Higher Price Equals Higher Rating?

While Joe Konrath was busy poking the beehive with his post today, Be Deliberate, quite the discussion took place in the comments. One of the more interesting things to come of it was the suggestion that books priced higher have a higher average rating, to a limit, of course.

Commenter S Alini said:

There might be another reason people gave one star reviews to Serial, Joe. That is that people often assign value to something based on how much they’re asked to pay for it. So if you give it to them for free, some are likely to think it has zero value.

I think there’s some merit to the idea, and so does Joe who later replied:

Serial is free and has an average star rating of 3 stars.

Serial Uncut (Serial plus some extra stuff) is $2.99 and has a 4 star average.

Obviously it’s not an entirely fair comparison because the free version of his book, Serial, doesn’t have the same content as the paid version. However, Scott Nicholson, a little further into the conversation, agrees with the observation:

My $2.99 books always have better star ratings than my 99 cent books. That tells me they are more likely to get to the people who want them, as opposed to people who just want a bargain.

This is all empirical evidence and not based upon any sort of study, but it makes for an interesting dialogue, especially if you’re considering pricing your book at $.99. Pricing it higher isn’t going to guarantee you higher ratings come review time, but I think there’s a certain validity to the thought that your chances for higher ratings are possible because people are more inclined to value something they purchased as opposed to received for free.

There’s also the possibility that people see the free books/versions as inferior because there’s a perception that anything that’s free can’t be as good as a paid product. While that may sometimes be true, often it’s going to be inaccurate, but I think that thought persists in the minds of many.

Things such as OpenOffice (office suite) and Linux (operating system) are entirely free, yet there are those who still frown upon free software. (In the interest of disclosure, I write on Apple laptop and use Scrivener, but I am writing this blog post on Chrome. At least Chrome is free (and awesome!).) Yet there are those who use OpenOffice and Linux, along with a boatload of other free things (Audacity, anyone?) and produce work of the same quality as those who use paid, commercial software.

It’s not about the tools, but how they’re used. Just the same, it’s not about the price, but the quality of the work. But quality, of course, is subjective and at the mercy of whim.

Regardless of the reason for the rating differences, assuming there even is any¬†correlation, I’d suggest reading Joe’s post and, if you have the time, read the comments. Yes, there’s a lot, and most are about other things (and just as interesting), but it’s a good read.


  1. Very interesting post, and more evidence of how much we’re still finding out about a new and ever-evolving landscape. On the one hand, we’re being given a level playing field; on the other, some celestial hand’s forever tilting the board.

    • This is, perhaps, as level as the playing field has ever been for writers, and as you say, it’s still evolving. Who knows where we’ll be in another year, let alone five?

      I continue to see more evidence in price vs rating, but it’s all anecdotal. While it intellectually makes sense to me (i.e. I value the house I bought more than the one I rented), that doesn’t mean it’s true. Just the same, I intend to do a little more digging to see if there’s something to it.

  2. I must admit that the price setting and how it influences how your work is looked at baffles me. I suspect partly that the evolving landscape is still seeking a kind of balance.
    Some seem to opt for minimal prices in the hopes of high volume. Others maintain their books have a certain value, beneath which they will not sell them.
    I think you are right: it’s not about the price, but about the quality.
    Am I naive thinking that eventually cream will rise to the top?

    • There’s definitely still some balancing to do be done, but it’s impossible to say at this point what that balance is or when we’ll strike it. I’d say I think we’re getting close to it, but I’m constantly seeing people change their prices or come in with different “defaults” that it seems like we’re still entirely in flux.

      If you’re naive for thinking the cream will rise, then so are a lot of other people. That’s a saying that (seemingly?) has merit across the board, not just in writing, and one that I think many of us are hoping will apply to them.


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