New website for aggregating reviews?

The mods over at the RPG GameLit Society want to create a new website, one that focuses on helping readers find the books that they want.

There’s a great need for this sort of website.  The goto website right now is Ramon’s LitRPG database, but there’s a few problems.  These are the same problems noted by Windfall over at LitRPGForum. I recommend reading the whole thing, but one of them is that outside from my website, there’s no neutral parties involved in the scene.  Debiasing reviews is a feature that’s sorely needed in the community.

Most pages are run by authors.  Ramon’s is no different.  So there’s an obvious bias towards that author’s own work or the work of the author’s friends. It also creates a problem where a few opinion leaders hold a huge amount of sway over the community.

The first problem that has to be tackled is “What is the purpose of the new website?”  For example, greatLitrpg has a very snazzy looking design overall and serves a similar purpose.  But it’s terrible for reading text. One thing I do like is that it allows people to like a book and upvote it in the stats, so it helps it be more community driven.  That’s definitely a feature I would like to see in any new website aiming at community reviews.

This website has a very plain layout and design, but it’s easy to read long pages of text.  The reason is simple, this is a text heavy website.  It prioritizes readability over looks.

One feature that should also be looked at is using public APIs to aggregate information.  So, for example, this website is on WordPress.  The JSON API for a wordpress.com website looks like this:

The older API:  https://public-api.wordpress.com/rest/v1.1/sites/litrpgreviews.blog/posts/

The newer API: https://public-api.wordpress.com/wp/v2/sites/litrpgreviews.blog/posts/

A JSON parser could go through the site and pull out the pieces from the script.  So for example, if a new review goes up, it could parse other websites that have similar content and link to them so readers could get a quick aggregate on what’s out there.

Another problem is deciding how people are going to contribute.  Will they have to mail in their submissions, will they be given user accounts, etc.  CMSs (Content Management Systems) like WordPress and Drupal have ways of assigning low-level permissions to users just to write reviews without touching other areas of the website, but that’s something that will need to be considered.

If there are going to be reviews, and there probably are, I’d like it to function like review aggregators like rottentomatoes.  A brief overview of the consensus, then a list of individual reviews with the tl;dr version in the summary.

Ideally, there’d be a place for people to submit requests for ARC (Advance Reader Copy) reviews so people could put up at least two reviews in advance and help boost early Amazon reviews and get new books up in the algorithm. Early reviews are crucial to getting visibility on Amazon, so authors would appreciate this.  And getting multiple reviews would help debias reviews.

I.e. I’m not a fan of Dungeon Core and Monster Novels generally, so I have to admit that I suck at providing information on what a good Dungeon Core novel is.

This would be a useful feature for a paid service, since running this website would cost money.   Fans could vote up which review they agreed with more and if attached to the reviewers bio, could help create new opinion leaders, similar to top critics at rottentomatoes.

It would also be a way to prevent opinion leaders from holding too much sway, which is the problem most people have with Ramon.  It’s not that he’s unfair in his reviews, it’s that he’s the only game in town really.

If we were to get really fancy here, we’d want to create an interactive web similar musicroamer.   As you add in more artists, it begins building out a node tree.  So if you like book A, then people say you will probably like book B, so forth and so on.  Ideally, this would include more popular genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy, with links to books that are similar to whatever other popular genre is there.

There could also be a newbie recommended section, as books like Awaken Online and Ascend Online are great introductions to the genre.  A really robust section here would include differentiation between what the new reader is coming from:  Web novels and manga vs. sci-fi or fantasy probably have different expectations from a novel.  It should also include recommended reading for the non-gamer to get up to speed.

This brings costs into the equation.  Since I don’t make any money off this blog, I use wordpress to host the website since it only costs me about four dollars a month to do so, which is far easier than making a droplet or using AWS for the services.   But to build a customizable/scalable application, the cost is probably going to be around 200 US dollars per year.

I don’t picture monetizing readers as a popular way to go, since readers would probably rather directly patronize an author they like rather than a review aggregator site.  Ads and affiliate links are one way to make money.  Charging a small fee for guaranteed ARC reviews is one way to go, but the only potential downside is that authors may get mad if an ARC isn’t favorable to their work.

Affiliate links to services like editors, artists, narrators, etc. is another way to make money off of this, as well as make it into a service aggregator.  Some care has to be taken here as a website like mine is primarily geared towards authors rather than readers, a pivot I made fairly early when I realized that most of the fans of this blog were writers.  Readers tended to be upset that I didn’t give overwhelming praise to their favorite novel.

Since the intent seems to be geared at attracting readers, sections geared towards authors should either be delegated to their own area or simply have a new domain registered so that the website doesn’t become confusing in regards to its purpose.

So there’s a definitely a need for this website to exist, but figuring out how to monetize it, create great content, create a great design that’s also easy for user experience, and keep viewers coming back for more are problems that will need to be worked out.

I also grant permission with attribution to the mods if they want to use any of the articles/reviews posted on this website.

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