of playing the review game. I don't want to call them negatives or… 

But yeah in sticking with the pros and cons theme, we did just cover a couple of the cons and now we should talk about some of the pros. Because depending on who you are, what you create, or how you market yourself, there are some pros there. Again, like I said, there's some value in reviews and how you use them and this, I believe, can be one of them. So social proof is very strong. I do agree with that and taking review content and creating social proof from it, I think, can be a very important and beneficial aspect of your marketing and sales strategy.

Lauren: Yes. 

Matt: Yeah.

Lauren: Yeah, I would agree with that for sure, especially when it comes to creating marketing assets. But even that, I would say, is more indirectly connected to boosting your sales than directly connected to boosting your sales, because there are several steps and stages in between that. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: We could say in the grand scheme of things that this social proof that comes along with book reviews is helping you sell more books. But it's a little bit of a longer journey to get there than it is to just say like, oh, there are product reviews on my store page right now. And those are directly contributing to people hitting the add to card button. 

Matt: Yeah, I mean, using reviews for social proof really should be extracting out like you said, the stuff that really would drive more purchases, which is if somebody left a review and said, man, if you if you're ready for a good cry, you should get this latest installment of so and so's whatever trilogy or whatever, right? Like something that drives and elicits emotion or a response, you know, some sort of human engagement, not just, oh, definitely worth the $15 would recommend. Okay, thanks. Great. That's not social proof. That's not something, I wouldn't even consider that a good review. Like I'd be like, that's the best you could do? Why bother? 

Lauren: Right. 

Matt: You know? So again, using review content for social proof, make sure you're picking like the juiciest part of that. Like what's going to elicit a response from somebody else looking at that. Otherwise don't bother. 

Lauren: Yeah, actually I have nothing to add to that. 

Matt: That's my whole goal in life.

Lauren: Yes, to get this episode to be as short as possible. 

Matt: No, just to make you speechless as often as possible.

Lauren: Oh, it happens at least once a day. 

Matt: But I mean, in an intelligent way, not for me just doing something stupid and you're speechless. 

Lauren: Earlier today Matt came up to my desk, totally straight-faced and said, hey, how do you feel about me recording the podcast like this? And I looked up and he was wearing a sweatband headband that has a mullet attached to the back of it. 

Matt: I mean. What do you want me to say? 

Lauren: I had nothing to say in that moment either, so. 

Matt: Trying out things, you know, we talked about author branding recently. I'm just working on my branding. 

Lauren: Is that going to be your brand, is that going to be your version of the orange suit? 

Matt: I don't know. I am from Florida and you know, somebody asked me earlier, like, do you have to have something like that to be a Floridian? And if I remember correctly, to get a driver's license, I think you had to have a mullet in the picture, so that might be why this little thing was created. But. Nonetheless, we'll see. 

Lauren: What did you get? Why do you have it?

Matt: Okay, so side story, you can trim this out or leave it however you want. I have it because our good friend Austin Church at CEX last week at the Lulupalooza 80s party, he was wearing one and we all thought it was the greatest thing. And it's actually got a name. It's called a Bobcat. And immediately our good friend, Kat Forster here at Lulu, did the right thing and hopped online and found one and had it shipped over here for me. So. Yeah. 

Lauren: Thank God for Kat. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: And for Austin. 

Matt: That's right. Yeah. So there you go. 

Lauren: That's delightful. Really glad we have that. Also sad to report that Matt is not recording this episode wearing it, so, but it is hanging from his mic stand right now. So I have been staring it down for a good half of this recording. 

Matt: Man, and what a great review we just provided of the Bobcat and some social proof. 

Lauren: Wow. That's so true. This episode is not sponsored by…

Matt: Sponsored by the Bobcat, the best fake mullet on the planet. 

Lauren: No, we'll do that promo for free. 

Matt: Yeah, I would. 

Lauren: I know. I know you.


[31:16]

Lauren: But anyway, you know, just to pull some more stats out real quick, this is coming from Review Trackers, and it's the same article that we got the stat on the 94% of people surveyed. 92% of people surveyed use reviews to guide most of their ordinary purchasing decisions. So 92% of the people surveyed, they're looking at reviews for decision-making help. What they're primarily probably looking for is that social proof. And also just to be clear, that article was speaking about just online consumers in general, it wasn't specifically about the book industry.

Matt: That's true. 

Lauren: Take those numbers with a little bit of a grain of salt. It was more speaking to consumer behavior in general. I do think it's kind of undeniable, Matt and I are going to reluctantly agree to this, I think that book reviews do come in handy. Consumer reviews specifically - again, we're not talking about trade reviews - do come in handy for things like social proof. It might be helpful to consumers to see a review from somebody that says this book was great. It really helped me with this. I learned a lot from it. It was really worth the money. I'm really glad I got it. 

Matt: Yeah, yeah, no notes. 

