Currently, there is an on-going debate about the value of book reviews. Some first-time authors balk when they find out the expensive price tag associated with getting notable reviews from trusted authorities, such as Kirkus or Clarion. To some, paid book reviews from big names can seem like nothing more than costly endorsements. (This can leave a slimy feeling inside.)
Cost of Reviews
Indeed, the cost of reviews can add up. They are not cheap! Here is a short list of some of the paid review services, who charge for honest reviews, current fees per book:
Blue Ink $395
Indie Reader $275
Online Book Club $99
Neon Books $45
Sure, there are places that offer free reviews but these are traditionally reserved for books that have been published professionally. For example: Many major news outlets typically only review professionally published work.
This includes the Chicago Tribune and until recently the New York Times. (Typically for these free reviews, a book is sent months in advance of publication at the bequest of an author by his or her publishing agency. The books come with a sell sheet and are professionally edited. Thus, even to get access to such a caliber of "free" review, one must have gone through the hoops and costs associated with belonging to a publishing agency.)
However, publishers and traditional booksellers have a tendency to look at things a different way. Gathering book reviews are part of the standard process for how books are handled. It's how potential buyers can know about the relative quality of a book they are about to purchase before making a commitment. A glowing endorsement from a trusted source, such as a major newspaper, can make a potential reader give a book a try.
Getting a book review from a key influence (e.g. Oprah Winfrey) can help make it visible to audiences. Reviews help provide important 'social proof' to even non-buyers. Customers want to read books that others have read and found interesting. If a book has a solid number of reviews, it generally will do better and generate more interest. Reviews are "social evidence" that a book is good and worth your time.
Strong Social Proof
A lot of reviews are strong social proof that a book is popular. Popular books tend to sell. Accordingly, Amazon, one of the world's most major retailers for books, puts a lot of effort into its algorithms used to rate books. According to research, approx 84% of people trust an online product review almost as much as they trust the recommendation from a friend as they use it to inform their purchase.
Buyers tend to look at the average star rating for each Amazon product and many people specifically root out negative reviews just to see what is the worst case scenario in what they are buying.
In short, book reviews can translate into sales. While they may be considered a necessary evil, book reviews do serve a purpose. They help give the potential reader a sense of what they are getting into before they take the leap. In summary, it is important to not skim on things, such as book reviews, that may seem costly as they can actually produce a huge return on investment.