Do Book Reviews Need a Numerical Rating System?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Most book reviews rely on a star system to rate books, but wouldn’t a more precise numerical system be better?

By Edward Nawotka

In today’s lead editorial Chad Post wonders whether book reviews that offer a clear numerical rating system would be more engaging to readers than reviews that don’t offer a clear “numerical baseline” against which readers can react. He writes:

I think there’s a reason the majority of readers just look at the first and last paragraphs — they want the punchline: is this book good? Rather than deny this impulse (which is only ramped up in our age of abundance and screens), we should take advantage of the desire for fixed knowledge

Post’s model is Pitchfork, a Web site for music enthusiasts, that rates albums and songs on a scale of 1-10. Several sites covering movies — such as Rotten Tomatoes and Moviefone, also use numerical — albeit percentage based — rating systems.

Surprisingly, few book sites do. Book review sites appear to generally favor stars: Goodreads uses stars, as does  Bookmarks, a site which aggregates reviews and offers an overall rating. In the mainstream media, stars are also the favored critical tool, with People magazine relying on them, among others. Maybe it all goes back to Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews dependence on stars to distinguish books of high merit from the merely interesting . . .

a plus

Personally, I find Entertainment Weekly — which grades books from A-F — to be the most helpful, but that may have more to do with the tenor and tone of the reviews than the rating system.

According to Post’s suggestion, how would you feel about the creation of an online media book review outlet that offered a numerical rating? Do you feel it would give you a helpful tool to determine if a book was for you? Or are books just too subjective to be “rated” so overtly? If you do like the idea, what features would you like to see on the site and how should it be executed?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.