Lauren: Nice. As much as reviews do contribute to social proof, I do want to just point out that it's not the only way to get social proof. One of the examples that I saw that I never actually - it's never actually really occurred to me before until I saw this pointed out in one of the articles that I was reading, when you look at a site like Etsy, when you're looking at like a product listing on Etsy, it'll tell you in the sidebar with the add to cart button if other people have it in their cart right now. 

Matt: Yeah, that's also a plugin that's available on Shopify and Wix and some of the other sites too, so. It falls into that category of suggested sales and things. 

Lauren: Yep. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: And I've seen that on at least a couple of our Lulu Direct users that have a plugin on their sites that'll say like, Lauren V from North Carolina just purchased one copy of this book. And it'll like pop up on the screen as you're on the page. And that is social proof saying, look, other people are interested in this too. And that doesn't involve any kind of reviews or any kind of soliciting reviews from people or cause there is - when we're talking about getting book reviews, you have to actually put in work to get them. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: A lot of people are not giving them without some kind of incentive. 

Matt: That's true. Yeah.

Lauren: Whether it's you asking for them, asking friends and family for them. If you look at a lot of like - I hate plugging like a fast fashion website like Shein or something like that, because I really don't like supporting them. And this is definitely not a plug to support them, but. If you look at their product reviews on any of their products, if you look at their reviews, a lot of them are people saying they're leaving a review specifically because they're trying to get points in their account because they have an incentivized review system. They are encouraging you to leave reviews for a reason. There's a reason that they incentivize this idea of please leave product reviews and we will give you something for it. 

You know, as you're listening to this, if you're saying like, but book reviews are still really important. I don't know if I agree with you or not one way or another. Let me remind you that you have to work to get these a lot of the time. Maybe we're saying that you don't have to put in the work to get quite as many book reviews as you think you need to because they are not moving the needle as much as you might think they would. And maybe you should be focusing that time and effort into other marketing strategies instead. 

Matt: I'm not gonna disagree with that. 

Lauren: All right, I'll take that as a win. 

Matt: I'm gonna leave that, but I think overall, as we talk about the pros of book reviews versus the cons, again, all of these things rolling up under social proof, they do make a fairly strong argument for at least trying to get some good objective and some subjective reviews under your belt in probably the most honest way possible. I'll just leave it at that, which means using something other than, you know, Amazon or some of these others. So there's lots of review sites that offer third party objective… They don't sell, you know, they're not an ecommerce platform. So they don't have any stake in, in trying to game the system and using something like that, or a plugin for your Shopify store, your, your WooCommerce or Wix store where that's all it does is allow for reviews. Then sometimes I think people are going to feel a little more trustworthy of it because again, there's no stake for them in trying to promote one way or the other, good or bad. It's just a way to facilitate reviews. So I do think social proof is definitely a pro of reviews, especially when you use it wisely. 

And again, we argued that discoverability may or may not be a pro for reviews. If there's any true discoverability left from reviews and organic efforts on these third-party retail sites, what's left is probably slowly dwindling away or quickly dwindling away like the rest of it. And then the credibility and trust thing again. Underneath at all, that's what a review is for. 

Lauren: Sure. 

Matt: It's the whole reason why some people even publish a book is to get some credibility and authority and trust. And so the reviews can help to further solidify what that book was even created for in the first place. 


[36:11]

Lauren: Yeah, that's actually a really fair point. I want to touch on a little bit about what Matt just said. We spent a lot of this episode talking about third party retailer sites and talking about having a product listing on a specific retail site and having the product reviews listed with your book and stuff like that. We haven't talked a whole lot about what happens if you're selling direct and - 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: You're selling your books from your own website. First of all, if you are selling your books from your own website, if you choose to say that you wanna have book reviews listed on your product page, there are plenty of plugins with all of the different site builders and stuff like that, that you have that option to do so. If you want to have product reviews listed on your page, it is easy enough for you to do that. I think that we've kind of made this point clear, so just want to underline it. I think that they are less valuable if you are selling direct - or not valuable. I think they are less motivating as a point in favor of buying the book. 

Matt: Yes, I agree with that because if you've already got somebody to come to your site to buy directly from you, chances are they already trust you. They're already a fan of yours. They're agreeing to forego how they would normally purchase something online, which again, let's be real, usually Amazon or some other crappy third party retail site, if they've already agreed to come over and buy it directly from you, in many cases having some reviews there might just be overkill. But, you know, you still run that risk that people are coming over that they still don't know you too well, and somehow or another they did end up on your site, which is great, and you might feel like they need that little extra push. 

And so again, like you said, having some plugin there on your site on your Shopify or WooCommerce, you can use tools like Loox, which is L-O-O-X, and it was a popular one. Trust Reviews is another one. There's another one that's called Trustify, and there's a ton of them, but they all basically do the same thing, which is again, provide an objective way for people to leave reviews on your products so that other people shopping your site can see them. 

