Thursday, January 17, 2013

Your Book, Your Reviews and Amazon

On Amazon, Ethics, and the Review Process

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Howard Kurz of CNN’s Reliable Sources program covers the media including journalism ethics. Kurz departed a bit from their usual focus one recent Sunday morming (8 am Pacific Time) to talk about Amazon reviews! Yes! Amazon reviews! And how they are trying to do away with reviews written by authors’ mothers and other closely related folks—and not necessarily only those related by blood.

Apparently, Amazon is doing to these folks what they’ve done with reviews written by reviewers who review for other online sites like Midwest Review. That is they obliterate (delete!) the reviews. And they often—if not always—do it without notifying the reviewer.

Kurz noted that it’s not really kosher for authors to ask readers or fans to post reviews. I don’t agree with him. Even reviewers who get paid for writing for The New York Times may well be fans of that author. That seems like an ethical line impossible to draw anyway. In fact, if a reviewer has an author's entire body of work, that would only put them in a position to write a more fully considered review.  

In the next breath, Kurz notes that with all this care, Amazon is taking to purify their review process, they still haven’t taken much of a stand against those who haven’t read the book at all.

But making that move may put Amazon on rather shaky ground. It is hard to determine whether someone has read any given book. Just because they didn’t buy the book from Amazon is not an indication that they didn’t read it. They may have received it as a gift or borrowed it from the library. Or the author’s publisher might have supplied a review copy.

When the reviewer doesn’t get lots of things right their inaccuracies still don’t prove it’s a fraudulent review. I’m convinced that many reviewers either don’t read well, read too fast, or simply don’t know very much about critiquing a written work. The way I see it, Amazon wanted amatateur reviews. They have opened the can of larva and now they must live with the larva. Of course, some of those larva turn into butterflies. 
I’ve read many reviews in which the reviewer admits that they’ve judged the book by its cover, its first typo, or its first chapter. (I’ve yet to see a reviewer admit that they’ve given a one-star review because they hated the title.) I’ve also noticed that there are a whole lot of these reviews less-than-desirable reviews that Amazon hasn’t deleted!

I love CNN's Reliable Sources. I watch it most every Sunday. I really like Howard Kurz. He’s a journalism pro. But as a critiquer of reviews and the review process, I think he needs a guest who knows more than he does to help him out.

Perhaps one or two SharingwithWriters readers would be up to the task.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor

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