I was intrigued last November by this Marginal Revolution post on why music reviews tend to be positive, compared to film reviews. I was particularly interested in a comment comparing film and book reviews:
Book reviews are generally positive because reviewers frequently have a choice of which book of several to review, and choose to read books they expect to like, and then to give publicity to ones they enjoyed (knowing that there’s no such thing as bad publicity). It seems like there is a three-step process:
1. Is this book likely to be worth my time?
2. Read it. Is this book worth writing about?
3. Write a review.
Movie reviews basically have to cover all releases in a week, so there is no such filtering out of bad products.
My perception is that book reviews tend to be softer than movie reviews, but I had a different theory: that for social reasons people in the relatively small literary community are reluctant to give negative reviews to people they are likely to meet, if they don’t know them already. As the vast majority of reviewed films are foreign, this is less of a problem in movie reviewing.
A friend who is a part-time literary critic made a related point, that many book reviewers are actual or aspiring book writers themselves, while few movie reviewers have made or are likely to make a film. There are several reasons why this may lead book authors to be softer reviewers: they don’t want to provoke negative reviews of their own work, compared to a critic less of their reputation with readers relies on providing good advice to book buyers (which could lead to lower quality of reviewing overall, not just in being soft), and having been through the pain of writing themselves may just feel sorry for authors, even if the book isn’t much good.
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