Thanks to Bill Morris of The Millions for this link to a paper, published in Marketing Science (v. 29 n. 5, September-October 2010), “Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: Can Negative Reviews Increase Sales?”
In this paper, researchers Jonah Berger, Alan T. Sorensen, and Scott J. Rasmussen scientifically demonstrate a truth that I’ve been asserting intuitively for years: if you’re an unknown author, negative reviews of your book only let more people know about you. And since most of us are relatively unknown, for most of us there’s no such thing as a bad review.
Some snippets from the paper:
While a negative review in the New York Times hurt sales of books by well-known authors, for example, it increased sales of books that had lower prior awareness…
A wine described “as redolent of stinky socks,” for example, saw its sales increase by 5% after it was reviewed by a prominent wine website (O’Connell 2006). Similarly, while the movie Borat made relentless fun of the country of Kazakhstan, Hotels.com reported a “300 percent increase in requests for information about the country” after the film was released (Yabroff 2006, p. 8)…
[In a study of book reviews:] Regardless of whether the book was written by a new or established author, being positively reviewed significantly increased sales; a positive review generated between a 32% and 52% percent increase in demand… For books by established authors, a negative review led to a 15% decrease in sales (this estimate is slightly imprecise due to the relatively small sample size). For books by relatively unknown (new) authors, however, negative
publicity has the opposite effect, increasing sales by 45%. [emphasis in original]
So as an indie or mid-list author, remember that the next time some reviewer trashes your book. He may not like it, but his criticisms say more about him than they do about you or your work. And by trashing it in public, he may be increasing your sales by about the same amount as a positive review would.
So, new policy! Always thank reviewers for reviews, digs, scathing comments, anything they say about your book, no matter how good or bad or fair or unfair. Because as a relatively unknown author, people talking about your book is only good for you.