The Future of the Book

The Amazon Push

By posted at 9:24 am on April 30, 2008 3

A few months ago, I wrote about some of the oddities of Amazon’s customer review system. I suggested that certain of Amazon’s “Top Reviewers” had become semi-professionalized, and that some five-star customer reviews reach readers the same way reviews in the Times (and on blogs) do: as part of a well-organized press push. A story that appeared in Galleycat last week revealed something surprising (to me anyway): the Amazon push may work in the opposite direction, to keep an unwanted review from surfacing. Apparently, Deborah MacGillivray, a romance novelist, convinced Amazon to expunge the reviews and comments of a reviewer who had been critical of her work.

Again, it appears that Amazon’s customer review system is evolving beyond “helpful, tell-it-like-it-is product information” into an extension of the publishing demimonde. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with the American review system, in which publicists send advance copies of books to influential readers in an attempt to get press; it is, rather, to argue that Amazon should take a good hard look at its system. On one hand, it could work harder to protect the disinterestedness of customer reviews (by not kowtowing to authors, for example, or by getting rid of the reviewer rankings). On the other, it might recast the review system as less of an aw-shucks, communitarian forum.

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3 Responses to “The Amazon Push”

  1. Andrew Wheeler
    at 1:05 pm on April 30, 2008

    And you didn't even mention the most old-media promotional aspect of Amazon's reviews: their Amazon Vine program allows publishers to pay to send pre-publication copies to selected top Amazon reviewers.

  2. Howard
    at 6:05 pm on April 30, 2008

    I don't give much credence to Reader Reviewers beyond their own ability to reason through their arguments for or against a book. If they're convincing, they're convincing.

    …Though I do kinda envy the ranking Thingy.

  3. Steffan Piper
    at 11:44 pm on May 3, 2008

    As a Vine Reviewer, let me say that the books offered for review are books that would probably go unnoticed by most of us. The majority of them thus far have been questionable to say the least.

    The amount of new books being offered on Vine now seems to have diminished as publishers may not want to offer up books that will probably get slammed by overly critical reviewers. it would be far easier for them to just keep shilling out the 5 star glowing reviews by themselves rather than pay a hefty wage for the same thing but with a negative outcome.

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