All this kerfluffle over reviews has me thinking about how I use reviews as a reader.
I'm not an author. I'm not an aspiring author. While I love books and reading, I have no desire whatsoever to write a book myself. I'm also not a reviewer. (It seems important to say that.)
So how do I use reviews? Sparingly. With a healthy dash of skepticism. And with the primary focus on what I like and don't like to read.
When I read reviews, I'm more interested in what a reviewer say about a book than whether or not the reviewer liked it. I don't care that Reviewer 1 loves cozy mysteries; I don't. I don't care that Reviewer 2 hates sci-fi; I don't.
"Charming cozy mystery! Love it!" tells me it's not the right book for me. "Ugh - too much hard science! And WTF is a light-year anyway?" tells me to take a second look.
I also look at how the review was written. Thoughtful, well-written impressions, while hard to quantify, are easy to pick out.
"ZOMG, this is the bestest buk EVAR and the only 1 any1 shud evar reed and all my frendz think so 2 and well never ever ever ever reed anything else ever again!!!!!!!!!" is as useless to me as "this buk sux my teecher mayd me reed i h8 all buks."
For books by authors I know I like, I won't even bother with the reviews. I've pre-ordered Diana Gabaldon's forthcoming Outlander book without reading a single one. I did the same thing with Jean Auel's last Earth's Children book, and countless others.
At most, I'll skim the reviews after I've read something to see what others thought of it, especially if it fell flat for me.
If a known-to-me author's last couple of books didn't resonate, I might skim the reviews before I buy. Pern books were auto-buys for me, but I don't like what Todd McCaffrey's done with the series. I'll definitely look at reviews before I buy another of his books.
New-to-me author? If I get to reading reviews, the title, cover and Look Inside have already intrigued me. I'm nearly ready to push the buy button, but want see whether the several hours I'll invest with the book and author might be worth it.
I don't care about the average star rating. I've loved books others have loathed and vice-versa. I certainly don't use that to search for books. I'm more interested in having a large number of reviews to skim than in the average rating.
tl;dr version: If I read reviews at all, I look to see if I might like the book based on what the reviewers say about it.