Monday, May 18, 2020
The 5-star Fallacy
Why 'Five Stars' is not a buyer's Guarantee
I’m an author. I tell stories. So here’s a story for you.
Imagine that I’m at a Literary Convention or Crime Fiction Conference and someone comes up to me and says: “Oh, you’re Mike Scantlebury. You know, Mike, I’ve been aware of your books for many years, but I’ve never bought one. I’ve always noticed that you don’t have many 5-star reviews, so I’ve passed. Still, last week, I saw that you’d suddenly gained ten 5-stars on your new book, so I bought it. It’s great, I have to tell you.”
Okay, so what do I say, in this scenario? Do I say, ‘Well, I’m sorry you missed out for so many years. But hey, it’s good news that you’ve finally given me a try. Thanks.’ No, what I actually will say is: “You must be an awfully stupid person, to base your purchases simply on other people’s opinions, and to think that I’d actually be grateful that you’ve finally seen the error of your ways.”
Because that person - THAT person - is going to be the same person who goes to Korea for their holidays, (the South one, the free one) and goes into a restaurant with their family to look for something to eat. They find the menu a bit confusing, so look round, and see a family on another table having a good time, tucking into steaming stew and rice. ‘What are they eating?’ they ask the waiter. ‘It looks good. We’ll have what they’re having.’ “Oh, that,” the waiter says. “That’s curry. It’s very nice.” But the youngest member of the family, being suspicious, says: ‘What kind of curry is it? What’s the meat?’, and the waiter says: “Dog”.
Now, I don’t mean to criticise Korean culture, but the fact is that it’s different to most countries in the West, and here, here in the West, we tend to not eat dog for dinner. In fact, in Britain, you’re more likely to be lynched for killing a dog in a road accident than applying an axe to your Mother-in-law. It’s just our culture. Their’s is different. But on the subject of buying books, there seems to be a culture of precisely that, following others, no matter what. ‘I’ll have what he’s having’, is exactly what book buyers say, all the time. They see 5-star reviews and they assume, ‘That person likes it. Well, I’m bound to like it too’. Why? Why is that? What could possibly make you think that other people’s opinion would match your own? Are you still an impressionable teenager? Remember when your Mother said: ‘Why are you wearing that?’ and you said, “All my friends are wearing these things these days”, and your Mother said, ‘If your friends started jumping off a cliff, would you do that?’
Well, the answer is, if you’re a teenager, ‘Yes’. Yes, you would do what everyone else is doing. But listen, people, you grew up. You started making your own life. You got a job. So, what happened? Did you get the job everyone else was getting? Did you buy the car that everyone else is buying? Did you buy a house because everyone else is becoming a ‘Home Owner’? Did you start eating dog?
The point, of course, is that your Mother was right. There has to be a limit to copying. You can emulate the most popular kid in the class when you’re at school, but it’s a poor philosophy to take into the Adult world. Yet - and yet - most book buyers seem to have done just that. They scan the online book-stores and the only question they are asking themselves is: ‘What is everyone else buying, because THAT is what I want’. How sad. How pathetic. I always imagined that growing up would result in having a mind of my own, and having the freedom to make my own choices. That means that when I see someone walking down the street in a polka-dot dress, I have the maturity to say, ‘On them it looks nice, but I don’t think it’s the right thing for me’, and the same thing follows in the wonderful world of books. Let’s be specific. I was on a train a few years ago, going down to London. On my walk up to the Buffet car to get a coffee, I counted four people reading ’50 Shades of Grey’. Good for them, I thought. But it’s not for me. They’re choosing to read that unbelievable tosh, but it’s not a choice I’d make. I know my own mind.
If only. If only more people would wake up in the morning, brush their teeth, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am a Human Being, not a sheep, and I refuse to follow the flock’. Unfortunately, that’s a rare quality. Because the statistics speak for themselves. A book is awarded 5 stars and its sales go up. People buy what other people are buying. People like what other people like. Let’s face it: most people really are sheep.