Book Review Sites: A Compare-and-Contrast Observation

First, let me apologize for not posting at this time last week. I was pretty  much incapacitated with a calcium deposit in my shoulder. Typing was so painful I avoided as much of it as I could. But I am healing now so let’s get on with it.

Two weeks ago, I did a bit of a rant about vanity book review websites. This week, as promised, I want to do a compare-and-contrast analysis to show you exactly what authors and readers will want to look for when seeking opinions about books. We’ll look at two online sites—Bookslut and BookPleasures.

Bookslut is one of the oldest online book review sites and a hugely popular one. It’s beautifully designed with a clean format that uses three columns to separate their current issue from the reviews and columns. Heading up the page is a well-designed logo and well-chosen typeface, and under that are small tabs that offer quick access to various parts of the website.

The date and number of the current issue is clearly noted, and its individual pieces are previewed in a manner designed for easy reading. Clicking on a review takes you to the page for that particular book, which is also well designed. The column that holds the review offers a lovely image of the book, the typeface is clean and clear. Information about the book—the title, author, publisher, ISBN, and number of pages—are neatly formatted at the end of the column. Any imaged advertising is set off to the left of the page (and in the header); Google ads, text only, are at the bottom of the page. The only thing that can be annoying is the flashing of one of those imaged ads, though that is rare. Columns are pretty much laid out like the reviews. Any books discussed in them have their images embedded to the left top, where the column text begins. Ads are to the right.

Their contact page is minimal but offers all the information needed on submitting books for review and for writers who wish to apply. Their description of Bookslut is succinct with a touch of humor: Bookslut is a monthly web magazine and daily blog dedicated to those who love to read. We provide a constant supply of news, reviews, commentary, insight, and more than occasional opinions.

It is a site designed for readers seeking good information on books, and entertaining and thought-provoking essays, interviews, profiles, and commentary on books and reading. The writers are professionals, and their writing is top notch. The reviews are erudite, informative, and provide excellent information about the book sometimes within the context of the author’s previous work or background. In other words, readers get the information they need to make an informed decision.

For those seeking to advertise, they have a separate page that explains in just enough detail the reasons to advertise. They also provide links to their specifications and prices—no hidden fees or sneaky hints, just clear, simple information.

To say it briefly: Bookslut is a consummately professional book review website that knows its focus (readers) and strives to provide a high-quality, pleasurable reading experience.

BookPleasures, I am sorry to say, is Bookslut’s opposite in more ways than one. Its logo is a free clip art image, and the typeface for the name appears to have come straight off a 1960s typewriter. Above the logo is a page-wide list of internal links in a tightly squeezed box that spans the page, making it an effort to determine where to go.

Google ads litter the top of the page. The background is a dull gray, and the layout has three columns. To the right is the “BookPleasures’ Section,” which offers links to various parts of the site but not one of which, until you get down to the fourteenth link, is geared to readers. Clicking on any of these makes it obvious that the intent of the site is to sell services to the authors who come here. You need a quick review? That will be $119, please. How about an e-interview? A mere $50. Editing services? We can do that by referring you to someone who will charge you $35 or $60 per hour. (I don’t know this, and it’s not illegal, but I would be willing to bet that some of that money also makes it way back to the founder of BookPleasures.)

The center section is also poorly formatted. There’s a picture of the reviewer that is clearer than that of the book cover, mostly because the cover is encased in a border that also holds several links to Amazon. You can barely read the title or author’s name because the font color of the permalink is a hard-to-read bright blue and begins with the author’s name, not the book title, and includes the “[reviewer name] of BookPleasures” in one long sentence. The typos don’t help much, either.

In other words, it’s all about the writers. And BookPleasures.

Readers are shortchanged. Indeed, they appear not to be thought of at all. Reading the reviews is an exercise in pain. Grammatical errors and clichés graffitize the reviews. There is very little description that is useful to someone looking for a new book. What does it behoove any reader to learn that a reviewer “enjoyed reading this book”? Or that “pages have a sensuous, shiny feel that makes one’s fingers linger.” I love the sensuality of books, but those kinds of statements cannot possibly help a reader make a judgment about whether a new book is worth buying. They do, however, have the advantage of making an author feel good. Ideally, an author who paid for the review.

In short, BookPleasures is an author-focused site that looks to squeeze money out of its readers client-authors. The fact that the founder repeatedly stresses that these money-making offerings are optional is telling. Methinks he doth protest too much.

Quality book review sites like Bookslut know that their audience is composed of readers who demand quality in the writing found on the sites and in the books they review. If you are an author, look for sites and blogs that appeal to readers. Look at their design, their features, their writing, their writers. Would you want to hang out there if you were not an author? Does the site repeatedly solicit books or simply provide guidelines for submission? Are there any charges for anything, optional or not?  

Does it appeal to you as a reader? Is it fun, enjoyable, interesting? If you are a reader, do the book reviews and essays appeal to you regardless of whether or not you agree with them? Does it seem sufficiently trustworthy that you would you buy a book based on their recommendation? Is the site visually appealing? Does it annoy you with its ads, or are they tastefully designed and placed? Is the writing worth reading on its own even if you are not interested in the book being reviewed?

Remember, there’s a big difference between Parmigiano-Reggiano and Cheez Whiz. Learn the difference, and enjoy the fruits (cheese?) of your knowledge.

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1 Comment

Filed under BiblioBuffet

One response to “Book Review Sites: A Compare-and-Contrast Observation

  1. Good job comparing and contrasting. And so glad you’re feeling better.

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