2015 Hugo Contenders: Amazon and Goodreads Ratings, January 2015

Here’s an update to the “Ratings” chart for the major Hugo candidates. What I’ve done is look at the Goodreads and Amazon ratings for each of 25 possible Hugo books, and sorted those out by Goodreads ratings. Here’s the data (as of January 31st); comments follow. Click on the chart for a better view.

Ratings January 2015

I’ve never felt that Goodreads or Amazon ratings accurately measure the quality of the book. They probably measure something closer to “reader satisfaction.” Take some widely hailed classics of American literature: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying only manages a 3.73 on Goodreads (on 80,000 ratings) and 3.9 on Amazon (on 404 ratings). Toni Morrison’s Beloved scored a 3.71 on Goodreads (on 185,000 ratings) and a 3.9 on Amazon (on 900 ratings). Whether you like those books personally or not—they’re both difficult and divisive—a 3.7 rating is ridiculous. Moby-Dick does worse, grabbing a 3.41 rating on Goodreads (on 320,000 ratings). Huck Finn does a little better, at 3.78 (on 840,000 ratings). Unless you believe that the classics of American literature are awful—believe me, many of my students do—we have to take these ratings with a heavy dose of salt.

Remember, though, I’m casting a wide net to see if we can find anything that’s predictive. Maybe these will be, maybe not. Maybe they should be, maybe not. We can’t know until we try. So, the real question is this: can “reader satisfaction” tell us anything about the Hugos or a possible Hugo slate? I don’t know.

Some quick observations. You’ll note that sequels dominate the ratings. That’s a structural issue: everyone who didn’t like the first book bailed out on all future volumes, leaving only enthusiastic fans. As long as the book satisfies that audience, you’ll get great ratings.

After the sequels, The Martian does well, with a very strong 4.36/4.6 Goodreads/Amazon score. Bennett and Addison also put up good showings, with a 4.19/4.4 and 4.15/4.4; that definitely helps boost their Hugo chances over something that did more poorly, like The Mirror Empire way down at 3.66/4.0.

VanderMeer does surprisingly awful in this metric, scraping by with a 3.67/3.8 rating. That’s probably an example of a book being “unsatisfying” to many readers. Annihilation is a strange text, and you could go in expecting one kind of novel (more traditional science fiction?) and wind up with a strange, spooky, somewhat incomprehensible book of weird fiction. That’s going to push ratings down. I don’t expect this to hurt VanderMeer (people either love or hate the book), but it’s definitely interesting to note.

Most books are clustered in a fairly narrow range, from 4.2 to 3.8. I wouldn’t make too much of an issue of a slight difference like that; you can’t claim much by saying one book was ranked 4.1 and another 3.9.

And why do people hate California so much? I haven’t read it, but I don’t think I’ve seen an Amazon score below 3.0 for a professionally published book before. A 3.26/2.9 is truly awful.

Lastly, let me note that there are some inconsistencies between Amazon and Goodreads scores. That reflects the different constituencies of those two websites. I’ll be back later this week with a post on that very issue. Which is more reliable? Can we tell? Could we correlate these to actual sales? Chaos Horizon is on the case!

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