Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amazon book reviews

Have you ever wondered about the people who review books and things on Amazon.com? Who exactly are these top-50, top-10, etc. reviewers? How do they determine who these people are?

I have occasionally reviewed books on Amazon, just for fun, but since I started this blog I haven't had the time. I just came across this article on Slate, called "The Murky Demimonde of Amazon's Top Reviewers" by Garth Risk Hallberg. It is fascinating! I can't say I ever thought much about the reviews on Amazon - I doubt they have a lot of influence on my reading habits, since I tend to use sources that are better known and trusted than anonymous reviewers, and ever since I heard about the Amazon review fiasco in Canada, I've taken them with a fistful of salt.

Hallberg writes: "...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."

He goes on to talk about how these top reviewers write an insane number of reviews. The "number 7" reviewer, for example, has reviewed 3,500 books, CDs, and movies on Amazon. And the "number 1" reviewer, Harriet Klausner, "has averaged 45 book reviews per week over the last five years—a pace that seems hard to credit, even from a professed speed-reader." Forty-five book reviews per week? If I can review three or four books in a given week here on my blog, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. But 45 a week? That's just silly.

11 comments:

  1. I've read some of Harriet Klausner's reviews and personally, I think they're awful. When you're pumping out reviews that frequently, you're just doing it to stay number 1. I'll admit to checking out customer reviews occasionally on Amazon. If I'm curious about a book and haven't heard much aside from NY Times reviews or editorial reviews, I'll go read reviews on there by fans of the author or fans of the genre and it's led me in the right direction before. But then again, sometimes the reviews are just so ridiculous and biased!

    I usually post my reviews that I do on my blog over on Amazon too, but I don't write reviews specifically for Amazon. I just copy and paste reviews I've already written. It's just fun to see those "helpful votes" come in. So far I've "helped" 200 people make decisions on buying books! So it's just something for fun.

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  2. I hadn't heard about that amazon.ca fiasco. It's funny, actually.

    I post my reviews to chapters.ca because they actually don't have that many reveiws there compared to amazon.ca, which harvests reviews from .com. And so many of the reviews are just "great book!" that I hope my reviews can actually be of service to someone.

    PS - I just tagged you!

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  3. Chris - I think that's a great idea, posting reviews over there as well. And yours are thoughtful and, of course, you have actually read the book! :-) You are right about the reviews helping lead people in the right direction - I think they are perfect for that, and it is easy to tell when someone is way out there, and just to ignore them. That's great about having helped so many people find good books!

    Nicola - yes, I thought that was hilarious, too! Talk about being exposed. I am not familiar with Chapters - I will have to check it out. And tagged, eh? I will have to come see what that's about! :-)

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  4. I just discovered your blog in the course of attempting to plot a novel, and I'm glad I did. What a cozy little corner of the world you have here! I try to read 60 or more books each year, and review them. I try to keep the reviews short, as I don't review more than once a month (lots to do, and all that). I'll browse your archives and see if we've read/reviewed anything in common. My reading lists are over here. Drop by any time!

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  5. I can't understand why people do this. I really enjoy writing about the books I read, but if it's not done honestly it sort of defeats the purpose.

    PS: I tagged you for a fun reading meme! You don;t have to do it, of course, but I'd really like to read your replies!

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  6. Hey, Politicalcat - thanks so much for stopping by! I look forward to comparing notes on books.

    And Nymeth - I don't get it, either. Doing it honestly is the whole point, right? I will come check out the meme - sounds like fun. Thanks!

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  7. I guess I'm the cynic because when I read the Slate article on those Amazon reviews, first thing I thought was: "I knew it!"

    But I think you can tell, just by reading the reviews if the reviewer had actually read the book, or is just faking it. That's why I'm pretty quick to rate those reviews that are not helpful. Just to shoot them down. ;p

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  8. I've read some of Harriet's reviews as well, and frankly, I've found a lot of inaccuracies with them. To be honest, I don't think she actually READS the books. Just the summaries. That's about all the reviews encompass. I know that the books I've read and she's reviewed, she's missed the point of the book quite a few times. But if her life is complete by being Amazon's No. 1 reviewer, then go for it. It's just a shame it's all a sham!

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  9. Dark Orpheus - you are absolutely right! Shoot 'em down, partner. As I've been thinking about this, I realize I pay more attention to reviews on other products, such as toys - to look at age suitability and durability - if ten people say the thing fell apart within the first week, I'm likely not to buy it. But maybe there are toy reviewers out there who just look at the pictures and make up reviews! :-o

    Stephanie - it does make you wonder that there is some sort of fulfillment in this reviewer rating thing (other than, as Chris mentioned, the satisfaction of having helped someone make a decision about a book) so that it's become this huge cutthroat enterprise! How could anyone write so many reviews? Not even a speed reader could read that many books and then write genuine, thoughtful reviews. I'll stick to my book blogger buddies, thank you very much! :-)

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  10. Mindy WithrowJanuary 30, 2008

    Interesting article! I've written a few Amazon reviews, too, but of course only of books I've actually read. Even when others are honest, their reviews sometimes leave much to be desired--a "favorite" was the reviewer of a volume of the Saint John's Bible (photographs of the new HAND LETTERED manuscript) who complained that the font was too small!!

    BTW, thanks for your comment on my L'Engle post the other day. Enjoying your blog.

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  11. Hi, Mindy - thanks for stopping by! I found a link to your L'Engle post about one of my favorite books on Semicolon's blog - so of course I had to go post a comment! That is hilarious about the review complaining about the font size! Too funny!

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