Friday, January 25, 2013

Good Review = Bad News?

Amazon's recent decision to purge some book reviews by friends, family and other suspicious characters comes on the heels of reports of an entire industry of paid reviewers as well as the practice of authors ganging up to review each other's books -- favorably, of course.

Beyond a "kerfuffle" over the reviews themselves lies the seedy world of bullying in book-review forums  and other phenomena all too common in the protected anonymity of the Internet.

You also have to wonder how Amazon knows that Review A was written by a stranger but Review B by a family friend. That's a little scary.

The whole sordid business has some urging readers to ignore good reviews as presumed fakes and concentrate on the middling ones.

This puts writers in an awkward position, particularly when you're self-published. On the one hand, you want good reviews because they may be the only thing that prompts a customer to buy your book. But if readers start thinking all your good reviews are fakes you've solicited -- or worse, paid for -- they'll take their resentment at your trying to fool them, and their business, elsewhere.

I periodically check for new reviews/ratings of my novel Tainted Souls. Since readers can download it for free, nice reviews are pretty much the only validation I get for the effort I made writing it and inspiration to write another book. So it's been nice to rack up a few new four- and five-star reviews in the past few weeks. (For some reason, Barnes & Noble  and Goodreads  are more active; Amazon has relatively few reviews.) But I appreciate, I guess, that a couple of clunker reviews have rolled in, too, to provide some validation to the positive ones.

(The last two Amazon reviews in particular weren't especially kind. I guess that's a good thing these days. But one has to wonder -- though I doubt it, given the paucity of reviews on Amazon -- if any good ones were purged as presumptive fakes? Though I get the impression the purge only applies to hardcover books, not e-books.)

I suppose it's only a matter of time before some enterprising person comes up with an app that generates the perfect combination of high, middling and low-ranking fake reviews to generate maximum book sales.

Wonder what Amazon will do then.

5 comments:

Roland said...

This "ignore great reviews" thing is stupid. Does this "nothing-better-to-do-with-my-life" person think the cartel of "publication-based literary reviewers" is really more credible. Most of these so-called independent voices are are playing a game of "I'll scratch your back and you'll . . . blah, blah, blah, or maybe yadda, yadda, yadda works here." Don't you love putting things in quotes for the heck of it? It's not exactly pointless, but sort of. Kind of like basing your decision to download - or not - a "free" book because the review might be phony. P.S. You can delete this if you'd like. I'll understand. Maybe "Amazon" can handle it for you.

Searching for the Story said...

This is one of social media and self-publishing's big down sides: when everyone has a platform, there is no audience.

I don't know how to resolve that and I gather many others, particularly authors, wrestle with the question.

How would Amazon know who's who? I've gone through self-published authors' online books before and been very turned off by the spate of overly positive reviews posted to every title by the same two or three people.

I think consumers can tell when that's going on.

Steve Weddle said...

I think the review-spread idea is probably right. I would probably trust something along these lines ->

5 stars: 24
4 stars: 63
3 stars: 52
2 stars: 13
1 star: 11

Kristen Lippert-Martin said...

I like to believe that I can spot a fake review a mile away. Usually it's the gushy ones. The way some of these people carry on.... I mean, come on, I don't gush that much about my own children.

And Amazon knows your relatives the way Facebook knows who your 4th grade classmates were. They've got brains in jars crunching numbers all day. Because that's all brains in jars are good for.

Oh and btw? You better get yer butt over my blog for my big news announcement.

Meghan Ward said...

"I suppose it's only a matter of time before some enterprising person comes up with an app that generates the perfect combination of high, middling and low-ranking fake reviews to generate maximum book sales."

Great idea! I should put my husband to work on that tonight :)

I think Amazon assumes that if a reviewer has only reviewed one book, or if he/she only gives 5 stars, that his/her reviews aren't valid. Reviews by reviewers who give all sorts of reviews are more likely to count. I think Yelp does it that way, too.