I have two or three friends who take Amazon reviews very seriously. By that I mean they get really pissed off when some dude or dudette trashes their books. I agree that this is an odd way to sell books--by having reviews that trash the merchandise. Though you can make the case for providing a consumer guide by offering yay and nay opinions.
I've certainly been disembowled by Amazon reviews. One woman hated my book so much I thought she'd probably turn me into the feds. She even wrote me personally to tell me how much she hated my book. She wanted to make sure that I saw the review she'd posted.
Now, I like Amazon. I buy virtually all my new books from them. But their reviews--not so much. And not just because I get dinged occsionaly but also because there's always seemed to me some weird Phillip K. Dickian system at play that low lives (i.e. me and my buds) aren't supposed to know about.
All this is preamble to recommending a fine strange article by Garth Risk Hallberg on Slate http://www.slate.com/id/2182002/pagenum/all/#page_start that is well worth your time.
What's interesting is that Hallberg isn't just complaining. He's seriously trying to understand the process by which you become a Top Ten Amazon reviewe and what such reviewers portend for the future.
This certainly won't deter me from shopping on Amazon. But it is a lenghty look at a rather weird reviewing system.
the literary amateur.
By Garth Risk Hallberg
Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008, at 7:33 AM ET
"Full disclosure: It was late at night, in a fit of furtive self-Googling, that I discovered the first Amazon customer review of my debut book of fiction. "Superb," wrote Grady Harp of Los Angeles. "Fascinating ... addictive." Not to mention "profound." Such extravagance should have aroused suspicion, but I was too busy basking in the glow of a five-star rave to worry about the finer points of Harp's style. Sure, he'd spelled my name wrong, but hadn't he also judged me "a sensitive observer of human foibles"? Only when I noticed the "Top 10 Reviewer" tag did I wonder whether Grady Harp was more than just a satisfied customer. After a brief e-mail exchange, my publicist confirmed that she'd solicited Grady Harp's review.
"I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I had imagined Amazon's customer reviews as a refuge from the machinations of the publishing industry: "an intelligent and articulate conversation ... conducted by a group of disinterested, disembodied spirits," as James Marcus, a former editor at the company, wrote in his memoir, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut. Indeed, with customers unseating salaried employees like Marcus as the company's leading content producers, Amazon had been hailed as a harbinger of "Web 2.0"—an ideal realm where user-generated consensus trumps the bankrupt pieties of experts. As I explored the murky understory of Amazon's reviewer rankings, however, I came to see the real Web 2.0 as a tangle of hidden agendas—one in which the disinterested amateur may be an endangered species.
"Like celebrity bloggers and Wikipedia "Gnomes," then, the Top Amazon Reviewer heralds the arrival of a curious hybrid: part customer, part employee. This feels like a loss. But perhaps it means that in the coming age, every writer will be a salesman: up past dark, sifting through the data stream for evidence that somewhere, some honest soul is buying."