Aggregation Aggravation, Pt. 2
Posted by: Neil Hollands
In my last post, I made the case that a good review aggregation website is needed for books. As pointed out, there are plenty of booksellers and social media sites that aggregate amateur reviews, but options for widescale aggregation of professional, or at least published, book reviews are more limited.
What would such a tool look like? First, it would aggregate the reviews for many new books, at least those that were widely reviewed, covering both fiction and nonfiction and as many subject matters and genres as possible. As with Rotten Tomatoes, the film review site that is the best example online, aggregation would have three components: a statistical component in which the percentage of positive versus negative reviews was calculated; a text description that summarizes the general critical response; and finally, links to the full text of the reviews on their original sites.
I’m aware of two competitors that attempt aggregation of professional reviews, each succeeding on some levels and failing on others. Bookmarks Magazine has been publishing since 2003 and in their print version, they aggregate reviews, noting an average review score on a five-star scale (although without a particularly clear method of reaching this score.) They include a nicely summarized annotation of reviews for each book. On the downside, it isn’t entirely clear which reviews they are aggregating for each book, and the content is handled differently on their website, without including the aggregate scores for most books. You can “friend” Bookmarks Magazine on GoodReads and see aggregate results as they make them available, but the puzzle is still incomplete.
A new competitor is iDreamBooks. Its strengths reverse those of Bookmarks, providing a percentage score for each book and links to each aggregated review, but not a good summary annotation. They cover books of all kinds, although the books covered do not yet appear to be close to comprehensive. At first glance many of their percentage scores appear to be distorted, perhaps by too many minor review sources (perhaps they ought to follow the model of Rotten Tomatoes, and separate some top review sources from the rest of the field, with different average scores recorded for each.)
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Overbooked. Librarian Ann Chambers Theis has been working on this labor of love since 1994. While not intended to aggregate all professional reviews, Overbooked has steadily fulfilled its main mission, to highlight notable new books, for many years now. In particular, Overbooked does list all of the books that receive starred reviews in the major library review journals: Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews.
Hopefully, one of these tools or a new website will soon offer a complete package of book review aggregation. In the meanwhile, book groups looking to select great titles, librarians aiming to purchase the best books, or readers in search of the collective word on new books will continue to cull their own aggregate opinions from the plethora of good sources in print and online.
Am I missing any major book review aggregators in these two posts? If so, please share them in the comments.