Saturday, November 08, 2008

Amazoning Out

JasonB's post at Galleycat about Thomas Nelson's new program of supplying free books to bloggers on the condition that they review the book and copy said review to an online vendor such as Amazon.com brings up lots of questions, and don't miss the link to the Guardian's essay on the subject, which includes an entertaining, increasingly hostile debate in the comments section.

My own question is about Amazon review overload. It looks to me like customer reviews at Amazon have become an increasingly insidery sport, fun for the reviewers themselves but too overwhelming, in numbers and attitude, for someone wanting to buy a book. There are some excellent reviewers there (hi, Fuse!) but also a lot of amateurism--in the pejorative sense--involving competition among the reviewers themselves to one-up each other. I wonder if and when Amazon will decide that this doesn't help them sell books. Or does it?

17 comments:

Fuse #8 said...

For a fun time you should check out the running commentary on the Amazon Reviewer Discussion Boards. Just the oddest little running topics show up there (mostly about #1 "reviewer" Harriet Klausner), but you get the sense that some of the reviewers have found Amazon to provide a kind of community they lack throughout the rest of cyberspace. Niches upon niches.

Roger Sutton said...

I was following the Stephenie Meyer discussions for a while. Them's some scary people!

I heard that old Harriet got demoted due to some new algorithm Amazon was using to rate its reviewers. Quel scandale!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Amazon Vine (a similar freebie program where publishers provide free books), my middle-grade novel has more reviews than many comparable books on the NYT bestseller list. They are overwhelmingly positive, 4-5 stars, not to mention often sharp and perceptive concerning what I was trying to do with the text.

But do they sell me books on Amazon? No. Having been shut out by traditional reviewing outlets (yours included), the book's sales are extremely modest. Which is pretty frustrating, considering the Amazon feedback shows me there is a strong audience out there somewhere, whatever is behind the book's being otherwise completely ignored.

Teacherninja said...

You mean there are people that actually read amazon reviewers? Huh. Didn't know.

Anonymous said...

I'm with TEACHERNINJA! Always thought Amazon wrote those reviews themselves - just to stir up interest.

Anonymous said...

doesn't Amazon write those reviews themselves (to stir up interest)? I always thought that was the plan.

Roger Sutton said...

I read Amazon reviews of gadgets, because you can get a good sense of whether something actually works, and I like their classical music staff reviewer. I don't read the reader reviews of children's books except to get a quick-and-dirty sense of the range of opinions. I never use them, though, to make an editorial point ("As one reviewer said on Amazon.com . . .") because a) it's lazy and b) you can find a customer review that says anything you want it to and falsely make it look like public opinion is with you. Never trust an opinion piece that uses Amazon reviews to persuade readers to its side.

Anonymous said...

Sure, it's easy to sneer at Amazon reviewers. But with ever-increasing numbers of children's titles and ever-diminishing professional reviewer output, the sad fact is that for many books, blogs and Amazon are the only place where you can find critical opinion of any sort.

It may surprise people to know that in the current climate, even the efforts of an entire publicity department offer no guarantee that a book gets the coverage the commentators above would consider legitimate, and that is a fact.

So then what should an author view as the more important feedback? The careful review of a blogger/amazon reviewer (often one in the same), or the somehow damning absence of a review in Hornbook and the like? Because whether or not their book is a heralded commercial success, authors still need to know where they are succeeding or failing with their readers. And sometimes that's only available on Amazon.

Also, it should be noted that there are several tiers of reviewers at Amazon that can to limited degree assure that the opinions are less likely to be biased (Top Reviewers, Real Name, Vine), clearly displayed under the review.

Now, these thoughts might not equate to the opinions of other complete strangers operating under the aegis of a bonified periodical, but hey, you take what you can get.

Amy said...

I have to be honest and say that if a lot of negative reviews pop up on Amazon I'm less likely to buy a book. (I buy a lot of books, btw. ;) Of course it quickly becomes apparent from a quick glance if it's a thoughtful review or just some ranting.

I honestly don't understand the hoopla around this. It doesn't seem terribly different from other programs like LibraryThing Early Reviwers except with the added step of a review on Amazon and in this case no middleman. As a blogger who participated in reading both The Faith of Barack Obama (which I loved) and Lynne Spears book I don't feel like I was compromising. I appreciated the opportunity and wouldn't have done it if I'd had no interest.

Roger Sutton said...

In many ways, the Nelson program is no different from the way publishers work with Horn Book, BCCB, SLJ, etc: they send us free books, hope we will like them, and hope we will review them in our respective journals. The difference is that Nelson requires bloggers to review any title they ask for (presumably, the consequence of not doing so is not getting any more books) and to publish the review not only on a blog but on a third party's site.

In regard to the one or two posters above who complain of being ignored by the Horn Book: if you have written a single-title, non-novelty hardcover book for children published by a U.S. company listed in LMP, you are virtually guaranteed a review in the Magazine or Guide as well as in School Library Journal, the only other comprehensive review source. It's true that lots of books don't fall into this group--paperbacks, self-published, pop-ups, etc.--and also true that with the increase of titles published that DO fall into the hardcover mainstream, each one is competing for a slice of a reviewing pie that hasn't got any bigger, meaning that the chances any one book will be reviewed by the selective media (Kirkus, BCCB, Booklist, NY Times, etc.) are now smaller.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. It is good to know there are comprehensive reviewers still out there.

Your friendly Internet pedant said...

Bona fide. Latin, literally, in good faith.

Anonymous said...

Good for "friendly pedant." Of course she's right. but isn't "bonified" a wonderful invention?

Anonymous said...

Had I properly spelled "bona fide" the instant after dropping "aegis", the gods in their multitude would have probably hit me with several bolts of lightning.

Anonymous said...

Bonified: to bone.

Usage: "Before the chicken could be preboned, it had to be bonified."

Roger Sutton said...

Lest I be once again accused of having the mind of a seventh-grader, I'm staying out of this one.

Beth Kephart said...

There are, on many amazon review pages, the one or two true reviews—opinion shaped by nothing more than a reader's actual reaction to a book.

Those are the reviews (easily sniffed out) that help me decide whether or not I want to buy. Usually, though, I head to a bookstore and take stock of the books in my hands.