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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Readers Rejoice: There’s a Rotten Tomatoes for Books


With Book Marks, readers have hundreds of book reviews right at their fingertips.  ♦ 
Picture this: a couple attempts to plan their Friday night. One of them suggests that new Marvel film that premiered the week before. The two pull out their phones and open Rotten Tomatoes. They note that critics loved the movie, and within a minute, their tickets are purchased and their plans are made. With the press of a button, this couple could view every notable film critic’s reaction to the movie.
     The Rotten Tomatoes phenomenon has its roots in the digital world’s obsession with instant gratification. People no longer have to hop from website to website or magazine to magazine, perusing the review section to get different perspectives on a film. The most general consensus about a movie—whether it is good or bad—is gathered into a single, uniform percentage.
     For a long time, I was curious as to why a “Rotten Tomatoes for Books” didn’t exist, especially since sites like Metacritic amass review scores not only for movies, but also for TV, music, and video games. As a fan of reading literature and reviews alike, I longed for a program that would conveniently collect all critics in one spot to make my novel-buying decisions a little easier. Apparently, one just has to do a little research to find that such a site does exist. Book Marks launched in 2016 as the book review aggregation site, daily scouring over seventy publications for the best and most reliable critical sources, then averaging them to formulate the closest possible thing to a critical consensus for each book.
     Book Marks editor Dan Sheehan explained to Turning Page that the site was created to “serve as a link between the worlds of literary creation, criticism, and consumption.” Aggregate websites such as this are beneficial for both the reader and the critics. Without them, readers would have to take the time to gauge every individual critic, learning the tastes of each and determining whether or not those critics agreed with their preferences.
     With Book Marks, the responsibility no longer falls on the reader to find the critics: they are all placed on a single page for each book, making it easier for curious consumers to determine what critics suit them. That means that the critic now has the potential to reach a wider audience. “Ultimately, the goal of Book Marks is to spotlight a diverse range of literary criticism in order to help book lovers make more informed reading choices,” said Sheehan.
     Considering the storm by which Rotten Tomatoes—and even Metacritic, to a smaller extent—has taken the criticism industries, it’s surprising that Book Marks hasn’t blown up in popularity. A possible cause for this is the site’s relative lack of integration with the online community. For example, Rotten Tomatoes makes itself available to anyone who uses the Flixster app to buy movies or tickets. Similarly, Metacritic keeps a permanent spot on the webpages of the International Movie Database (IMDb), so that anyone looking up recent Best Picture winner Moonlight will also notice how much critics adored it.
     Book Marks could have that same type of integration on Goodreads, the large, dedicated online community for enthusiastic book lovers. The site already has a large user review system, but that may not have the same impact on swaying readers’ opinions and buying decisions than a system like Book Marks would. In a similar way to IMDb, a reader could look up George Saunders’s debut novel to see what all the fuss is about and notice that critics adore that, too.
     “We're always looking to expand and enhance the utility of the site for all members of the literary community, be they readers, writers, or reviewers,” said Sheehan about the possibility of merging with another online book community like Goodreads.
     Aside from increasing its user base, Book Marks has other obstacles it’s working to remove. For example, it has proven challenging to curate a website using legitimate book critics while avoiding the partial, biased, or copycat reviews. “Sometimes, a regional paper will publish a review from, say, the Washington Post without properly crediting the source, and we must be careful not to double up,” said Sheehan. “Other times, what seems initially to be an impartial review will reveal itself to be a lead-in to a publicity piece or a profile of the author.”
     Book Marks is still a young website, but it will be interesting to see if it can grow larger in the book community, and if said community is as invested in book reviews as people are when it comes to movies.
  • About the Author
    Sam Keeling is a Creative Writing major straight outta Columbus who spends a lot of time reading, watching, and listening to things. He reads and writes more entertainment journalism than most people consume normal entertainment. If that is sad, he is okay with it.

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