Joe Wilkert makes some good points about book reviewing on his Publishing 2020 blog. Why do so many people like reading the reviews of books on Amazon.com? I think it’s because we all know how much tastes vary. Amazon presents the viewpoints both of those who like a book and those who don’t. Even if no one of these reviews is particularly good, if you read enough of them you can get a pretty good sense of whether the book is likely to appeal to you.
Print media, however, has mostly failed to keep up with the social media revolution. Books reviews in papers have been dropping fast, but those that remain still by and large do things the old way: an editor assigns a book to a reviewer who produces a review to a certain specified length, which is then run without comment, except for the occasional letter to the editor in a subsequent week. Reviewers take pride in not being influenced by the opinions of others (in theory; in practice most recycle the publisher’s press release). But if print book reviewing is to survive it will have to figure out ways to engage a community in a more participatory product.