Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

What Makes a Critic Tick? Connected Authors and the Determinants of Book Reviews

by Loretti I. Dobrescu, Michael Luca and Alberto Motta


This paper investigates the determinants of expert reviews in the book industry. Reviews are determined not only by the quality of the product, but also by the incentives of the media outlet providing the review. For example, a media outlet may have the incentive to provide favorable coverage to certain authors or to slant reviews toward the horizontal preferences of certain readers. Empirically, we find that an author's connection to the media outlet is related to the outcome of the review decision. When a book's author also writes for a media outlet, that outlet is 25% more likely to review the book relative to other media outlets, and the resulting ratings are roughly 5% higher. Prima facie, it is unclear whether media outlets are favoring their own authors because these are the authors that their readers prefer or simply because they are trying to collude. We provide a test to distinguish between these two potential mechanisms, and present evidence that this is because of tastes rather than collusion—the effect of connections is present both for authors who began writing for a media outlet before and after the book release. We then investigate other determinants of expert reviews. Relative to consumer reviews, we find that professional critics are less favorable to first time authors and more favorable to authors who have garnered other attention in the press (as measured by number of media mentions outside of the review) and who have won book prizes.

Keywords: Books; Quality; Experience and Expertise; Relationships; Publishing Industry;


Dobrescu, Loretti I., Michael Luca, and Alberto Motta. "What Makes a Critic Tick? Connected Authors and the Determinants of Book Reviews." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-080, March 2012. (Revise and Resubmit, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization; Revised August 2013.)