Book Reviews – Why I Don’t Like the Star Rating System
Reviewing places or products of any description has become synonymous with the star rating system. Whether it is a hotel visit, a new camera or a book, consumers are immediately aware of the average star rating given by other customers. This post will be focusing on purchasing books, which is something that I know a lot about! It is fair to argue that star ratings are one of the biggest influences when purchasing a new book. The question is, should they be?
Why is the Star Rating System Popular?
There are very good reasons why the star rating system is so dominant!
Quick & Easy
Firstly, it gives you a quick at-a-glance impression of how well thought of a book is by other readers. Whether you read a little or a lot no reader wants to waste their time or money on a book that is poorly constructed.
Secondly, it is a simple system to understand. Books that people enjoy will earn a greater number of stars. I know plenty of readers that will not pick up a book that has less than a 3 star rating. Personally, I am always a little more cautious when picking up books at 3 stars or below but will not rule a book out on star rating alone.
Everyone Else Does
Finally, the star rating system is universal. There is no language barrier in the star system. It also means that it is easy to duplicate the rating between numerous sources. For book reviewers these may include Goodreads, a blog, Amazon and other retail outlets. It is a very simple system… or so it would seem.
What Does Each Star Rating Mean?
Different places or websites have their own definition for what each star means but for book reviews Goodreads is probably the best system to look at. They define their star rating system as follows:
1 Star – Did not like it
2 Stars – It was ok
3 Stars – Liked it
4 Stars – Really liked it
5 Stars – It was amazing
There are no half-star awards on Goodreads, which is disappointing as I think sometimes books do tend to fall between categories.
What are the Problems with the Star Rating System?
Star ratings are subjective! Every individual has their own method of classifying books into ratings. My three stars may be very different to another readers three stars. Three stars is often seen as ‘average’ or ‘okay’ but on some systems, as above, it means ‘like’.
A Book’s Intended Audience
Patrick Rothfuss raised a particularly interesting point during a Twitch stream. How do you rate a book when you are not the intended audience? Regular visitors to my blog will know that I read and review a lot of Young Adult books despite not being classed as a young adult for quite some time. Readers should read books they enjoy but as a reviewer how much should I let that influence my ratings? There are plenty of reviewers that do not consider the target audience of a book when discussing, for example, the behaviour of characters. If the intended audience may hold a different opinion to you about an aspect of the book, should you take that into consideration? If the book was middling for you but could be great for the intended audience then how do you reflect that through the star rating system?
Reading New Book Genres
Then there is the question of reviewing new genres. As an avid reader of YA, I can very easily compare within a genre but that would not be true if I read something out of my comfort zone such as horror. My star rating is unlikely to be the same as a seasoned reader of horror. On one hand I might think a particular book is ground-breaking simply because I haven’t read enough within the genre to give it a fair comparison. On the other I may give the book a poor star rating, not because the book was bad but because I may generally dislike the genre.
I think time can play a crucial element in deciding a books true rating. As a reader I get very caught up in the world of books that I read so I tend to lean towards giving them a higher rating. Sometimes it is only after time passes and I have got over the book hangover that I gain a deeper perspective.
A personal problem that I have with the star rating system is whether to give a book four or five stars. There is a big difference between books that I love to my favourite books of all time. Does that mean that I shouldn’t rank books as five stars unless they are utterly exceptional? I loved Mammoth by Jill Baguchinksy but do I put it on par with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss or Tolkein’s classic The Lord of the Rings? No there is still a disparity there. I have questioned myself a lot recently regarding my ratings and if I should only have those rare unicorns as five stars and downgrade others to four. What should be a very simple system has felt a lot more complicated as of late.
The biggest issue overall is that I feel it can discourage users from reading full reviews. A well written review is always going to be a lot more meaningful that any star rating. The reviewer should leave you with a greater impression of a book than you can gain from a blurb, synopsis or indeed a star rating. In conjunction with each other a review with a star rating can be helpful but a star rating alone can be misleading if you don’t know the reviewer.
There’s Always One…
Did you know that some individuals leave star ratings on books that they state they haven’t read yet?! Really guys?!
Solutions and Other Systems
A number of ‘solutions’ have been suggested over the years. Here are some of the most popular suggestions:
Never Give 5 Stars
One suggested system is never giving a book five stars because we should always assume their is something better out there. I personally dislike this solution as I don’t see the point in having a fifth star if I will never use it. Don’t you think that books should always be given the credit that they deserve? It also means that your ratings are likely to be harsher than others, creating further disparity.
Another suggested solution is adding a sixth star. I understand the principal of this in terms of only giving utterly exceptional books a 6th star. It could work well for book bloggers. When they use other platforms though it would mean having to give different ratings. I will soon be adding an extra distinction for exceptional books, although it won’t be in the form of a 6th star.
Would a one to ten rating system be any better than a five star system? I like the idea of one a 1-10 system. For me, it’s easier to rank a book correctly with a wider scope. There are books that I really like but they have minor issues with e.g. pacing. 3 stars doesn’t seem fair though when I love the story! In a 1-10 system a 6 or 7 would represent the book a lot better for me.
Instead of having star ratings some bloggers use their own emoji or GIF system. These are easy to understand at a glance and highlight aspects of a book that the reviewer enjoyed a lot. Laughing faces indicate hilarious books, crying faces for a sad read and love hearts for a great romance. I think this system is lovely! It is a much more personal system with the only real issue being how well it translates to other platforms.
The next time you buy a book please remember that the star rating is not everything! Take your time to read full reviews. There are SO many wonderful book bloggers out there who will always help you pick out your next read! Honestly, we LOVE to talk about books. If you are a reviewer I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you use the star system or an alternative? What do you take into consideration when giving your ratings? Readers, is there a minimum star rating required before you will pick up a book? It would also be wonderful to hear from any authors! How do you feel about the star rating system? It is a really interesting topic so please comment below.
Thank you for reading!