Lauren: I also wanna just kind of remind in there that our whole point about not being able to control the reviews that get left in that circumstance. If the journey that Matt just outlined is true where you have done the work to get somebody to your site and you've mostly convinced them to buy your book and this is the make it or break it point, if reviews on your product page are the make it or break it point for a customer sale. If you have these product reviews that you can't edit, you can't control what they say or what's getting displayed on your page there, you are just as likely to get one bad review that's going to break it and not complete that sale, as you are to have a really good review that might convince the customer to buy the book. 

The alternative, and this is where I was talking about the distinction between product and customer reviews and testimonials. If you have two or three featured testimonials that you can list, that you control and design how they look on your product page, on your website, and you can feature those testimonials from readers, customers, friends, peers, whoever, that's much more likely to push people in favor of buying the book, as opposed to a review that you have no control over that might push people in the opposite direction. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: If you're selling direct that or that's going to be - I guess that's going to be my answer to the question that I posed at the beginning of this episode. Do I think that book reviews help sell more books? And my answer to that is when you're selling direct, no. If you're selling on third party retail sites, maybe, depends on how much I believe and buy into that discoverability tactic. But I think it is just as likely that reviews are actually harming your chances of getting more book sales when you're talking about third party retail sites. Who would have guessed? I went into this episode thinking that I was actually going to be arguing in favor of book reviews. 

Matt: Yeah, I totally came into this expecting a much stronger fight with you on this one because I knew how you initially felt. And I think you still feel that way to a degree for the most part. I don't think I changed your mind about anything, but I do think as we move further along in how people publish and sell books these days, something like reviews, it just - I don't know if I use the word evolve, but it definitely takes on a different purpose and something that was originally designed to help and guide consumers to make good, solid purchases, just like many other things, has been sort of twisted and turned into something that really only benefits the selling platform where the reviews are hosted. And that's unfortunate. 

And we see that happen with lots of different things. So it's not just reviews, but you know, I think you did a good job of explaining there are ways you can take review content and do good things with it and use it to further your marketing efforts and do indirectly drive more sales and try to create some more fans, some trust and more fans. So all in all, I think you still, I think you still set out to do a good part of what you did. I think, I don't know. I think I just came in too spicy about not getting invited to Disney World. And I don't think there was any way you were gonna convince me otherwise about reviews based on how I came into this.

Lauren: I knew that I wasn't gonna convince you otherwise. I didn't think that I was gonna convince myself that book reviews were not super valuable. I guess to be fair, when I think just anecdotally about my own behavior when it comes to buying books and reading books and how I choose to do that, I don't think it moves the needle for me. So why am I going to make the argument that it moves the needle for the average consumer? 


[41:36]

Matt: Yeah. You know, on a side note, to go back to something you said before, and it just hit me, I don't know, slow. You know, you talk about when you go somewhere to shop online, you immediately filter out anything that's less than four out of five stars or nine out of ten, depending on what their scale is. I wonder why sites still even include that. Like, does anybody go and say, only show me the one stars? 

Lauren: That would be so funny actually.

Matt: And so then I started thinking about that and I was like, you know what? It might be kind of fun next time you're shopping for a book or something else, but mainly a book, to filter out everything that's not a one star. And just see like, what are all the books that have one star ratings and why and you might find some gemstones in there for reasons other than finding like your next favorite cozy romance. You might find your next favorite topic of conversation for a party, you know, just to have a really fun quirky weird coffee table book. What's getting one stars these days? Why is that filtering still even exists, because you're right the average person doesn't want anything less than four stars. It must exist for a reason and what's in there and why is it in there? So, I know what I'm doing after we end this episode. 

Lauren: If you want an episode that's just us reading one star book reviews -

Matt: Oh my God. 

Lauren: Email us at podcast@lulu.com with a genre and we'll start from there. 

Matt: You don't have to email us. I already decided that's what we're doing. 

Lauren: Sounds great. That'll be the next time that I am blowing off work last minute and have to scramble to write the outline for the episode. We can just be like, all right, we'll pull that one out of the reserves. 

Matt: No comment. 

Lauren: Hey, I got it done. And it's a good outline. And I didn't even use ChatGPT. 

Matt: That’s good. 

Lauren: I mean, I did, but I didn't, I used it to help me research. I didn't use it to help me write the outline.

Matt: Well, you should use it.

Lauren: I know Andrew Davis told me all about that. 

Matt: Man. 

Lauren: CEX was very informative. 

Matt: Yeah. 

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matt: All right. 

Lauren: Okay. Any last thoughts were already way longer than I thought this was gonna be.

Matt: I have no last thoughts on reviews. 

Lauren: Do you have any thoughts at all right now? 

Matt: On reviews?

Lauren: No, in general. 

Matt: In general. No, because we're way over time. 

Lauren: I know. Me too. I feel like all thoughts have left the building. So - 

Matt: For sure. 

Lauren: This feels like a good place to end it. If you have any thoughts about this episode, about any of our other episodes, about upcoming episodes, if you have any ideas, questions, comments, concerns, please let us know. You can email us at podcast@lulu.com. And we'd love to hear from you. And until then, thanks for listening.