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How important are favourable book reviews?

Amazon has published its list of bestselling books of 2012, both print and Kindle editions. What caught my eye amongst the statistics is that many of them are not necessarily highly rated books. Which begs the question: how much notice do readers take of other readers’ reviews? Can good marketing overcome poor writing?

Take Fifty Shades of Grey, for example. Although this book was published in 2011, it was only this year that it became a big success, and is now the fastest book to sell one million copies, beating Dan Brown and J K Rowling’s previous records. Fifty Shades is also the first e-book to sell one million copies for the Kindle.

So clearly very, very successful by anyone’s criteria. But it would appear that Fifty Shades is a ‘marmite’ book – readers either love it or hate it – more than 7,000 reviewers rated it as 4 or 5 stars, but over 6,000 gave it just one or two stars. Very few rate it 3 stars.

So, is it a case of readers wanting to decide for themselves? Are they swept along by the hype? Or indeed is the polarised reaction to the book a selling point in itself, much like it became for The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, which was marketed along the lines of  ‘which side are you on’?

What do you think? Do you take any notice of reviews when making your book purchases?

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