When is a review not a review?

Well, when it's a paid ad?
Or a puff piece? but that's the kind of thing you expect to see, maybe on the back of a book.
But what about Amazon reader reviews, I hear you ask, aren't they just written by people like me?
(Okay, I have my naive moments.)

If you have ever thought to vet a book before ordering it by scanning the on-line Amazon reviews, here's an interesting controversy to study.
It's all over all the publishing blogs, but there's a good summary here:


Another entry of interest:


And, importantly:


Or if you want to see more, or different perspectives on all this, you can google Deborah Anne MacGillivray + Amazon, and get all the poop on this anyone could desire.

The quick and nasty is that a reader on Amazon, a fan yet, innocently wrote a three-star review of this person's book.
And all hell broke loose.
Apparently if you are sufficiently organized in your fan-base, negative, or even luke-warm, reviews are a thing of the past.
You put out the word on your web-rings, and your buddies all mark a review "abusive' (it wasn't), and Amazon deletes it.
Poof! No more three-star reviews – nothing but fives for this baby.
And apparently all MacGillivray's less-than stellar reviews had been swallowed up in this way for some time.
But this reviewer, Reba, did not go gently into deleted-land, and the shit has been flying since.

While the particular paranoia of this one author is, of course, endlessly fascinating — I especially recommend her tracking down and posting to her base the reviewer's name, address, children's names, etc., for those with a taste for crazy — the whole big business aspect of the customer's reviews on Amazon was an eye-opener for me.

You've got publishers, you've got paid reviewers, you've got sock puppets, and everyone's egos are running wild.
And  the current up-shot of it all is that Reba, the reviewer, has been banned from Amazon.

My own response?

Well, some virtual stompage would be good.

I will just point out that she writes badly.
And she appears to be either pretentious or simply a complete loony.
(She claims to have family papers from the 1200s as the basis of her historical bodice-ripper? — I mean, you'd be talking Henry II, Edward I here, folks.
Any kind of personal memorabilia is incredibly thin on the ground, even for major historical figures.
There just aren't love letters from random folk lying about.
(But, hey, evidently her grandfather was a "British Historian" and she did his work with him, so who am I with my silly pointless years of graduate study in medieval literature to quibble about this?)

Anyway, I found the petition and signed it  – http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/amazon_change – and
I will avoid Amazon until, or unless, some serious realignment of their reviewing system happens.

Of course, probably Hell will be getting snow days by then.


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7 responses to this post.

  1. whoa. I havent' checked the links yet, but I will.there have been grumblings for some time about this kind of abuse, where authors/publishers bully Amazon into removing less-than-stellar reviews. matter of fact, a Vox neighbor wrote about having a negative review of a DVD removed from Amazon.when I check the Amazon reviews, I tend to ignore the 1-star and 5-star reviews and look at the 2-,3-.4-star ones; they tend to be more thoughtful. sometimes there is something with only 1-star and 5-star reviews, avant-garde and controversial topics, usually.interestingly, the electronics reviews tend to be very detailed and informative. I guess there is more to review than OMG I HATED IT or OMG I LOVED IT!!!


  2. That's nuts.Stifling honest opinion? Gah.And many thanks for all the info — I've never bought anything online anywhere, so it's all scary-new to me, anyway. Man.


  3. Wow! Fascinating and ridiculous and offensive all at once. Guess I'll be avoiding Amazon too, until I hear that this thing has been sorted out and reforms are in place.


  4. That's insane! I read the articles..I can't believe that an author can get away with that. I only shop for books at Barnes and Noble anyway but that's enough to make me never shop at Amazon again.


  5. Thats insane! I just bought a book at Amazon..feeling guilty about it already.


  6. It feels as if I opened a door at someone's house and found — ACK — something icky behind that door.And it had all looked normal and all until then…


  7. ah, it's not Amazon's fault. it's people doing what they did to google before. when, what was the phrase, everyone did a link to a picture of our dear president shrub with the word stupid. People en masse are not acting ethically. That's outside of Amazon's control to police. The blame should be on the authors who encourage their cohorts to not give honest reviews. It is a stacking like these splogs that try to trick technorati into giving them a higher rank. Ultimately people buy books because of buzz from people they know and magazine reviews and indie bookstores where they see it first hand, not from number of stars.


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